BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK: Politics  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
Did Straw waste his time?
Jack Straw and Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Mr Straw has been playing down expectations

Jack Straw wasted his time by going to Islamabad and New Delhi this week.

The two sides are set on war, the foreign secretary's visit was an empty gesture, a pointless exercise.

He should have stayed at home.

That's one view at least.


It would be frankly bizarre if a British foreign secretary regarded an international crisis of major proportions as a piffling distraction of little consequence

The foreign secretary's aides try to hide their annoyance by laughing off the suggestion with derision.

You can't help but think that they, rather than the sneering cynics, have a point.

It would be frankly bizarre if a British foreign secretary regarded an international crisis of major proportions as a piffling distraction of little consequence.

Like a transport secretary who complained about the smell from the common people on the buses or a home office minister who got lagered up and caused a ruck at the football, he'd be well and truly hung out to dry.

Nuclear war

The bottom line is that when Mr Straw said with tedious regularity that he had a duty to try to help efforts to ease the tensions over Kashmir, he is unquestionably right.

Jack Straw
How effective is Straw's style of diplomacy?
Thousands of soldiers from both sides are massing along the line of control which separates the Indian-controlled part of the region from that controlled by Pakistan.

The prospect of a nuclear war is very real.

The foreign secretary arrived back in the UK in the early hours of Thursday.

He knew when he flew out to the region on Monday that some would doubt whether his trip was worthwhile.

His trip had been given high billing as a peace-making mission, and he was quick to downplay suggestions that an immediate breakthrough was on the cards.

Fierce rhetoric

There can be a debate about how effective or otherwise Mr Straw's personal style of diplomacy is.

He refused to divulge details of his discussions with Pakistan's leader and India's prime minister and that didn't help perceptions of the trip.

But he remained upbeat while downplaying expectations, hinting at some minor progress towards bringing the two sides to the negotiating table.

Amid all the fierce rhetoric that would certainly be enough to suggest his trip to the region was worthwhile.

Behind-the-scenes talks

Officials certainly see some signs of hope for the crisis.

They detect subtle changes to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's approach and a deep-rooted Indian desire to avoid war.


America should be pressured more because they are the people who can do something about Pakistan

T.J. Sree Lal, Asianet News
On Wednesday, some seasoned observers of relations between Islamabad and Delhi suggested that some behind-the-scenes talks are in progress.

And the role of the US in putting increasing pressure on Pakistan to take more action against cross-border terrorism in Kashmir is being played up.

So suggesting, as some have, that south Asia is being treated to a pointless round of visits by a diplomatic second string bearing little more than banalities is a little unkind.

More international pressure

Any progress, should the diplomatic missions bear fruit, cannot, of course, be credited entirely to Mr Straw.

He is part of a much bigger picture of which the US is at the very centre with the UK somewhere on the margins.

But all the local journalists I spoke to in New Delhi were agreed that the foreign secretary's visit was helpful at the very least.

They would rather see him in their prime minister's house than sitting in Whitehall.

And they were unanimous that more international pressure - particularly from the US and the UK - could make a difference to what Islamabad and Delhi do next.

Time running out

Deepak Dopbhal, a television correspondent with Aaj Ki Baat, a news analysis programme on Star Plus television, said that unless more pressure is piled on Pakistan, India will act.


There is pressure on Pakistan, but there should be some pressure on India over human rights

S Iftikhar Gilani, Delhi bureau chief, The Kashmir Times
He said Mr Straw's strong words in support of India would help confidence in Delhi that the world understands their situation - but added that time was running out to find a way to resolve the dispute.

"We have been receiving foreign dignatories for months now, many people have come and gone, but infiltration (over the line of control in Kashmir) is not stopping," he said.

"OK, one more person is coming, but what has happened?"

American pressure

But T.J. Sree Lal, a reporter with Asianet News, said the foreign secretary's visit succeeded in at least reducing tensions a little.

He believes war would set back progress in Asia by 50 years, adding: "So people should keep up the international things - the international community coming to the region is a good thing, Straw coming here is a good thing.

"America should be pressured more because they are the people who can do something about Pakistan.

"They can make Musharraf do something."

'India has lost touch'

For S. Iftikhar Gilani, Delhi bureau chief for the The Kashmir Times newspaper, the task is to build confidence in Indian-controlled Kashmir with a political and economic package to aid the region.

Pakistan's new surface-to-surface missile
Pakistan has been carrying out missile tests
"There is pressure on Pakistan, but there should be some pressure on India over human rights and the government of the region," he said.

"India has lost touch with people there."

In Islamabad, I talked to a man called Ashraf about his fears for his five-year-old daughter, who has just started school. His eyes twinkle with pride when he talks about her.

And in Delhi, there was Rakesh, who asks me whether there will be a war and wonders what life will be like for his two baby sons if the dispute explodes into full-scale conflict.

Foreign diplomats

Mr Straw may not have made great strides, but for Ashraf, Rakesh and many others like them, it matters that he was there.

The foreign secretary's view is that it is better to keep the two sides talking - even if it is not to each other.

And as one cynical hack put it, at least the visits from a long line of international politicians means neither New Delhi or Islamabad is likely to go to war when the twp city's hotels are full of foreign diplomats.


Key stories

Features

Background

IN DEPTH
See also:

28 May 02 | UK Politics
28 May 02 | UK Politics
27 May 02 | UK Politics
28 May 02 | UK Politics

E-mail this story to a friend



© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes