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印度人歡迎克林頓的新書

INDIA WORRIES ABOUT PAKISTAN -- BUT LAPS UP THE CLINTON BOOK

By Tom Plate

June 28, 2004

NEW DELHI - The clerk at the Sheraton Maurya Hotel here remembers that he once jumped into a folk dance and executed a twirl or two -- "he really was larger than life," as she put it. An American embassy official, begging not to be named, says he will go down in history as a powerful change-agent in the transformation of U.S.-India relations. A political officer at the Japanese Embassy asserts that he remains, despite stiff competition from other U.S. presidents who have visited, the most popular in India today.

It was a bit much, frankly. I did not expect to come to India and hear so much about William Jefferson Clinton. But, then again, the commercial release in the United States of his longish autobiography, "My Life," resonates here as if the Beatles were back on tour.

The Indian press, in some ways as serious as the elite U.S. press, and in other ways as outrageous as the down-market British press, jumped on the book's release. One newspaper commented that it was hard to imagine an Indian politician writing such a book because Indian politicians remain on the political scene for so long (unlike U.S. presidents, who get at most eight years and then they're history) that they're incapable of total honesty. Another paper commented -- perhaps cruelly -- that such an autobiography would have slight impact in India because so few Indians bother to read books.

That may be -- but they're certainly eating up the "My Life" portions pertaining to India's role in the world. They are applauding the former president's revelations that he warned Pakistan leader Pervez Musharraf (whom Clinton nonetheless described as "clearly intelligent, strong and sophisticated," Indian newspapers reported, fairly) that the terrorists in Pakistan, if left unchecked, would eventually destroy the nation.

Indians are also applauding the revelation that Clinton agreed to meet with Musharraf's predecessor after a Pakistani invasion in Kashmir only if it was understood that the Paki forces had to be withdrawn and that the meeting could not be viewed as a reward for a "wrongful incursion." Because Indians believe that tension on the South Asian subcontinent is largely caused by Pakistan aggression and extremism, they delight in the fact that this prominent Western figure would make such an unequivocal statement.

Indians often resent the commonplace perspective in the West that puts the world's most populous democracy on the same ethical plane as Pakistan, which is not a true democracy. They also believe that deep ties between elements of Pakistan's military and security apparatus fuel Al Qaeda, blamed for the 9/11 atrocities. Thus, they cheered Clinton's warning, as outlined in the book, to a former Pakistani prime minister that "the Pakistani military was full of Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathizers." Clinton even admitted that his government informed Pakistan of a covert U.S. military strike on Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan only at the last minute because "it was likely Pakistani intelligence would warn the Taliban or even Al Qaeda."

Clinton's book, it is noted here, does not let India off the hook entirely. Its five nuclear tests during his second term "shook me," as the Indian press observed about the former president's reaction.

But on the whole, the Indian press is reading "My Life" as a relative vindication of overall Indian policy. Key to tensions between Pakistan and India is the disputed territory of Kashmir. Clinton reveals that the then-Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had asked for U.S. intervention. He argued, Clinton recalled, that "it was as worthy of my attention as the Middle East and Northern Ireland. I had explained to him that the United States was involved in those peace processes because both sides wanted us."

The full story is more complicated. Clinton got involved in the Middle East in part because of America's Jewish vote-bloc and in Ireland because of the imprecations of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who speaks for the Irish-American crowd. Similarly, Clinton was well aware that Indian-Americans number well more than one million, in a largely wealthy, professional class (and many vote Democratic). Clinton may have hailed from Arkansas, but few have ever alleged a political-IQ deficiency.

Even so, Clinton did stop in Pakistan on his official visit to India as a sitting president, despite domestic, not to mention Indian, urgings against it. That show of respect to Pakistan turned out to be invaluable to his successor, when George W. Bush sought Pakistan's hand in the U.S. war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Imagine Pakistan's reaction to the Bush request for assistance if Clinton had snubbed it on his presidential visit to India.

It would appear that the Clinton book will sell well in India ­ and perhaps in Asia generally. The only negative review I heard was from a foreign embassy official. He complained that the book offered only "20 pages or so about Monica ... and that's the main reason I bought it." Even in India's elite circles, that story simply will not die.

 
 

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