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Saving Face/Climbing Down
India Escalates Diplomatic Dispute with U.S.

The dispute between India and the United States over an Indian diplomat’s “mistreatment” at the hands of U.S. police is getting worse. Yesterday, India requested that the U.S. embassy in Delhi stop commercial activities at a well-known club that has a bowling alley and swimming pool and other amenities. The Indian authorities also said that U.S. vehicles would not be immune to traffic offenses anymore. Then the U.S. Energy Secretary, after a “conversation with Indian counterparts,” canceled a planned trip to India, becoming the second American official to postpone a visit there.

Nearly a month has passed since U.S. police arrested an Indian diplomat for allegedly underpaying her nanny and lying on a visa application, but the still simmering dispute is starting to sour relations across the board between the world’s two largest democracies. Though diplomats from both countries say they want to come to a mutually suitable agreement, observers and former diplomats are worried it could spin out of control on a scale not seen since India tested a nuclear weapon in 1998.

There are a number of reasons why this dispute rankles in India. For decades, some quarters of the Indian establishment, especially the old guard of India’s anti-colonialist, left-wing elite, have disliked the idea of a close relationship between New Delhi and Washington. Also, the tiny Indian Foreign Service is keen to present India to the world as a great and important power. For a diplomat to be strip-searched for a crime that would be laughed off as nothing in the subcontinent is simply unacceptable. Indian nationalists also score points and gain legitimacy as defenders of Indian interests worldwide by making a fuss with the United States.

Both sides need to put this issue to bed as soon as possible. The hearing for the accused diplomat is coming up in the next few days. For the United States, it’s important to balance the concerns of foreign diplomats, especially those representing important allies, with the priorities of justice and law enforcement. But the goal here is not to win an argument; the goal is to form a deep and trusting relationship with India, a country vital to America’s economic and security interests in Asia.

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  • Anthony

    So, violation of our visa and labor laws is to receive diplomatic immunity because American law enforcement conducted both an aggressive and over zealous arrest (happens to regular American everyday). Now if case of typical American could be so easily balanced/disposed, general respect for rule of law increases (not tit for tat diplomatic exchange). By the way, does Khobragade’s consular status afford immunity outside of duties?

  • Kieselguhr Kid

    I could not disagree more with Professor Mead’s recommendations for the US.

    By way of disclosure, I am an Indian-American. This case has produced a pretty strong and bitter dispute between my community and our Indian relatives — I was discussing this with some friends and we were a bit … upset … that we have each and separately been called (somewhat ironically, given the context) “Uncle Toms” by intemperate Indians. But then, surely it should give Professor Mead some pause that the community which best knows and advocated for Indians in America, has come out so strongly against Ms. Khobragade.

    There are good reasons for that. First, of course, is the fact that this is hardly the first case! The Indians have been serial offenders, and to go easy now will be to greenlight more human trafficking by Indian diplomats: indeed, we should (as the law requires) go the other way and now ban Indian diplomats from bringing domestic help. To acknowledge the Indian concerns at this point invites more evil, not least because the arguments the Indians keep making indicate so: for example, I keep hearing the agnry insistence that the maid should be grateful for her expensive housing and medical care, and it makes me shudder to hear this from relations because it is exactly the rationale most human traffickers use. Further note that diplomats from _other_ friendly countries have been caught in the same mess, and those countries have had to quietly pull those people, usually after prosecution, in shame: ought we to tell those allies that India is more dear?

    Note also that while we can and do make compromises in foreign affairs, what is at stake here is a core value of the US, one we fought a bloody war to end and one we have struggled mightily against. There is no benefit the Indians offer which balances countenancing this crap in America. Indeed, I carry a US official government passport and occasionally have the great honor of representing my country on government business overseas — and because of that, _I_ am required by law to certify regularly, for myself and all my subordinates, that I have undergone periodic refresher training on US policy towards trafficking-in-persons, and am aware of the unforgiving force of law that will be applied to those who violate it. This American value is not one that we should bend lightly, nor should our allies think we do.

    Further, note the insanity of the Indian response. Pulling the security barriers from the US embassy was just _amazing_. Obviously it’s more symbolic than anything else — indeed, after what I presume was a very very harsh off-stage dressing down, the Indians publicized their deployment of additional police to protect the embassy — but, what symbolism! It is winking openly at an attack on our personnel. To respond to a dispute by suggesting that out diplomatic personnel’s safety hinged on concession is _astonishing_ — it is not the act of a friend, or even of a neutral, and if say Russia did such a thing Professor Mead would know exactly what to call it. Should we encourage it?

    And it’s not surprising. Again, I am a booster of Indian culture and I think both countries have very much to gain from a better relationship. But it is hardly controversial to observe that the Indian governing class is, and has ever been, remarkably and deeply anti-American: these people seem never to have forgiven us for winning the Cold War. Almost every time China blocks some American foreign policy initiative or human-rights issue, India is standing there too, and it simply gets overlooked due to its comparative insignificance: India thwarts US policy as much as anybody. Again, I have the honor to represent America from time to time and I have never heard the vitriol directed against the US from any country’s intelligentsia, that I hear routinely in India (although I grant that this might be from a perception that I am “one of the team” — but I do, vocally, defend my country).

    Look, nobody wants good relations with India more than I; I wish my parents’ people would put aside their anti-Americanism and build a good relationship. But they need to understand that there are core US values that won’t budge; that relationship is not infinitely pliable. And the fact is that, firstly, their diplomat did in fact do something wrong — it is not the US embarrassing them here, it’s Ms. Khobragade — and secondly, the relationship is worth vastly more to them than to us (and I submit that it will always be so, unless and until India’s governing culture is one that seems to recognize Ms. Richard as an important citizen too). There are good reasons that the Indian-American community is willing to see India’s nose bloodied on this matter, and for the US to back down would be a gross insult to those of us who have, frankly, been shamed multiple times in the past when Indian immigrants engage in human trafficking: the relationship will be stronger and better in the long run if India accepts and wholeheartedly yields to US values here.

    • qet

      It is very reassuring to read this. But surely you are aware that at the moment, enforcement of US norms embedded in US laws against people of other nationalities, even on our own soil, is more than usually fraught. And with China manifesting an increasing aggressiveness, saving a relationship (between the US and Indian governing elites) that you describe as a rather cool one from getting even cooler might be the wisest policy here. I really don’t know, but I do know that I was happy to read your remarks.

      • Kieselguhr Kid

        It’s nice to hear that! But I think one can get too balance-of-power-y about China: after all, we engage the Chinese too. In all cases I think we need to show what values we can hold our nose on, and what values we can’t, and that we won’t accept serial violators. It would be great, with or without a threat, to have a good relationship with such a dynamic and promising country as India! But that relationship needs to be on terms we both value, and the Indians, having crossed a line, are idiotically doubling and tripling down, and doing so in ways as aggressive and nasty as anything the Chinese do (seriously — can you see the Chinese playing at endangering our diplomats? Really? They might toss a bunch out of the country, but that’s it.) The US ought not to back down.

        And, Professor Mead to to consider that doing so might alienate the Indian immigrant community that is itself such a key link and mediator of the relationship. I was living in Berkeley in the late ’90’s when a local prominent Indian family, which owned a restaurant and a big real estate firm, got in trouble for a lot of human trafficking: they had Indian maids and stuff who weren’t allowed to go out, the son had raped a couple and gotten one knocked up, and a couple of the family were going to jail. The Americans — and Indian-Americans — were of course outraged and did things like bycotting the restaurant. And I remember well local Indian immigrants rising to the defense of the family, saying we didn’t understand, that boycotting the restaurant would just hurt the Indian community, and crap like that. Many an Indian argued to me that “we” needed to support these jerks, that maybe the sexual abuse went too far but the servants didn’t understand how good they had it (sadly, on a recent trip, I saw that their businesses were doing just fine 15 years later, too). It was a grotesque shame to us, and the last time I remember the Indian community and the Indian-American community so at each others’ throats: and, FYI, the Indian-American community is the one IS policy should be working harder to please.

        Professor Mead is right to observe that perhaps these offenses wouldn’t be regarded as so bad in India, but that’s just a bizarre observation. Sure, let the Indians have the society they want in India. But I’m damned if they can have it _here_, and for crying out loud, a diplomat of all people should know that. I’m aware that if I break the laws of a host country overseas, I’ll be prosecuted, and _probably_ the US will come to my rescue and quietly whick me back home after an apology, but I’ll have brought shame on my country and my career would be done. What India is doing, on the other hand, is antithetical to how foreign relations are done — is that what we want in an ally? How about, it you want the Indians to balance the Chinese, you demand they show the barest finger-lifting minimum of behaving like an ally first?

        • qet

          Well, the news this morning is that she has been allowed to leave the country though still under indictment. I tend to agree with the commenter below that the raising of this incident to crisis proportions probably was caused by the strip-search. If the arrest and indictment had proceeded more quietly, perhaps we would not now be having this discussion. I have not read detailed accounts of the event, but it seems that a strip-search would have been unnecessary, and it is rather humiliating.

          • Kieselguhr Kid

            I think the US Attorney explained it well. The strip-search is standard for the protection of arrestees, and Ms. Khobragade was accorded quite remarkable courtesies and privileges. The search was conducted in private, and I think there’s a good argument against doing it, but there’s a good argument _for_ as well: it’s entirely clear why most prisoners with whom she was kept are searched, and to exempt wealthy foreigners would also be a problem, too. I’m happy to concede that law enforcement officeials in the country often overreach, but I think best practice here is at best uncertain, and perhaps in considering “humiliation” of Indians, one might do well to consider domestic servants as well! But we seem to be getting back onto the tack I suggested below and that is generally followed in these cases, which is that the accused gets indicted and is quietly whisked out of the country not to return. The hook of course is that Ms. Khobragade may return — in which case, she had damn well better stand trial.

          • Kieselguhr Kid

            Even the bizarre pettiness of insisting that we withdraw an official — not any particular official for any particular offense, just, y’know, _someone_ — shows that the Indians are profoundly not getting it.

          • Sreenidhi b t

            mother fucker read the comments made by wayne and alicia in facebook . fucking uncle tom mother fucker.

    • TommyTwo

      Thanks for your perspective. My main perspective on this matter attaches little importance to India or to Ms. Khobragade. I am primarily concerned with law enforcement within the US. American citizens have become habituated over the last few decades to increasingly violative behavior by their law enforcement public “servants.” This case seems to symbolize the LEOs getting increasingly out of control, and seems like a good “learning opportunity.” (This is not to say that India couldn’t be somewhat more level-headed, or to trivialize human trafficking.)

  • Noida kid

    Gentlemen – what double standards you Yanks have? Why don’t you utter the word Raymond Davis or reciprocity. And by the way when was the last time an ex US president was frisked as has happened in India. I am actually very happy that the Indian government is at last showing some spine.

    Indian in UK

    • Kieselguhr Kid

      The repeated invocation of Raymond Davis by Indians is perplexing. The Davis affair is a bit of a nonprecedent, because it is an example of the “other” foreign diplomat problem, which is when the diplomat is caught out as a member of the intelligence services, and it caused unique problems for both Pakistan and America with which they were not quite sure how to grapple, especially as it seems certain that the Pakistani intelligence services were themselves not unaware of nor antagonistic to Davis. But setting all that aside for the moment and pretending that was an embarrassment for the US, and the US figured out how to pay off the Pakistanis to their satisfaction. Well, yeah. And that’s what should’ve happened in the Khobragade case: she gets charged, goes to court, the Indians quietly pay off some people and take her back home and never send her here again. Those aren’t double standards, it’s the same standard, even though (since again Davis was a much more sensitive case) it doesn’t quite apply.

      I also continued to be amazed that Indians applaud their government for “showing spine” — on behalf of human trafficking. There are, in fact, rather better issues for the Indians to choose to be truculent on. Wouldn’t it be a delightful change of pace if they, for a change, “showed spine” and stood up for a citizen like Ms. Richard, against their own famously corrupt civil service?

      • Noida kid

        So your spy had fingers stuck in his anus by the Pakistanis also. What holier than thou words doth you utter? Even the Pakistanis (not historically a friend of India) have criticised your record. Read the Pakistani ambassador to the US’ write up at the Daily Beast. Shame on you for bringing other issues to the table – corruption is not the issue here. Your country’s penchant for sticking its finger in mydiplomat’s arsehole is.

      • Kieselguhr Kid

        And there, exactly is my point. Indians are so quick to mention Davis. Yet they don’t wish to mention Sangeeta Richard, unless it is to slime her. “My diplomat” matters, “my fellow citizen” does not.

        They are too foolish to see that the US is doing them a favor.

        • Noida kid

          And what favour are you doing my friend by putting your sticky finger up my diplomat’s arse. Do you want us to stick one up one of yours if we arrest him / her for a transgression illegal in India such as homosexuality (because it is illegal under my country’s laws).

          By the way Mrs. Richards was not trafficked – she signed up voluntarily and the value of her total perks outweighed your minimum wage requirements. That said you are welcome to keep her now! She is one of yours.

        • GodisanAmerican

          Sangeeta is low caste servant class. “These people are always like this, ji, …these people think they are like equal to us English speaking Indians ji.”
          Mrs. K is IFS ji. You what that means? She passed a really tough competition exams ji. Hi so hard ji. Then this servant lady dares to complain. She should be lucky to go to USA. You know how hard is to get visa.
          She and her family should all be in jail. What a batmeez.

          • Kieselguhr Kid

            While I am appalled by the lack of concern for (or outright sliming of) Sangeeta Richard in some circles, I want to make it flat-out clear that I am in no way associated with the repellent bigotry of the ignorant racist posting as “Godisanamerican.” It is not hard at all to find Indians with a deep, heartfelt commitment to social justice, nor — sadly — American bootlickers who confuse social position with moral superiority.

          • GodisanAmerican

            Wow! What racist thing I said? Or is it just my moniker. I’m an atheist.
            And GodisanAmerican is tongue in cheek sarcastic node to the right wingers in the US who think Jesus votes GOP.

          • Fred

            Yes, and it’s about as clever as a knock-knock joke.

          • Kieselguhr Kid

            Your screen-name is the least offensive of your failures. You would be identified as a racist by any group of decent Americans to whom you opened your mouth, casually — and wrongly — “explaining” Indian atiitudes towards caste and class. Anyone ass enough to use in my presence the little stepin-fetchit Indian “voice” you’ve used multiple times here in the delusion of cleverness, would leave light several teeth. My parents ate a lot of dirt because of scum eaters like you, I’ve had to eat a lot of dirt because of scum eaters like you, and I have the regular heartbreak of realizing that my kids will too (and for that matter so will Sangeeta Richard). Voices like Ambuj Gupta’s are repellent in their jingoism andf contempt for the woman, but, they are the way they are because of the belief that Americans think as you, and voices like yours are the consistent low bar in these issues.

            I have known and know many of the right-wing religious types you describe; I don’t share their politics or beliefs or provincialism. But some are my friends, and they’re worth a hundred of you, because they recognize that the kind of casual racism you use, demeans and shames us, and they expect better of Americans.

          • GodisanAmerican

            Oh! Boy. You response is way out of proportion. Scum eaters? Calm down. Take a Xanax if you have to. There is nothing racist or bigoted in my post. I was using humor to explain the indian mindset do which I know a great deal. The attitude i described is all too common. Just read comments sections when the story first appeared in indian express. Just say Bharat mata ki, jai is not enough. You need a thicker skin.

  • gabrielsyme

    To be strip-searched for a non-violent crime where there can be no apprehension of a concealed weapon is indefensible under any circumstances.

    • free_agent

      My understanding is that when one is taken into a NYC jail, there is *always* apprehension of the possibility of a concealed weapon.

      The other way of looking at it is that we wouldn’t stomach the guards deciding who gets strip-searched and who doesn’t. And I do believe that this is a core factor in the dispute: India does (or did) have “class A” prisoners who were treated a lot better than ordinary prisoners. The US took someone from the elite and treated her as a common criminal. That’s gonna rankle.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Has there ever been a more incompetent US administration? It seems every nation on Earth is kicking sand in the weakling Obama’s face, and disrespecting him with utter impunity.

  • El Gringo

    “… the tiny Indian Foreign Service is keen to present India to the world as a great and important power.”

    If that is the case then the MEA’s actions have proven the exact opposite. Their childish and emotional reactions have definitely not been those of a great and important power. No, the MEA’s actions have displayed that India still has far to go before it can be taken seriously in the realms of big power diplomacy.

    “But the goal here is not to win an argument; the goal is to form a deep and trusting relationship with India…”

    The U.S. has been trying mightily since the the 2005 Civil Nuclear Agreement. Just look at the resources the U.S. has thrown at the relationship. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi alone has more diplomats dedicated to the Indo-US relationship than the MEA has on its entire roster. However, it is becoming apparent that the U.S. is a scorned suitor. India is deeply uncomfortable with the “partnership” for many reasons, not least of which is the old-school mindest of Indias ruling old guard who cling to the ideas of expansive socialism, anti-Americanism, and the anachronistic non-aligned movement

  • Jean-Chr. NOTHIAS

    Diplomatic immunity should be seen as a robust element of any long lasting trustful relations between nations. So would be the respect of citizen privacy by governments. At the end of the day, all of that belong to the same pot. Values.

    If we take a look at what happen during the last WTO intergovernmental meeting in Bali, we have a Brazilian WTO DG twisting the arm of the Indian government over the agriculture section of the Doha round, in particular related to the cotton issue. The Azevedo success should be partly granted to US diplomats, happy to see that within the BRICS, solidarity is far from being a common value. Such a success has a political cost to the current Indian government, as one should have in mind the more than 200’000 peasants (most of them cotton workers) who committed suicide over the last 10 years in India.

    Another perspective of concern, which is probably fueling the dispute from the background, is the current game played again by Brazil and the US in their Internet Governance related issues and challenges. Not only because of the late NSA scandal, but also because the current global Internet governance is at stake. The asymmetric role of the US, or power gap for the rest of the world on this issue, is also upsetting the diplomatic relation between India and the US. It will take more than a good joke to president Obama to bring back India – whoever will form the next government in India – at the table with the appropriate level of trust.

    By the way, consider also the fact that Google offer to support the digital capacity for the next Indian election was rejected a few days ago, with no more than a sentence saying something like “we’re done with Google”.

    Arrogance is not a resilient value.

    • Sreenidhi b t

      fucking cunt whores like you keep meddling with us. we will fuck you .
      fucking american bitch.

  • free_agent

    You write, “For a diplomat to be strip-searched for a crime that would be laughed off as nothing in the subcontinent is simply unacceptable.”

    It seems to me that this is a major factor: Indians don’t really consider this to be a crime. (Which is hardly surprising in a country where lots of people barely subsist. They will consider “three meals a day” to be above the conceptual minimum wage.)

    The other cultural factor that seems underemphasized is that Ms.

    Khobragade is a member of the Indian elite, but was treated like an ordinary crimninal rather than a “class A” prisoner. That’s gotta rankle in a strongly stratified society.

    • GodisanAmerican

      Yes. In India only poor are treated as ‘common criminals’ guilty or not is beside the point.

  • GodisanAmerican

    In India everyone making a victim out Mrs. K, the diplomat. She is the perpetrator. But the real victim, Ms. Sangeeta Richard, gets very little support. In fact, most Indians are blaming her.

    Because she belongs to the servant class.

    India takes the side of high caste high class rich and the victim gets only abuse.

    • Kieselguhr Kid

      Look, I’ve been condemning India on this, but this one comment is simply ignorant after the first paragraph. No, Ms. Khobragade is out-casted here. That’s just how it is. This isn’t a caste issue, it’s an Indians-being-jerks-about-America issue.

      • GodisanAmerican

        Point well taken.
        I have been looking for some opinion pieces in indian media in support of Sangeeta. Found a couple but not more. Most Indians, even in some in NY dismiss her with ” these people …these people are happy to have that job”. As if that’s is issue. A starving man might be happy to become a slave.

  • GodisanAmerican

    There is a saying that diplomats are hired to lie for their country. Mrs. K took it one step further. She also lied on visa application and about her maid’s pay. Ek dum Number 1 job, sahib.

  • Bretzky1

    Whoever in the State Department authorized Khobragade’s arrest should be fired immediately. And if this was a rogue operation by the Justice Department, then everyone involved should be fired.

    That being said, India’s reaction has been excessive, to say the least. The Indian government’s reaction betrays a serious lack of maturity and confidence that is unseemly in a country that has pretensions to a permanent seat on the Security Council. I doubt that even China’s government would act in such a piqued manner if this had happened to one of their diplomats.

    • Sreenidhi b t

      do you have any balls to do the same against china? fucking americunt.

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