'Engaging India' – a review

ImageBooks written by retired US officials about foreign policy usually center around the self-righteousness of the US and how they had, in times of great need, saved the other countries from the brink of extinction. For a change this book is one with a difference.

Written by Strobe Talbott, one of the respected US foreign office officials, it talks about the tumultuous times of 1998 to 2005 when the Indian subcontinent was the main focus of the world. 1998 was when India, under Atal Behari Vajpayee, tested a nuclear weapon hoodwinking the mighty US spy network. The book talks about the happenings from then on and how he liaised with the then foreign minister of India Jaswant Singh to try and get India to sign the CTBT and NPT and failed in that effort.

In a period of two and a half years, he met with Jaswant Singh for over fourteen times in different places of the world to get India to sign the wholly discriminatory treaties that would have severely handicapped India from developing into a nuclear power.

The geo-politics surrounding the nuclear situation and its aftermath, the way Jaswant Singh proved to be a an extremely hard nut to track and made sure that India’s interests are safeguarded when it came to such partial treaties , how India under Vajpayee withstood the international pressure and made the US agree to every thing that India wanted wihout giving in to any of the US’s demands are all explained by the former US official in great detail.

We get to know how until then the US was treating India and Pakistan on a hyphenated equation and was seeing India from a Pakistan perspective and was trying to dole out concessions or the promise of concessions and was wanting India to do the bidding of the US and how the then BJP government tilted the scales and make the US enter into meaningful dialogue with India. Until then it  had always been a monologue situation and by the BJP government’s nuclear diplomacy the US was made to consider India as a dialogue partner. All these and more are explained in vivid detail by Strobe Talbott who was until May 1998 the Russian expert in Clinton’s State Department.

The authenticity of Talbott is striking. He describes in great detail the very conversations that took place between himself and Jaswant Singh. From these it is a pleasure to understand the great person that Jaswant Singh was in terms of safeguarding India’s interests.

This hard stand and never compromising attitude of the Vajpayee government ultimately resulted in the US administration under George Bush agreeing to have the Indo US Nuclear Deal without India signing the CTBT and the NPT.

Talbott sums up his impression on Jaswant thus :” He achieved more of his objectives than I”. And in the end he says thus: “Jaswant put his country’s interests before his”. What more vindication of Jaswant and the Vaipayee government than this compliment from the super power’s own representative !

An essential read for someone who needs to understand the US turn around in its relations with India.

Author: Amaruvi's Aphorisms

Banker by day, blogger by night and a reader throughout.

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