One rule for the US, another for the rest

December 20, 2013 7:34 PM

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If diplom­atic immuni­ty is not given to the Indian diplom­at, the tensio­ns betwee­n US and India will worsen.

“Despicable” and “barbaric” are the words used by India’s National Security Adviser to describe the arrest and consequent strip search and humiliation of the Indian woman diplomat in New York. And since then, relations between Washington and New Delhi have plunged to a new low, with India turning a few heads at home as well, for summoning the courage to combat strategic ally, business partner and best friend America.

Indians seem to be looking at a new government suddenly that has clearly decided not to chew at the bit and hit back hard where it hurts. Many young Indians whizzed down the road in India’s posh diplomatic area after bulldozers brought down the concrete barriers that the US had been allowed to erect on public thoroughfare around its mission in Delhi. “We drove down to celebrate getting our road back,” said a young researcher, definitely not known for left leanings. The news seemed to be bringing new cheer to people fed up with US high-handedness, as the Indian government moved to withdraw identity cards, seal import licences such as those issued to procure liquor for US missions in India and made it clear through a series of actions that New Delhi was not going to allow its own to be messed with.

Legal wrangles apart, the anger and visible agitation in New Delhi arose from the manner in which the woman diplomat was seized upon outside her child’s school, handcuffed, stripped, cavity searched and brought to bear the ugliness of the American law-enforcing system for little more than an alleged visa fraud, wherein the salary she paid to her domestic help had been wrongly entered. There has been an attempt to turn it into the ‘poor maid’ issue but somehow, in this case, it has not worked, more because the maid seems to be aware and able to take care of her own rights, and more importantly, because there was clearly a plan as reflected in the ‘evacuation’ of her family from India to the US two days before the Indian diplomat was arrested.

Washington and New Delhi are battling it out currently and if diplomatic immunity is not given to the diplomat, the tensions will worsen. This will be reflected in more stringent diplomatic action against the US by India and perhaps, even vice versa. But while we wait for the situation to change for either the better or the worse, it might be worthwhile to look at the double standards with which the US interprets the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations with regard to others and its own. It used the harshest methods to arrest and terrify the Indian diplomat in what boils down to a dispute between her and her erstwhile domestic help, but did not hesitate to protect the CIA contractor Raymond Davis from arrest after he shot two men in Lahore two years ago. US President Barack Obama claimed that Davis was a US diplomat, with the US conferring on him the status of a diplomat after the killing of the two men. He was projected as a diplomat, with Islamabad accused at the time of detaining him illegally, with the public murder clearly not an issue with Washington. Davis was released eventually with monies paid to the relatives of the dead men. A diplomat of any country in the US, guilty of a similar crime, would never have seen the light of day after detention. But then, clearly, there are two rules here — one for the US and the second set for the others. And perhaps, a third set for non-white nations where diplomats are strip-searched and put into a cell with an apology rendered much after the incident.

Countries like India must also realise that unnecessary facilities to missions can create an imbalance that does not work to the country’s advantage. It is only now that the sops are being withdrawn, that we realise how many facilities had been extended to the US mission here, without a diplomatic quid pro quo. This is strange in the world of diplomacy that believes, more than others, in a tit-for-tat policy that we can see often dramatically exercised when it comes to relations between India and Pakistan. For a government that has swallowed far worse, the current stand-off is unprecedented. For once, the ruling coalition seems to be on the same page as its bureaucrats and both have joined hands in ensuring ‘justice’ for their diplomat. Let us see where this takes India-US relations at a time when New Delhi is crucial for Washington.


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