India's former foreign minister has denounced Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in unusually strong terms, saying that Powell's account of how he helped facilitate a dialogue between the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers was "fabricated and baseless."
Powell recounted his role in an interview with USA Today last week, one of a spate of interviews he has given in recent weeks touting what he views as the administration's foreign policy achievements.
Referring to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Powell told the newspaper: "I'll never forget the day that President Musharraf, in one of our conversations . . . said to me, 'Do you think if my prime minister, the Pakistani prime minister, were to call the Indian prime minister, he would take the call?' I said, 'I'll call you back in a little while.' And we set it up, the call was made."
Powell added that "we also arranged for the call to be a 'How are you?' 'Fine' " type of call.
Powell said that at the time, in 2002, India and Pakistan had seemed on the verge of nuclear war, and "now the dialogue has paid off" with diplomatic relations, easy travel between the two countries and official talks to resolve differences on a range of issues. "I think that's been a success of the administration," Powell said.
Powell's comments were widely reported in India, which views itself as an independent great power. But Jaswant Singh, foreign minister at the time, told a news conference in New Delhi this week that Powell's account of arranging the call and his assertion that Pakistan and India had been on the brink of nuclear war were figments of his imagination.
"The way he has gone about claiming credit is a total concoction and a matter of imagination, the way he conjured up biological weapons in Iraq," Singh said. "I don't know whether the State Department of U.S.A., in addition to attempting to run U.S. foreign policy as best as it can, is also a telephone exchange and now is acting as a kind of elocution instructor to South Asia."
As a minister, Singh was believed to have had good relations with his U.S. counterparts. But at the news conference, he said: "The U.S. bureaucracy are world champions in . . . inaction, in finding reason not to do things." He added that the U.S. bureaucracy is three times ahead of its Indian counterpart in "obfuscating, obstructing and ensuring that nothing is done."
State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher said Indian and Pakistani officials deserve praise for their "statesmanlike initiatives." But he said: "The story as told by the secretary is the true story."