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August 3, 1999
Dixit, Vohra to gauge mood in the West
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
The ministry of external affairs is playing coy about the visit of former foreign secretary J N Dixit and former home secretary N N Vohra to the United Kingdom and the United States to meet officials.
A ministry of external affairs spokesman said he "supposed Dixit and Vohra's visit is sponsored by the government" as part of its effort to shape India's post-Kargil foreign and defence policy. Vohra was also a former defence secretary and secretary in the prime minister's officer, while Dixit, after his retirement in 1994, has been active in the seminar circuit.
The spokesman said that such efforts complemented and supplemented the government's initiatives as it sought to reach out to the other countries. "It is customary and normal to support the government's diplomatic effort," he said.
He stated that both Dixit and Vohra are well known and respected individuals, known both in India and the West, and both of whom have been active after their retirement a few years ago. "The aim is to use their knowledge and influence to strengthen our regular government-to-government talks," he said.
"The effort is to create a consensus and disseminate the national perspective of India on the various issues facing our country after the Kargil conflict," the MEA spokesman added.
The spokesman pointed out that Dixit and Vohra will be meeting with think tanks and non-governmental organisations, besides government institutions in the UK and the US.
Dixit and Vohra are scheduled to meet US Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering besides other officials. Their mission is also to find out the attitude and perceptions of the US administration and non-government organisations towards India.
In London, Dixit and Vohra spoke at the influential International Institute of Strategic Studies, and met officials at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Incidentally, Dixit and Vohra will be reporting on their mission to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and not to the ministry of external affairs.
New Delhi is looking at three areas: the dialogue on Kashmir, India-Pakistan relations, and the nuclear arms-related treaties. These are the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, and the Missile Proliferation Control Treaty.
However, a former senior MEA official was sceptical about the usefulness of Dixit-Vohra's visit to London and Washington DC.
The former official said that if the government's aim was to influence the US policy, it was unlikely to be successful. "With due regard and respect for both Dixit and Vohra, who are fine and intelligent men, it is doubtful if one can influence the US policy. We can give them our point of view, but the US response is based on its own interests," he pointed out.
Second, the former official pointed out, given that India is due for elections next month, the US was unlikely to make any firm commitments to the present government. "After all, Dixit and Vohra are part of an informal arrangement, and only after the election results are out will the formal part make sense. Right now, the US is unlikely to make any decision or commitment," he added.
Nevertheless, the former official said that Dixit-Vohra's visit did serve one major purpose, that of a sounding board. "The positive aspect is that they can get to know the perceptions of US officials and influential think tanks and NGOs vis-à-vis India in the aftermath of Kargil. And both Dixit and Vohra are regarded well to hear and find out how the US perceives India today," he stated.
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