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US: Expert who infuriated India offered key post

November 20, 2009 10:19 IST
South Asia expert Christine Fair has been offered a top position in the Obama administration, and that too to specifically handle the India portfolio. The former Rand Corporation expert on South Asia infuriated New Delhi alleging that India was meddling in Balochistan.

Fair, currently assistant professor in security studies at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, has been offered the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs with responsibilities to work specifically on the India portfolio.

However, Fair told that she would most likely decline the offer because she doesn't want to give up her academic research.

The administration, on the other hand, had not given up on her even though she informed Robert Blake, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, who had interviewed her and had subsequently offered her the job, that she would not be interested.

Apparently, the administration has asked her to reconsider and the position, which used to be held by Evan Feigenbaum -- currently with the Council on Foreign Relations -- during the Bush administration, is yet to be filled.

Fair told, "I was so flattered and it was really a honour" to be offered this top post, "but I don't think it's the right job for me."

"I am much more of an academic and for me to take this job, I was going to have to give up a lot of academic collaborations, and it just didn't make sense to me," she said, but added, "Here is the reality. First I was really enthusiastic about the India portfolio because I am really burnt out on Pakistan. There's no question."

Fair, who -- before her stint with Rand as a senior political scientist -- served as a political officer to the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, based in Kabul, and as a senior research associate in the US Institute of Peace's Centre for Conflict Analysis and Prevention, has travelled extensively in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.

She said the administration, as a pre-condition for the job, "really wanted me to give up too much in terms of the stuff that I am really good at," and noted that "no one else is really doing the kind of stuff that I do, for example, the public opinion work in Pakistan."

"I am a mixed bag for Indians," she said. "I am not an advocate for any country. I am an advocate for my country."

In an online discussion earlier this year -- convened by the much-respected journal Foreign Affairs -- Fair had said that Pakistan had legitimate concerns about India's involvement in Afghanistan and that perhaps Islamabad's paranoia that New Delhi was fanning unrest in Balochistan was not unfounded.

'I think it is unfair to dismiss the notion that Pakistan's apprehensions about Afghanistan stem in part from its security competition with India,' she had then said, and noted, "Having visited the Indian mission in Zahedan, Iran, I can assure you they are not issuing visas as the main activity. Moreover, India has run operations from its mission in Mazar and is likely doing so from the other consulates it has reopened in Jalalabad and Kandahar along the (Pak-Afghan) border.'

Fair also went on to claim, 'Indian officials have told me privately that they are pumping money into Balochistan. Kabul has encouraged India to engage in provocative activities such as using the Border Roads Organisation to build sensitive parts of the Rind Road and use the Indo-Tibetan police force for security.'

'India is also building schools on a sensitive part of the border in Kunar, across from Bajaur,' she said, alleging, 'Kabul's motivations for encouraging these activities are as obvious as India's interest in engaging in them.'

Fair contended that it would be 'a mistake to completely disregard Pakistan's regional perceptions due to doubts about Indian competence in executing covert operations.'

When reminded about the controversy her allegations on the Foreign Affairs discussion provoked, Fair still held to the credibility of her contention.

"I believe it to be true," she said, adding: "The problems with the Pakistanis is that they lie too much and so, that when they tell the truth, no one believes them."

She argued that "Actually, I am not normative about it -- India should be doing this and they should be doing more of it, if I may be so blunt. So, I've never said, 'Shame on the Indians.'"

But Fair asserted that "nothing that India could possibly do, without being observed as they tend to have not been observed, could ever rival what the Pakistanis have done, and it doesn't justify blowing up consulates and embassies and killing people."

"I stand by what I wrote..." Fair said, "Yes, I think the Indians are up to stuff in Balochistan, as they should be. (But) It's not what the Pakistanis say they are up to."

"Anyone who read what I wrote," she added, "would have seen exactly what I said. Yes, I said, the Pakistanis are exaggerating it, but they are not completely making it up either."

"Let me also be blunt with you," she said. "I think the Indo-US relationship is extremely important, but I know I am not the flavour of the day in India, and I think that it actually would have undermined our moving the relationship forward, if I were in that job. And, that's the reality of it."

Fair said she had told the State Department this "from the beginning, when they interviewed me. I said, 'Are you sure, you are interviewing the right person?'"

But she asserted, "What the Indians would have gotten in me is someone who is realistic. I don't believe in the (Richard) Holbrooke (Special US Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan) crap about you solve Kashmir and you make Pakistan sane. I believe it's necessary albeit terribly insufficient condition to get Pakistanis to tell the army to lay off (in its machinations against India) if you resolve the Indo-Pakistani issue."

"Whether that can ever happen is irrelevant," she said.

"The Indians would have gotten in me someone who is more realistic about Pakistan," Fair reiterated.

Fair has continued to slam Islamabad consistently for taking massive American largesse and continuing to fund and arm the Afghan Taliban.

Recently testifying before the US House Armed Services Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, she said, 'Having received $13 billion, if not more, from the United States to participate in the war on terrorism, Pakistan continues to support the Afghan Taliban. This means that Pakistan is undermining the very war on terrorism that it has received a handsome reward allegedly to support.'

Fair said the US inability to compel Pakistan to stop its funding and support to all extremist groups was actually what was behind the instability in South Asia, and pointed out, "Let's remember, that it was a Pakistan-based and backed terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, that attacked the Indian Parliament, which brought the largest mobilisation of forces throughout the country, both of them to a near-war crisis with the spectre of nuclear escalation."

"The Pakistan Taliban share overlapping membership with those very same groups that target India," she said, "and obviously, the Afghan Taliban, operating in Afghanistan. So, it can't defeat its own internal security threats -- which brings into question, Pakistan's national integrity and obviously its strategic assets -- until it is compelled to strategically abandon militancy."

Fair argued that the massive aid to Pakistan would not "fix Pakistan's chronically neuralgic sense of insecurity vis-a-vis India."

"I don't think what India does or does not do in Afghanistan is going to make Pakistan stop supporting the Taliban," she predicted. "I think we need to think very hard about what is Pakistan's genuine source of insecurity and put some things on the table that might be out of the box."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC