Goodbye, Mr. Robert ‘Black-Will’

Islamabad has witnessed many highs and lows in its relations with Washington over the last 50 plus years. On occasions, the relations were touching their lowest ebb while on others the US was bracketing Pakistan as the most allied of the allies. Since its inception, Pakistan has always been regarded by Washington as a partner and a country set to play a significant role in the region as well as in international arena. After the end of Cold War, Pakistan tried to manage Kabul by its own vision to ensure the protection and promotion of its vital geo-strategic and economic interests in the area. It tried to follow the same line of action on two other equally important issues namely nuclear and Kashmir. Pakistan made well-thought-out efforts to adopt an independent policy on these very crucial issues closely linked with its survival and development.

Washington on several occasions either tried to persuade or reprimand Pakistan to change its course. As a matter of fact, it never converged its interests, polices and actions with New Delhi. Washington was well aware of the sensitivities involved in doing so particularly Islamabad’s apprehensions regarding New Delhi.

The set practices turned down when US new Ambassador Robert D Blackwill arrived in New Delhi. He was a close aide to President Bush and known to be a handpicked political appointee to India. He did his job well and gave a new hype to Indo-US relations. He argued Indian case in the corridors of White House and got through the waiving of technology transfer sanctions against India. Indian leadership as well as civil society admitted that he took Indo-US relations to unbelievable heights and enhanced bilateral relations many folds. Owing to this contribution he earned praise from every walk of life across the India.

Honestly specking, there is no justification to object to his efforts and landmark successes that began in Aug 2001. The irony, however, was that he was not merely promoting Indo-US relations but was also engaged in damaging America’s relations with Pakistan. Both the countries need each other for different interests. At home, hardly a few could know the damage he had done to the US-Pakistan relation during his stay in India. Pakistan’s interests were seriously damaged on very vital issues.

Significantly, Mr. Blackwill damaged the Kashmir cause and Pakistan-US relations in every possible way. He even encouraged India to take hostile stance against Pakistan. Strangely enough, he went to a great extent to malign Kashmir struggle, an internal matter of New Delhi as the occupying army says. A section of the Indian media reported that Blackwill even interrupted a briefing at the 15 corps Headquarters when an Indian officer while talking about armed struggle used the word militant. Blackwill corrected him, ‘they are plain and simple terrorists’ he remarked. After the tragic incidents of 9/11, Blackwill assumed the role of Delhi’s front man rather than that of US Ambassador to India. Initially, he tried to single out Islamabad with the Taliban militia and sought the same treatment to Pakistan as was accorded to the Taliban. When some unidentified assailants attacked the Indian parliament, he did not miss the opportunity in riding the Indian bandwagon of non-stop Pakistan bashing. While visiting the Parliament after attack he drew parallels between the events of 9/11 and attack on the Indian Parliament.

On the core issue of Jammu & Kashmir dispute, he diluted Washington’s stated position and supported Indian point of view. Since the inception of insurgency in Kashmir, Washington has always maintained a neutral and pro-Kashmiri people position while insisting on the peaceful resolution of dispute. Historically, Washington never termed elections held under Indian administration substitute to the plebiscite. It was only Mr. Blackwill who went to extent of altering the US position. Blackwill was the sole Delhi-based ambassador to term the recently held state elections ‘remarkable and very positive’. Above all, he described press reports about rigging as ‘exaggerated’. Besides this he cancelled his only scheduled meeting with the Hurriyat Conference without giving any justification. Moreover, he refused to meet APHC during his two visits to Srinagar. Ironically, he never ever tried to know views of the other side of divide.

Surprisingly enough, Robert Blackwill had become an expert to access the level of infiltration across the Line of Control. On average every month he issued statements pointing to increase in infiltration. He never saw a perceptible decline in the level of infiltration though some US and Indian officials admitted that reality. Obviously, he had been sending similar messages to the State Department, which set the tone of US government particularly the White House. One wondered how Blackwill was so sure about the level of infiltration. He had no means to support such claims. On few occasions State Department decided to recall him as he was creating problems in war against terrorism. Islamabad was fed up with his statements and was reading them as a double standard US official policy. Privately US officials in Islamabad as well as in the State Department were distancing themselves from Blackwill’s statements. In May 2002, he was asked to pack up and report to Washington. But his personal links came to his rescue and finally he survived for a few more months. It was common that he had very serious problems with his staff at the embassy. More importantly, his statements had been putting his boss in difficult situation on many occasions. India’s prestigious news magazine Outlook revealed a very interesting story indicting Blackwill’s comfort with the Indian interests. According to Outlook, after a meeting with Minister for External Affairs Yashwant Sinha in January this year, Blackwill sent a cable to the headquarters. He said Sinha — and consequently India — was convinced that India had missed an opportunity to attack Pakistan in post-Parliament event, December 13, 2001. That was a terrorist incident of such magnitude to occur again, it would be difficult to stop India from responding militarily. Outlook further says that later on when Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal visited Washington in early February, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca together cited Blackwill’s cable to express their anxiety. A surprised Sibal said the text of the cable wasn’t precisely what Sinha had said.

Unlike Blackwill, when one sees US diplomats stationed in Islamabad, they always reflect a decorum set by both the countries’ traditions and leadership. In the case of Blackwill and other American diplomats one can assess how much personality cult and personal tendencies matter in diplomacy and even everywhere in the human life. Mr. Blackwill may be leaving India but his image and impact will last long on ties between both the countries. The Indians question Washington for sacking an ambassador who had gained extraordinary confidence of the host government and made a big difference in the bilateral relations. They suspect a policy change vis-é-vis Delhi and fear fresh tilt towards Pakistan. Moreover, Delhi regards Blackwill’s departure as Pakistan’s victory over the Indian lobby in the US power corridors.

Unlike India, Islamabad feels quite comfortable, seeing this as a qualitative change in the US approach and attitude towards Pakistan. The decision will definitely help both the countries to advance their mutual interests. Similarly, Islamabad hopes that US policy towards Kashmir conflict will be balanced and based on justice. Pakistanis expect the Bush administration’s new envoy to Delhi to advance the cause of peace and development in the region instead of abusing his powerful office. Particularly, when Islamabad and New Delhi have started new journey towards reconciliation and conflict resolution.

The writer is a specialist on dynamics of Jammu and Kashmir conflict and India-Pakistan relations. He has recently visited Indian-Held Jammu and Kashmir.