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Friday, Jan 09, 2004

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Puzzle of Powell

B. S. Raghavan

THE US Secretary of State, General Colin L. Powell, had always seemed to be an odd person out who, on that account, was ill at ease in the present Bush Administration. Many were puzzled at his continuing to be part of a government peopled by swashbuckling, chest-thumping neocons. The strange company he kept of the Cheneys, Rumsfelds, Perles and Wolfowitz's was certainly ill-suited to his sense of moderation and balanced and principled approach to issues. Indeed, as the American juggernaut, unconcerned about the susceptibilities and suspicions of other nations, rolled on towards self-assumed prerogatives of pre-emptive strikes and regime change based on disinformation and manipulated intelligence, friends of Mr Powell, knowing his old world decencies and values, expected him to quit any moment. There was even a hope entertained in some quarters that if he did so, he would be a strong contender for the presidential slot, if not in 2004, sometime in the future.

Contrary to all these prognostications by the commentariat (a word that has suddenly sprung into prominence presumably as the collective noun for commentators and critics), Mr Powell has gamely soldiered on, supporting Mr Bush and his cohorts to the hilt. But for his espousal of all their doings, they would have lost face with the American public long ago. His recent article "A Strategy for Partnerships" published in the January-February issue of Foreign Affairs, is also nothing but a plausible apologia for Mr Bush's policies which while they may not be error-free ("We are human beings; we all make mistakes") "have always pursued the enlightened self-interest of the American people, and in our purposes and our principles there are no mistakes."

There is a view among members of the Indian political and diplomatic community that the Defence Secretary, Mr Domald Rumsfeld, is pro-India, while Mr Powell tilts towards Pakistan. However, the article does not disclose any such prejudice on Mr Powell's part. In fact, Mr Powell says the US wants to help itself by deepening its relationship with India which he describes as a "mature market economy" and "one of the world's venerable cultures."

This piece should be of interest to India-Pakistan watchers for the reference to the great importance the US attaches to resolving regional conflicts, not by "spending presidential and secretarial capital on state visits and photo opportunities" but by operating quietly and from behind the scenes. No doubt, when Mr Powell says that the US is using the trust it has established with both sides to urge them toward conciliation by peaceful means, we get a clue to recent happenings in Islamabad.

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