Pakistan’s mango diplomacy!

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Friendly Fire

Khalid Saleem

THIS land is justifiably proud of its mangoes.
Pakistani mangoes, we believe, are nature’s gift to mankind. It hurts our collective ego, therefore, to find that there are nations – and friendly nations at that – who are deprived of the pleasure of enjoying this exquisite fruit. To correct this anomaly is quite high up on our list of priorities. Trying to export mangoes to the unlikeliest of destinations has, consequently, been something of a passion with us. The perspicacious reader will recall that, at the start of every mango season, there are passionate references in the national press to our mango export campaign. According to experts who are in the know, our mango exports have suffered setbacks primarily due to, what can be termed as, the “fruit fly issue”. “Official sources” often let it be known – as is their wont – that “the concerned departments are considering a plan for bringing about an improvement in the situation”. Reassuring statement that, if ever there was one, but not one to help to any degree!
Having come this far, the reference to that tenacious little creature by the name of “fruit fly” brings back memories of yore when diplomacy was relatively ‘clean’ and the ‘war on terrorism’ had yet to rear its ugly head. Nor had part of our mango belt embroiled itself in the political storm related to creation of new provinces. The gentle reader may be aware that it is none other than this pesky little creature called ‘fruit fly’ that has been the bane of our ambitious plans for the widest possible export of this delectable fruit. One would crave the indulgence of the reader to relate a short “diplomatic episode” of some relevance to mango diplomacy.
It came to pass several years back that the Prime Minister of that time, while embarking on a tour of Japan, thought it fit to use her discretion to include in her entourage a few gentlemen farmers coming from the “mango-growing belt” of the country. It may be added, within parentheses, that no research of any genre appears to have gone into this somewhat impulsive decision. It may be added also that neither our foreign office nor the Japanese counterpart had been taken into confidence. Fast forward to Tokyo where, during her bilateral discussions with the Japanese leadership, the Prime Minister casually let drop her earnest desire to conclude on the spot an agreement on the export of Pakistani mangoes to Japan. She added, helpfully, that in anticipation of this momentous accord she had actually included in her entourage a group of Pakistan’s leading mango exporters.
The Japanese hosts were caught totally off guard. It would be nearer to the truth to say that they were verily stunned. Being a very hardy and methodical race, the Japanese believe in preparing their briefs in a very thorough, pain-staking manner. The mango salvo of our side was something they had not anticipated at all. The Japanese are not known for giving vent to their feelings in public, but if looks could kill the Japanese Foreign Office chaps at the negotiating table would have been hard put to come through unscathed that fateful morning. The situation was salvaged partially thanks to a subsequent informal officials’ level meeting, during which, among other things, the Pakistan side learnt a few home truths about the pesky “fruit fly”. Japan, it appeared, had embarked on an anti-fruit-fly campaign in earnest, decades earlier. Though fond of imported fruit, they were keen to keep their island nation free from this pesky pest. It took them well over twenty years but their perseverance paid off in the end and they did manage to rid their country of the detested and dreaded insect.
The issue of mangoes carrying the fruit fly was not overly complicated. The Japanese had, our side was informed, invented a machine that helped kill off the fruit fly without damaging the fruit. The Japanese side even offered to gift us one of these machines in addition to lending services of experts to acquaint us with the procedure in question. The minutes of the meeting were duly recorded and sent to the concerned offices for “necessary action”. From all accounts, it appears evident that the minutes went the way of all such documents in the Land of the Pure – coming to rest in some dusty corner to provide sustenance to a favoured nest of office termites.
It so happened that some months later, the Finance Minister of Japan came on a visit to Pakistan. The Japanese Ambassador during his pre-visit calls had politely requested that the mention of the export of Pakistani mangoes at this stage be preferably avoided. The visitor was scheduled to pay a call on the President of Pakistan. What had been, regrettably, overlooked was the fact that the president himself belonged to the “mango-growing belt” or its close vicinity. The usual salutations over, his first remark to the visitor was, “Why doesn’t Japan import mangoes from Pakistan? We have some of the finest varieties in the world”. The visitor was visibly shocked. Mercifully after three tiring days of dealing with our leaders, his spirit lacked the fire of his normal self. Meanwhile, the pesky fruit fly goes about its business as usual and our enthusiastic commercial officials miss no opportunity to plug in the desirability of diversifying the export of our mangoes to a diverse world market. Here’s wishing them luck!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.

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