Madeleine Albright passed away. There is a habit of saying only good things about a person who just passed away and avoiding controversial discussions. From India’s perspective, she would be remembered as the most anti-India Secretary-of-State.

She slapped econ sanctions on India in 1998, pushed for plebiscite in Jammu And Kashmir, pressured the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee to sign the NPT/CTBT even though US Senate rejected CTBT. Madeleine Albright has long puzzled Indians. At the best of times US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is pugnacious, at the worst of times she can be positively vitriolic. Speaking at Washington’s Stimson Centre on June 10, she described the nuclear tests in the subcontinent as “a felony against the future”.

Two days later, speaking to CNN from London she sought to dispel a growing impression in the US that sanctions are an overused and ineffective instrument of recrimination. “It’s all sticks and no carrots,” she assured.

Albright’s combativeness proved infectious. Last Thursday, when Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott announced the US administration’s punitive measures against India, his tone was positively menacing. “The path down which India and Pakistan have started to move with these tests is a dead end and no one else should follow down that path.” The measures would be a warning to all “would-be nuclear-testers”.

Talbott’s announcement was the climax of a series of elaborate diplomatic moves to browbeat India. First, Washington got the P-5 to meet in Geneva to condemn India and Pakistan and demand they sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-nuclear weapons states. Then, on June 11, the G-8 announced it would gang up to oppose loans by international financial institutions. Finally, Albright has made it clear that she intends pushing Kashmir to the global agenda. “I think international attention on it will help.”

US actions do not as yet indicate a fatigue with its policy of unilateral sanctions. The US has imposed sanctions 104 times since World War II and an amazing 61 times since President Bill Clinton came to power. India is one of the more “sanctioned” countries, having faced restrictions on all nuclear materials since 1978 and on missile-related goods since 1985. With past experience, the US is not unaware that as time passes sanctions begin to lose their sting.

Albright’s description of India’s security concerns as “dangerous nonsense” remains at the root of Indo-US problems. With its avowed pro-Beijing tilt, the White House simply discounts the China factor mentioned by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in his letter to Clinton.


On June 12, Gordon Oehler, former director of the CIA’s Non-Proliferation Centre told the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee that the White House had systematically ignored intelligence inputs on China’s missile trade with Pakistan, a charge echoed by right wing Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Her father, Josef Korbel, a Czech diplomat, was so virulently anti-Indian and pro-Pakistani when he was chairman of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan. His appointment was a Cold War sleight of hand by the Americans. Czechoslovakia had a communist government, but Korbel represented the defunct Benes regime. Second, “his main interest was to arrange for political asylum” in the United States of America, and “timing was critical, because he needed asylum before he lost his Czechoslovak diplomatic status and was forced to leave the US.” Naturally, he did everything he could as UNCIP chairman to pander to the Truman administration’s Cold War strategy in south Asia, so that the pending asylum plea would be quickly granted.

Naturally, Albright does not make the connection. But the link between cause and effect is plain as a pikestaff. One can also understand her hysterical reaction to Pokhran II which, she claimed, bore out everything she had learnt about Kashmir at her father’s knee. That tainted source explained the daughter’s prejudice. Clinging to what she had been told 50 years earlier was also typical of the tunnel vision that made her a singularly unimaginative, often also unintelligent, secretary of state.

In spite of the early exposure she boasted of, there is barely a mention in this book of Pokhran or, indeed, India. Even when she “flew to South Asia, [sic] arriving [where?] on November 17”, there is nary a word about the host country (by implication, India) or its leaders. All her time is taken up with telephone conversations with the Russian foreign minister, Yevgeny Primakov, to set up a date in Geneva. In fact, whenever an American politician writes his or her memoirs, we are reminded of India’s inconsequence to the American Dream. Whether the present “strategic partnership” will make any difference to individual perceptions remains to be seen. Albright makes loyal excuses for the lie her father and mother lived all their American lives. But those of us who know Korbel only as the man Jawaharlal Nehru accused of treating “the thief and the owner of the house as equals” over Kashmir will see a pattern and a purpose in the deception. Albright discusses the pain and shock of the disclosure with a frankness that deserves respect. She is at her best when discussing human situations like her Jewish parentage, the break-up of her marriage and the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Her book incorrectly stated that Hindus butchered Sikhs in Chittisinghpura, Kashmir, even though massacre was conducted by Lashkar-e-Taiba. Albright also insulted Vajpayee-Advani, saying they debased India’s standing in the world by rejecting the legacy of Gandhi-Nehru.

Albright thus pushed Pakistan’s agenda on Kashmir for many years. Given a chance, she wouldn’t have let India become a nuclear-weapon State, nor would she have allowed India to assert its rightful sovereignty over Kashmir. However, Albright failed in her anti-India motives and ultimately American leaders had to establish better ties with India as New Delhi’s stature grew in international politics. However, this doesn’t undermine the future that Albright was India’s number one enemy for a long time.


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