Let there be a step forward
Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj is expected to be in Islamabad on December 8 for a day to attend the ‘Heart of Asia’ — a regional conference on Afghanistan. According to Indian media quoting official sources, Indian Foreign Secretary Jaishankar will accompany her.
If she makes it to Islamabad notwithstanding all other probabilities, it will be the first significant contact between India and Pakistan following Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi’s Paris tête-à-tête that signalled breaking of ice after Ufa and subsequent breakdown of talks.
Ever since the two met in Paris climate conference, rumours and innuendos of a “secret” deal have been doing the rounds. It is more vitiating for those who see red herring even in the most positive moves, especially when the chance Paris meeting was welcomed by the US State Department’s spokesperson.
Besides attending the “Heart of Asia” conference, Swaraj is expected to meet the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz on the sideline. For the optimists, news from Paris was music to the ears. On the other hand, it stirred the hornet’s nest of the hawks usually dancing to the tunes played by the traditional bagpipers. It seemed to hurt them more as the thaw came in just weeks after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington when the media had given more hype to Army Chief’s immediately after him.
Optimists have read a lot between the lines ever since. Only the two prime ministers know the contents of their chat, whatever its duration — from two minutes to an hour — it no doubt inspired a lot of hope to those who are used to grabbing any straw.
Critics on the two sides of the divide have reacted adversely. An anchor on a private Pakistani channel with dubious links was heard shouting at the top of his voice condemning the rat in it. He even called Prime Minister Sharif “security threat and a risk to the national interests”, favourite mantra that the like of them were told by their invisible masters to orchestrate against Pakistan’s twice elected Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to undermine her unchallenged position as a national leader, perhaps the only one since with global standing and acceptability.
PTI Chairman Imran Khan and his party have joined the hawks in their diatribe. He charged the prime minister of betrayal of the national interest. In his cricketing swipe he even called both Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi as “cowards” for secretly meeting. Much to their carnal pleasure, the Paris tête-à-tête coincided with Indian journalist Barkha Dutt’s book in which she has revealed that the two prime ministers earlier too had a secret meeting on the sidelines of last year’s SAARC summit in Kathmandu facilitated by an Indian steel tycoon. Both Pakistan and Indian external affairs spokesmen have rubbished the “leak”.
One would not like to say that many of the political leaders and most of those news mongers who are now gerrymandering the media for tweeting quarters cannot claim any virtue for understanding the conduct of foreign relations. Unlike Pakistan and India nowhere else so much distrust is shown to the elected leaders and their out of the box conduct of relations. They know not perhaps that elected prime ministers are oath bound to unimpeachable loyalty to the state as are the chiefs of the armed forces and chiefs of other institutions, nay every patriotic citizen.
What is manifested in the criticism of the Paris tête-à-tête and the “secret talks” in Kathmandu is the conflict for dominance between the two power centres and hollowness of ‘on the same page mantra’. On the other hand, the difference must be seen between those who chose their Praetorian vocation for earning livelihood and those elected by the people as sole arbiters of power to represent the general will as reflected in the sovereignty of the Parliament.
Prime ministers in utmost confidence of the people resort to various options in pursuit of their country’s national and geo-strategic interests — be they through one-to-one summits or back door channels to move forward in areas where to tread openly is difficult or even premature. It needs to be understood that no elected leader, either in Pakistan or India, can dare to cross the red line that hints at an underhand wheeling dealing.
This principle is, however, not applicable to military dictators since they are not publicly accountable and they owe their legitimacy to their foreign masters rather than their own people. Military dictator General Ziaul Haq showed contemptuous disregard to Indian capture of Siachen in 1984 without firing a shot and our last Knight in Armour, General Pervez Musharraf, with his commando bravado conveniently abdicated the historic UN resolutions on the right of self-determination to the people of Kashmir to get over with the core issue on the basis of his four-point formula.
No doubt, like previous civilian rulers Nawaz Sharif too has been right earnest in seeking good relations with neighbours including India. As leader of an atomic power he wants to resolve all disputes with nuclear India peacefully rather than pursue a course that could lead to three minutes to subcontinent’s boom and doom. Let us hope Shrimati Sushma Swaraj brings happier tidings for an overly sour relationship and be harbinger of change for the good of the people of the two countries.