Tuesday, April 1, 2014

India-US: Update--US Ambassador to New Delhi Resigns Over Arrest of Indian Diplomat in US

According to Reuters, the US Ambassador to India  Nancy Powell, 67, a five-time US envoy resigned her position effective March 31, 2014, following a very public dispute over the arrest of a junior Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade is an Indian Foreign Service Officer.

Ms. Khobragade has been involved in a number of controversies, including the Adarsh Housing Society scam, criminal charges of US visa fraud and making false statements to the US Department of State with regard to her domestic worker.

US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf denied on Monday (March 31) that Ambassador Powell's resignation was related to ongoing tensions after the December 2013 arrest and subsequent strip search of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade.

COMMENT: Despite the spokeswoman's statement, it is clear that no other controversy has impacted on US-India relations than Khobragade's arrest.

It is clear that rather than communicating face-to-face at the most senior levels of the Indian and US governments, exchanging barbs in the media were not conducive to quickly reconciling the dispute so that both sides could "win" publicly.  

Both Washington and New Delhi permitted emotions and nationalism to drive the dispute into an international crisis.

Analysts have intimated that it is the position of Powell, a career diplomat who has held five appointments as US ambassador, had become untenable as a result of the public controversy.

Powell's tenure never recovered from Khobragade's treatment. India took retaliatory measures against the US Embassy in New Delhi, including removal of the ambassador's exemption from airport security searches.

Both the Indian government and Narendra Modi, the opposition candidate who is favorite to become India's next prime minister after elections that end in May, saw the arrest as US hypocrisy and arrogance.

India also clamped down on alleged legal infractions by the US Embassy, including the visa status of teachers at the American Embassy School, an institution central to the lives of many expatriate employees of US corporations in Delhi.

Persis Khambatta of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank said it was clear Washington had underestimated the depth of feeling in India over the Khobragade controversy.

Khambatta said it was important for the United States to replace Powell in a timely manner with "a heavy-hitter" (code for a political appointee) to show it considered India a real strategic partner.