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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Closed-door diplomacy is best

By Swapan Dasgupta

The oft-repeated charge that Prime Minister Narendra Modi likes nothing better than a foreign jaunt, which, alas, he does not like sharing with an accompanying media contingent, may not be heard in TV discussions over the coming week. This isn't because the antipathy of the content providers has diminished in any meaningful way, or that the obsessive over-dissection of Lalit Modi and the Vyapam scam has contributed to a bout of over-exhaustion of the desi Jabberwocky.

When it comes to Pakistan and anything to do with India-Pakistan bilateral relations, a sense of earnest sincerity-often missing when it comes to other departments of statecraft-is likely to subsume the shrill frivolity that is dished out daily to the gullible. Somehow the packaging of news as entertainment doesn't extend to Pakistan, although this mock seriousness doesn't extend to the ex-military masochists from the other side who have supplemented their pensions with a lucrative trade in abusive exchanges.

Since the silly belief that all foreign policy equals Pakistan (and, by extension, China and the US) has a strong following among both the ultra-nationalists and those who can't discard their Mughal nostalgia, the India-Pakistan joint statement from Ufa is certain to be scrutinised very closely. For those of whom the love of Lahore is matched by the hatred of the vegetarian Modi, the significance of last Friday's meeting and decision to resume security-related interactions constitutes a classic rollback. For the gung-ho Bomb-Islamabad brigade, Modi has not fully gauged the extent of Pakistani perfidy-but he will learn soon enough. And finally, there is deep disappointment in the conflict-resolution industry that the K-word isn't mentioned in the joint statement. How will Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sell this omission to the very faithful?

How the Pakistani Prime Minister explains this omission and the common resolve to fight terror in all its forms to those who till only the other day were threatening to unleash nuclear weapons on India will be interesting to observe. However, from the Indian perspective this can hardly be a matter of concern. What seems equally interesting is that the joint statement-which, admittedly, is never the full story-also omits any reference to the so-called composite dialogue and the associated hierarchy of concerns that accompanies its mere mention.

What this implies is simple: India hasn't let down its guard and is merely taking a few elementary steps to ensure that the tensions along the border are contained and doesn't cross a threshold.

I am almost certain that domestic compulsions will not allow the Pakistani Government to inject the investigations and judicial process surrounding the Mumbai attacks of 2008 with a booster dose of purposefulness. But it is doubtful whether the Indian Government believes otherwise. It is a grim reality that the leaders of the LeT, including those responsible for remote-controlling the Mumbai attacks, possess a certain political clout within Pakistan and also enjoy close proximity to the more shadowy institutions of the State. This reality won't change, regardless of any commitment by Sharif to ensure justice. For India to believe that the Pakistani establishment has had a change of heart and is overwhelmed by the flame from candles at Wagah would be simply ridiculous.

As far as Delhi is concerned, the wait-and-watch policy towards Pakistan is certain to endure. Modi may indeed make the journey to the SAARC summit in Islamabad next year but this by itself means nothing. At present, Pakistan is caught in a profound existential dilemma over the very basis of its nationhood. There are just too many conflicting pressures on the State, ranging from the wildly sectarian to the moderately liberal, to allow the proverbial "idea of Pakistan" to acquire any coherent shape or meaning. Many of these pressures are in turn linked to events outside Pakistan's national boundaries.

 At a human level we can be deeply sympathetic to 'modern' Pakistanis trying to cope with ISIS terror, Taliban terror, religious bigotry, regional movements, military deviousness and the short-sightedness of politicians. But there is little India can do to influence Pakistan's internal agonies. Maybe China, US and even Britain feel otherwise. Indeed, all attempts to do so will prove deeply counter-productive. Pakistan must first try and come to terms with its own crisis of nationhood before it can enter into any meaningful dialogue with India. On its part, India must learn the lessons of Manmohan Singh's sincere but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to put too many foreign policy eggs in the Pakistani basket.

India's priority is to acquire economic and military capacity, endeavours that have no bearing on the present state of bilateral relations. For the moment, the limited objective is to hold the peace.

There is a final point that is worth stressing. The Modi-Sharif talks and the joint statement are a modest step forward from the stalemate that resulted from last year's faceoff over the Hurriyat Conference. This modest gain was achieved in the backdrop of confidentiality and the deft management of expectations.

The Ufa talks weren't preceded by a media circus that-however well-intentioned and in keeping with the norms of transparent decision-making-often acts as extraneous pressure points on both Governments. This has proved deeply inimical to diplomacy, particularly the management of India-Pakistan tensions. It is reassuring that some functionaries of both Governments will keep lines of communication open for the future. But to manage the delicate process in future, it is best that diplomacy remains confined to closed rooms, as was wont before the public space was swamped by sound bites and grandstanding.

Sunday Pioneer, July 12, 2015


Anonymous said...

When the media goes pro right wing, does it ever sound like jabberwocky to you?

Anonymous said...

Rightly said. Even well intentioned screeching from screens has a shrill underbelly which robs any interstatdialogue of a conciliatory approach. The best step firward is to understand that much of what is agreed may be finally watered diwn by domestic compulsuions. But at least efforts to talk overshadow perpetual state of hostility. Also its important for India to retain the advantage it has gained among other SAARC members without letting a recalcitrant neighbour dictate that agenda

Anonymous said...

ON this Subject there exist differences .As it is evident that Pakistan who have been the epicentre of Terrorism and Ideological INheritanec of their Belief that May be Digambars came down from HEAVEN and Ussushered in secret the of Propagating the Cruellest Plan to Behade and even to Adopt the Same Beliefs By all belonging to their faith becomes Difficult in the Modern day and when One Claims to be CIVILISED .

Even when if he wants the Believers to Spell out they will face Dangerouus Consequences by their very COMPRATRIOTS. That the same beliefs can never and should be abandoned has yet to DAWN onthose COMPRATRIOTS.
Hence the need to have DIPLOMACY in Private is ONLY to be welcomed .The Media would then probably go in for REVOLT.