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Not Just An American Version

Raja Menon

By Strobe Talbott
Viking/Penguin, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 268, Rs. 395.00


Not many would have expected that a book would be written so soon after the Talbott-Singh talks petered out. This is more than just the American version of it and there undoubtedly will be an Indian version in the future, now that Jaswant Singh has time on his hands. Talbott’s book is a courageous one and he is magnanimous to Jaswant against whom he felt he came off second best. Much of the early narrative could be glossed over by South Asian readers, unless it is to look for the infamous American bias. There is none.   Introduced to India by the Moynihans and his ‘Indian family’, the Chandas, to whom the book is dedicated, Talbott was witness to the Kissinger-Indira talks after Pokharan 1, and records Kissinger’s calm acceptance of India’s nuclear status in the seventies. Why did these talks take place? To fix something that was broken —apparently the India-US relationship; but as Talbott wryly admits, it took Pokharan II to put India on the American radar screen and for the White House to realize that the relationship was ‘broke’.   The talks began in a probing kind of way in June 98 in Washington after Jaswant approached George Perkovich to be the honest, back channel broker. George received a prompt affirmative from the state department appointing Talbott as their representative with India. But prior to the talks is the first of the comic interludes with Nawaz Sharif. An American team descends on Islamabad after Pokharan II to prevent a Pakistani response. Torn between his fear of the army, fear of the fundamentalists and fear of the Americans, Nawaz Sharif is a sweating, hand wringing mass of nerves and it is left to Shamshad Ahmed the Foreign Secretary, and Gohar Ayub the foreign Minister to put on the Punch and Judy show , before the Americans are led out of a side door. Nawaz Sharif makes a brief appearance again when he arrives uninvited in Washington, with family in tow, after Kargil. The Americans are uncertain whether he has come to negotiate or to seek asylum. Certainly after the now famous dressing down that he gets from Clinton, the Americans are again unsure whether the Pakistani PM might not just stay on in Washington. Indian observers can no more believe that Sharif knew anything about Kargil, nor that Pakistani nuclear weapons were moved with the PM’s authorization.   The talks ...

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