Indian Decade

Krishna’s Afghanistan Gaffe

Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna baffles an audience with the claim Afghanistan isn’t India’s neighbour.

Gaffes and External Affairs Minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna seem to go hand in hand. Last year, he began reading the speech of his Portuguese counterpart at the United Nations, thinking it to be his own, until his folly was pointed out several minutes later by a senior official. But what he did at his joint press conference with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Hyderabad House earlier this month eclipsed even that.

Krishna was asked the following by an American correspondent: ‘Mr. Minister, what assurances did you receive from Secretary Clinton about President Obama’s plan for Afghanistan? Are you persuaded that Washington will not allow a deal that will leave the Taliban in power? And more broadly, do you feel that President Obama’s plan can work? Or do you think that we should also be working on a plan B?’

Krishna began his response by saying: ‘India has been closely following the happenings in Afghanistan, though we are not immediate neighbours.’

The correspondent was clearly stunned by this response. India is most definitely a neighbour of Afghanistan. After all, India considers Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as its own territory, and the official Indian map therefore shows India to be the immediate neighbour of Afghanistan. It’s a historical fact, though not very well known by most Indians, that the original elected strength of the Lok Sabha (House of the People) is 550; India has kept seven seats available for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. As polls aren’t held for these seats, though, for all practical purposes the effective Lok Sabha strength has for decades been 543.

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No Indian minister should be committing such a major faux pas, especially the foreign minister. And committing this blunder in the presence of his US counterpart! The whole episode initially remained unreported, despite many opposition lawmakers likely having watched the Krishna-Clinton press conference live on TV. The Indian Express has now said, though, that the External Affairs Ministry has since edited Krishna’s statement.