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July 14, 1998


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War in MEA cripples India's battle for world support

George Iype in New Delhi

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's post-nuclear diplomatic offensive has turned the ministry of external affairs into a battle zone.

MEA officials say the tussle for the diplomatic limelight between Planning Commission Deputy Chairperson Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra, the prime minister's principal secretary, is giving out conflicting signals on India's post-Pokhran strategy.

Though Vajpayee is in charge of foreign affairs, officials say the men whom he has deployed to bail out the country from economic sanctions and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are now "speaking and acting at cross-purposes".

"The confusion as to who controls the foreign office in Delhi is detrimental to India's interests, especially as the government prepares to hold the third round of diplomatic dialogue with the United States," a senior foreign affairs official told Rediff On The NeT.

He alleged that Singh and Mishra have hijacked the country's foreign policy in the last two months. "The foreign secretary's office looks redundant and K Raghunath has become a passive onlooker," he said.

Soon after the nuclear tests in May, the absence of a Cabinet minister at the MEA forced Vajpayee to deploy Singh and Mishra. While Mishra, the top official in the PMO, was sent to Britain, France and Russia to elicit opinion in India's favour, Singh, who is considered a close to Vajpayee, dealt with the United States.

Mishra, a former diplomat who headed the Bharatiya Janata Party's foreign policy wing, is currently touring South Africa explaining Indian security concerns to President Nelson Mandela.

Singh, for his part, has held two rounds of talks with US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in an attempt to rid India of the economic sanctions. Another round of talks will take place in New Delhi on July 20 and 21.

However, reports that Singh will be inducted as the next foreign minister when the prime minister expands his Cabinet after the Budget session have apparently miffed Mishra.

"Mishra fears his role in the foreign policy formulation will be considerably reduced if and when Singh occupies the top MEA post," an official said. The principal secretary is so insistent on foreign affairs, this official revealed, that he approves even routine MEA statements.

Diplomatic analysts believe that in the last few days differences between Mishra and Singh have reached absurd proportions.

Last week, Mishra, in an alleged attempt to torpedo Singh's diplomatic initiatives with the US, briefed a select group of journalists that India would not sign the CTBT unless it gets dual purpose technology and exemption from full-scope safeguards for its nuclear installations.

This forced Talbott to argue before Singh in Frankfurt that India should sign the CTBT without any pre-conditions.

Similarly, two weeks ago, Mishra contradicted Singh's television interview in which the latter suggested that the issue of converting the Line of Control into an international border may appear on the agenda of India-Pakistan peace talks.

Sensing that Mishra is all out to scuttle his diplomatic initiatives, Singh has started issuing statements from his office at the Planning Commission.

The loser in the Mishra/Singh battle for diplomatic supremacy is Raghunath, who has been relegated to the sidelines ever since the nuclear blasts.

Asked if the country's foreign policy is giving out confusing signals, the foreign secretary refused to comment, only saying: "I am doing my job."

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