External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar made a ridiculous statement in Washington on Sunday at taxpayers’ expense. He said that the United States today finds India so “desirable” that just “like the Chandrayan mission, US-India ties will go to the moon, maybe even beyond”.
Such over-the-top remarks call for an immediate audit of Jaishankar’s increasingly frequent overseas trips for costs and outcomes. He seems to have convinced himself that his gift of the gab can defuse any situation in any world capital. But his wordplay is hurting national interests — and even foreign governments have started calling out his smart-alec statements.
Last week Jaishankar was questioned in New York whether he was provided any proof by the Canadian government linking Indian agents to Khalistani separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s killing, especially evidence of intercepted communications. Instead of confirming or denying it, he replied: “Are you asking if the Canadians gave us documents?” When the question was repeated, he ducked again, saying: “I have said that if somebody gives us specific or relevant information, we are prepared to look at it.” Asked a third time whether the Canadians had given him or the Indian government a document regarding India’s intercepted diplomatic communications or not, he was evasive yet again, stating: “If I had, would I not be looking at it?” The doughty questioner made a fourth attempt to get a “yes” or “no” only to be stonewalled.
Jaishankar should have anticipated that question and dealt with it like a pro, summoning all his experience gathered over more than four decades. Instead, he made a hash of it. His inept handling convinced almost everyone that Canada had indeed given India a document regarding the intercepted communications but he didn’t want to admit it fearing more questioning. The whole exchange created an impression that India has much to hide in l’affaire Nijjar, which is detrimental for the country’s image.
A day later, Jaishankar was questioned whether the Nijjar killing was discussed during his meetings with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. He replied grandly: “To your question… Yes I did with Jake Sullivan and Tony Blinken. They shared US views and assessments on this whole situation and I explained to them at some length… a summary of the concerns I had. I think, hopefully, we both came out better informed.”
Jaishankar tried to pass it off as a conversation between equals. He also wanted to convey that the US was not particularly supportive of Canada. But the Americans clearly didn’t want Jaishankar to get away with all that. So they publicised what Jaishankar had deliberately omitted from his account of his meeting with Blinken and Sullivan. A US State Department spokesperson issued a statement that India had been told to cooperate fully with the Canadian probe – something that Jaishankar had purposely left out!
I think that Jaishankar is gravely misjudging the Anglo-Saxon brotherhood of US, Canada, UK, New Zealand and Australia. Realistically speaking, these five white, English-speaking Christian nations see India as nothing more than a market and a counterweight to China. India is not family or even a friend in the truest sense; so the Narendra Modi government in general and Jaishankar in particular should stop deluding themselves about any special equation with these five countries. And the Anglosphere’s “mother” board is UK. India was so low in the pecking order of countries invited to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral in September 2022 that Modi skipped it and sent President Droupadi Murmu instead!
Importantly, to supplement the State Department spokesperson’s statement, Blinken separately told the media that India must cooperate with Canada’s investigation. And Sullivan was even more emphatic. He publicly said that there will be no special exemptions for any country for “actions like these” and the US would like “to get to the bottom of what happened”. To counter the US stance, Jaishankar tried to provide context which is nothing but whataboutery and frankly makes India’s case even weaker.
Relentless US pressure to engage with Canada — something that India seems to be doing its darndest to wriggle out of — so soon after the G20 Summit, poses a very big challenge to Jaishankar. And that’s not all.
While in the US, Jaishankar said that India hosted the launch of the India- Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). But what has India gained from IMEC’s launch from its soil? The IMEC is Washington’s brainchild and its main goal is to weld Israel and Saudi Arabia together. But did Joe Biden take Modi on board in this strategic exercise? If Biden had done that, and if Modi and the US president were on the same page, then Modi would have invited Israel to the G20 where IMEC was unveiled. As host, India invited nine non-member countries but not Israel. And after IMEC was launched, Benjamin Netanyahu publicly thanked Biden, but did not mention Modi. So was India kept in the dark by the US and shortchanged? Jaishankar must answer why Netanyahu did not thank Modi along with Biden.
The other beneficiary of IMEC, as per US plans, is Saudi Arabia. As a G20 member, Saudi Arabia was represented in New Delhi by its de-facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. We went out of our way to pamper him and massage his ego. He stayed back for a state visit on September 11 after the G20 Leaders’ Summit and signed eight agreements with Modi. Before that, India and Saudi Arabia, along with the US and European Union, signed the IMEC MoU.
But on September 20, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bi Farhan, attended a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation where he called the Kashmir issue “a pressing challenge to the security and stability of the region”. Moreover he offered Saudi Arabia’s services to mediate for a peaceful solution. But the offer is downright offensive as New Delhi fiercely opposes any third-party mediation in the Kashmir dispute. Will Jaishankar please probe Riyadh’s unsavoury stance and enlighten us?
(SNM Abdi is an independent, Pegasused reporter and commentator on foreign policy and domestic politics)