The coarse art of muddling through!

Friendly Fire

Khalid Saleem

AS one looks at the patchwork quilt that the region around us resembles, one cannot but have the queasy feeling that the only answer to the problems faced by all states therein would lie in somehow mastering the coarse art of muddling through. A cursory glance at the recorded history of civilisation will make it evident that inter-state affairs have more often been governed by expediency rather than ethics. To look at the matter dispassionately, though, it would appear that this is the way it should be. Those who venture to cast doubts on this outlook would be well advised to give some time to the writings of the much-maligned Machiavelli of yore. Now, here is an authority that was au fait with the sinister goings on in the thorny field of international relations. There is none who has delved more deeply into this murky pool or come out drier.
So much for expediency! As for ethics, it is generally agreed that this quality is de rigueur in domestic politics rather than the international variety. A country that adopts ethics for its dealings internally, can well be forgiven for adopting the other sort in its international dealing. What is totally unforgivable in a country’s affairs is the misguided attempt to turn things around, i.e. to employ expediency in dealings within the country itself, while trying to introduce ethics in its relations with the rest of the world. This is a sure recipe for disaster! If one were to attempt to single out one factor largely responsible for plunging several states (including the Land of the Pure) into unenviable predicaments, one would not be far off the mark if one were to point the finger their ham-handed attempts at upending priorities in respect of ethics and expediency, as set out in the previous paragraph. As a consequence, such states have successfully managed to make a royal mess of affairs both internally and in the international sphere.
The transition from the aforementioned premise to the ‘art of muddling through’ is one small step. So why not turn our attention to this aspect as well by dwelling a bit on the bearing of this art on our part of the world in particular. So here goes! One had long thought that we in the Land of the Pure hadn’t quite mastered the art of muddling through. Time and again our governments and our leaders had come to grief on issues that were susceptible to muddling through if only they had honed the art betimes. Apparently, they had faltered at the first obstacle that came their way essentially because of either too rigid or, alternatively, too lax an attitude. This was a pity because most governments, even in the so-called developed states, look upon this art as insurance of sorts and that not without reason.
That was in the past, though. One stands corrected. Having seen the shenanigans of some of our political luminaries over the recent past, one has little hesitation in admitting that one had underestimated their expertise in the age old game of muddling through. If anything, our chaps appear to have left the more experienced aliens far behind. If there were a Nobel Prize for muddling through, our chaps would win it hands down. Before we get carried away, let it be said that in the field of Foreign Affairs we probably still lack the finesse that separates the ‘men’ from the ‘boys’. Instead of glibly muddling through as is the wont of established practitioners, we often find our mandarins bogged down in their own verbiage. Our neighbour to the east, though, is a lot more adept at the game. Every time it comes out with a fresh move it catches our mandarins on the wrong foot. Take the now-off ‘composite talks’, for instance, that brought to the fore the oft-employed ploy of gaining time. This ploy is fast becoming predictable. The trouble is that our chaps somehow never catch on to it and start bending over backwards to welcome any ‘offers’ without even waiting for them to be conveyed formally.
Time is ripe for both India and Pakistan to get out of debilitating habit of pointing fingers at each other, and/ or of garnering ‘brownie points’. The game of accusations against each other merely to score debating points is now passé. The two must now behave responsibly – as behooves countries of a certain stature – and present to the world a picture of maturity. The world has moved far afield. Surely it is not in the destiny of South Asia to stay mired in the quicksand of recent and not so recent history!
This happens to be the twenty-first century – a century that by rights should be termed Asia’s century. Both India and Pakistan have major roles to play if only they would agree to put the regional house in order. Several of the problems faced by the two countries – particularly those in the economic field – are of common import. Statesmanship demands that the two rise to the occasion and pull the region out of the quagmire it finds itself in. One casualty of the present impasse has been the possibility of the two countries collaborating in the international economic forums at this critical juncture of the world economic crunch. Hand in hand, India and Pakistan can go places. At each other’s throats, they can only provide comfort to their common foes. The choice is up to the two leaderships. If nothing else, the coarse art of muddling through should surely come in handy, and why not?
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.

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