- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2000

Conspiracy theory

An Indian television station in London bungled the broadcast of a debate between the Indian and Pakistani ambassadors to Britain so badly that the diplomats suspected something else was afoot.
They could not believe ZEE TV could be so inept unless it was a conspiracy.
Aides to Pakistani Ambassador Akbar Ahmed were worried from the start. They advised him to reject the invitation from India's largest satellite broadcaster, which has nearly 200,000 subscribers in Britain's Asian community.
When he showed up at the television studio, his aides warned him not to drink or eat anything. It could be poisoned.
As the London Sunday Telegraph tells the story, the debate between Mr. Ahmed and Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri degenerated into a farce.
The poisonous atmosphere between the two countries, which have fought three wars against each other, only added to the tension. India most recently has been accusing Pakistan of harboring terrorists and masterminding the hijacking last month of an Indian airliner.
Mr. Ahmed told the newspaper that he was cautious as he entered the studio for the half-hour taping earlier this month.
"It was enemy territory and on enemy terms," he said, "but I thought it was worth the risk to try to get a breakthrough.
"You have to realize that it's like the Cold War between us," he added. "My staff were so nervous that they warned me not to eat the sandwiches or drink the coffee in case they were poisoned."
Mr. Ahmed, a polished speaker, thought he had scored some valuable debating points, as he refuted India's charges of terrorism and challenged his counterpart over India's refusal to allow a plebiscite on the future of the disputed Kashmir region.
Then the first glitch was discovered. A power surge had wiped out the tape, according to the show's producers, who asked the diplomats to debate again.
"But this time round [the debate moderator] was far more aggressive, not letting me get my points in and cutting me off whenever I used flash-point words like Kashmir or plebiscite," Mr. Ahmed complained.
"I got the impression that the whole intention was to paint Pakistan as a terrorist state."
Mr. Puri was also angry over the glitch.
"We are the aggrieved party," he told the Telegraph. "We were winning the debate."
That, however, was just the beginning of the farce.
When the program was broadcast Jan. 2, the station went to a commercial 12 minutes into the debate. When the show returned, the ambassadors were missing.
With no explanation, their debate had been replaced with an interview of a former Indian prime minister talking about his novel.
A half-hour later, the debate returned. However as soon as Mr. Ahmed began to mention Kashmir, the program switched to an Indian movie and did not come back on the air.
The television station blamed an inexperienced staffer who mixed up the tape cassettes.

Supporting Indonesia

Robert Gelbard, the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, this week conveyed President Clinton's strong support for the country's democratically elected president, Abdurrahman Wahid, who is trying to deal with religious riots and a restless military.
"Clinton has expressed wholehearted support for Gus Dur's leadership," the Jakarta Post reported, quoting an Indonesian government official and referring to Mr. Wahid by his nickname.
Mr. Clinton urged Mr. Wahid to resist pressure from several generals under investigation into suspected human rights abuses in East Timor, the Post added.
Mr. Wahid met Mr. Clinton in November when the nearly blind president was visiting the United States for eye treatment.
The United States last week warned the Indonesian military against trying to overthrow Mr. Wahid, the country's first elected leader in decades.


The National Press Club has canceled a news conference scheduled today for Marzuki Darusman, attorney general of Indonesia. No reason was given. An Indonesian Embassy spokesman could not be reached yesterday because the embassy was closed.

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