Round and round the Mulberry Bush!


Friendly Fire

Khalid Saleem

The much-vaunted peace process between India and Pakistan, it would appear, has regrettably degenerated into a dialogue of the deaf. It is difficult to quite make out what the Indian establishment is up to if the doubled-edged statements of the leadership of that country are anything to go by. On the one hand they talk with feeling of hopes for peace in the region. On the other, they keep harping on the mantra that Pakistan must first eliminate what they continue to call “cross-border terrorism”. Just when the world had thought that this hackneyed phrase – conjured up by the spin-doctors of South Block – had reached the end of its shelf life, some statement from across the border promptly brings it back to life. The rub lies in the unwritten caveat that it is India lone that is to be the sole arbiter to decide whether or not this wretched ‘CBT’ (not to be confused with CBM) charade has at last come to an end.
Talking of the children’s game – going round and round the mulberry bush – brings to mind the so-called Track II jaunts sponsored by external busy-bodies. The prime movers of the dialogues in question appeared to be going round and round in circles with nary a goal in mind. The only objective of the favored Track II stalwarts appears to be the all-paid holidays in exotic locations it entails. Every time the Indian establishment drops a fresh ‘clanger’, our liberals rush around reaching out to clutch at any drifting straw. Should our Foreign Office not have the gumption to anticipate such miscues? But, then, let us not forget that it was the spokespersons of this very office whose enthusiastic statements provided the mantle of respectability to cloak this otherwise inane exercise.
While the charade lasts, our trigger-happy experts manage to subsist on the sustenance of make-believe. They rush to conjure up a scenario. If it sticks, they not only proceeded to swallow it – hook, line and sinker – but also to sell it to a gullible public. They excel in looking at all and everything through rose-tinted spectacles, and woe unto those who do not see what they claim to have seen! To add spice, it were our own liberal experts, more than anyone else, who helped raise expectations sky-high. When the whole structure began to crumble, because it had been erected on a foundation of sand, people searched around in vain for its architects!
At this stage, a bit of retrospection may not be out of place. There can be myriad examples of the syndrome alluded to in the preceding paragraph. Suffice it to cite just one. In 2004, India announced its intention to withdraw a token number of troops from IHK to coincide with, then, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit. This was no more than a minor public relations exercise not intended to be taken at more than face value.
Our experts at the time appear to have viewed it in a different light altogether. Here is the positive spin that our FO spokesman had given to the Indian announcement: “Indian decision to reduce troops is a positive development and a good beginning…We hope that the trend will continue and India would withdraw bulk of its forces from the IHK”. His own enthusiasm whet, the worthy spokesman, went on to welcome Prime Minister Singh’s (loaded) statement on peace in the region, adding that, “India would find Pakistan very cooperative to realise this dream (sic)”.
To the uninitiated, this school-boyish style would appear innocent enough. But, then, the art of international relations is no child’s play. How one wishes the worthy spokesman had called it a day after welcoming the Indian decision as a “good beginning”! The fact that he considered it fit to go on to add his “hopes” and “dreams”, particularly in view of the unequivocal assertion of Prime Minister Singh that there “would be no redrawing of maps”, leaves one dumbfounded. A diet based on hopes and dreams alone provides less than adequate sustenance to the soul.
Around the same epoch, the then Indian Foreign Minister, Kanwar Natwar Singh, had said something that would take the cake as the most bizarre expression of the decade. Declaring that “Buddhist principles of mutual respect and peaceful co-existence should guide relations between India and Pakistan”, he urged Pakistan to “Embrace the Buddhist vision of peace enshrined in the Panchsheel treaty signed on April 29 1954, between India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai”. One could not decide whether to laugh or to cry at the twisted logic therein. The fate of the “vision” of the Panchsheel Treaty after Prime Minister Nehru ordered the Indian troops, in 1962, to “teach the Chinese a lesson” is too painful to recall. One does not recall a formal riposte from our side.
What is stated in the foregoing paragraphs is merely the tip of the iceberg. It would serve little purpose to go into greater detail. But one thing is abundantly clear. It is time to acknowledge responsibility for failures, as well as to give credit where it is due. Leaderships of both India and Pakistan owe it to their peoples to ensure a peaceful and secure environment for the future generations.
The world situation has undergone a sea change over the past years. The era of posturing and scoring debating points at the expense of each other is passe. A rational and mature approach vis-a-vis an equitable settlement of contentious issues between the two countries is called for. What is more, time may well be ripe to rein in the Track II busy-bodies, whose inane charade is doing more harm than good. The name of the game is to look to the future. Lest we forget, nations that opt to live in the past are condemned to repeat it!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.

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