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Clinton's thoughts on the Chittisinghpura Massacre

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Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright has a new book titled “The Mighty and the Almighty : Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs.” Any book by a former Secretary of State is sure to contain interesting new insights but this one also contains a bombshell in the book’s introduction (via Pickled Politics). As he is often prone to do, former President Bill Clinton steals some of the show with this statement:

During my visit to India in 2000, some Hindu militants decided to vent their outrage by murdering thirty-eight Sikhs in cold blood. If I hadn’t made the trip, the victims would probably still be alive. If I hadn’t made the trip because I feared what religious extremists might do, I couldn’t have done my job as president of the United States. The nature of America is such that many people define themselves—or a part of themselves—in relation to it, for or against. This is part of the reality in which our leaders must operate.

The incident, in which -40 Sikhs were killed has come to be known as the Chittisinghpura massacre. The Indian government blamed it on the Pakistan-based Lashkar e Taiyba terrorist group:

Suhail Malik of Sialkot, interviewed by a New York Times correspondent in an Indian prison, has said he had no regret that he participated in the massacre, which coincided with US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India. Malik said he had opened fire because he had been ordered to do so by his commanders and that he knew nothing about the plot to kill the Sikhs until he stood in an orchard where the 35 people were killed. “I used my weapons when commanded… We are told what to do and not why. Afterwards, we were told not to talk about it,” 18-year-old Malik said.

But this account, if it is correct, directly contradicts what Clinton is saying in the introduction. Nitin over at The Acorn brought this to the attention of HarperCollins, the book’s publisher. The Times of India followed up on Nitin’s observation:

Clinton’s office did not return calls seeking comment or clarification, but the book’s publishers Harper Collins routed a correction through Albright’s office acknowledging the error, which was first highlighted on the blog The Acorn (http://acorn.nation

“Page xi of the Mighty and the Almighty contains a reference to ‘Hindu militants that will be deleted in subsequent printings, both in America and in international editions. This error was due to a failure in the fact-checking process,” Harper Collins said in a statement e-mailed to TNN by Albright’s office Albright herself was busy promoting her new book on CNN on Wednesday. But despite the clarification, the howler is bound to give ammunition to both Hindu groups, which have always chaffed at what is seen as US soft-pedalling on ethnic cleansing in Jammu and Kashmir, and Sikh separatist groups, which sought to blame the massacre on the Indian Army and Kashmiri separatist renegades….

In his book Engaging India, Clinton’s aide Strobe Talbott similarly expresses American misgivings about the massacre. “From the moment he got off the plane, Clinton spoke about “sharing the outrage” of the Indian people and expressing the “heartbreak” he and others felt about the latest atrocity,” writes Talbott. “He did not endorse the accusation that Pakistan was behind the violence since the US had no independent confirmation.”

What further muddied the episode is the subsequent discovery that five Kashmiri youths who were killed by the army on suspicion of being involved in the Chhatisingpora massacre were innocent of that crime. So it seems that regardless of what actions HarperCollins takes, the former U.S. President isn’t sold on the official story. Coincidentally, author Pankaj Mishra has a new book out that also takes a look at Chittisinghpura. The book is titled, “Temptations of the West : How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond.” Here is an excerpt from a review of the book:

A few days later the Indian authorities released pictures of the corpses of the five alleged culprits, who had apparently been killed in a shoot out. The timing of the incident, and Clinton’s implicit endorsement of New Delhi’s account of it, helped to solidify what is now seen as a critical turning point in US-India relations.

So far, so straightforward. Except that a number of sceptics, including Pankaj Mishra, a London-based writer who arrived in the village the following morning, rejected New Delhi’s account. Assisted by a court order that the five bodies be exhumed, local activists proved that the deceased were innocent local Muslims who had been picked up by the authorities, dressed in battle fatigues and then killed in cold blood. Unusually, none of the various Kashmiri separatist and terrorist groups claimed responsibility for the first massacre. Mishra, an Indian national, is clearly in sympathy with Amnesty International and others who allege that Indian security forces staged both massacres to drive a point home to Clinton.

We will probably never know the full truth in a case that remains officially unresolved. But in a conflict where the reporting of journalists is usually coloured by the “national interest” bias of their respective countries, it is refreshing to find that Mishra does not wear those blinkers. Here is a quick excerpt I found that quotes the Amnesty International report mentioned in the book review above:

The attackers wore uniforms of the armed forces and were led by a tall man whom they addressed as Commanding Officer (CO). All Sikh men were rounded up, ostensibly to check their identities, and made to sit on the ground in two groups against the walls of the gurdwaras [Sikh temples] a few hundred metres from each other; they were shot at point blank range. As the attackers withdrew, they reportedly shouted Hindu slogans. A small bottle of liquor was left behind by them.

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