Comment: Negroponte Carries US Message to India, Pakistan
December 12, 2008 1 Comment
In early December, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited India and Pakistan to spearhead Washington’s handling of the two countries’ response to the Mumbai attacks. Now the State Department has appointed Deputy Secretary John Negroponte to oversee the situation. The US government-affiliated Voice of America network reports that Negroponte’s main mission during his trip to India and Pakistan is “to advise […] political leaders on improving the[ir] intelligence agencies”. Now, Negroponte does many things, but “advising” is not one of them.
Negroponte’s career resumé features considerable experience in strong-arm tactics, beginning with his ambassadorial post in Honduras from 1981-1985, when Washington was using that nation as a base to arm and train the Contras mercenary army operating in Nicaragua. During that time, US military aid to the Central American country “grew from $5 million to nearly $100 million”. Part of that money was used by the Honduran army to train and equip its feared intelligence section and particularly its death-squad, known as Battalion 3-16. In the mid-1990s, irrefutable evidence emerged in the US press showing that Negroponte had firsthand knowledge of Battalion 3-16’s involvement “in kidnappings, rape, torture and killing of suspected dissidents”. In 2005, shortly before Negroponte was confirmed as Director of National Intelligence (DNI), The Washington Post unearthed previously classified documents showing he had systematically “play[ed] down human rights abuses in Honduras” while using “a back-channel system of communication through the CIA to send messages […] that he did not want widely distributed” within the US government, let alone the US media.
As US Ambassador to the United Nations from 2001 to 2004, Negroponte was also a senior member of the support team working with then US Secretary of Defense Colin Powell during his disgraced “Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction” speech, which Powell delivered in February 2003. Negroponte’s role in that deceptive presentation actually benefited his professional career: after serving briefly as DNI, he was appointed Deputy Secretary of State by the Bush Administration.
Negroponte’s appointment to the task of overseeing the Indian and Pakistani response to the Mumbai attacks carries with it Washington’s message that it will not tolerate local initiatives falling outside the prescribed framework of Washington’s “war on terrorism”. The first thing Negroponte did in Lahore was to direct the Pakistanis to the specific names of Islamic groups “against whom Washington wants Islamabad to take action”. He also made sure to remind New Delhi that “there were United States casualties as well. So we are also victims of these attacks” (and therefore have a “legitimate” say in any response). Then, after telling journalists that the US is simply “cooperating in this effort” and that “obviously the government of India is in the lead”, he strongly forbade India to react to the Mumbai attacks the same way the US reacted after “9/11”. That is, he “advised India to be restrained and pursue diplomatic options in dealing with Pakistan”.
The reason for this directive is that an Indo-Pakistani war would inevitably cause Pakistan to divert its military attention from its Afghan to its Indian border, thus “relieving pressure on al-Qaeda, Taleban and other militants based there”, as The London Times suggested on December 1. Washington is determined to keep the pressure on militants operating in the Afghan-Pakistani border region and is currently not interested in allowing the Indian government to derail this arrangement by pursuing its own petty national interests.
Interestingly, the Indian and Pakistani leaderships do not appear to be dismissing Negroponte as an emissary of a lame duck US Administration, as one might expect. Behind this, lies US President-Elect Barack Obama’s decision to leave America’s defense, and possibly even intelligence, leaderships essentially intact, as well as his determination to pursue the Afghan war even more aggressively than did George W. Bush. Obama’s plan for intensification of the US war in Afghanistan does not leave room for any deterioration in Indio-Pakistani relations. Negroponte thus knows that by employing his usual strong-arm tactics in Lahore and New Delhi, he is promoting a fundamentally unchanged US policy for that region. [JF]