B S Raghavan

Heady brew of PR and wordplay

| Updated on April 03, 2011

Every little movement taking India-Pakistan relations forward deservesto be welcomed.

The hype and hoopla surrounding the visit of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani, to India to watch the World Cup Cricket Semi-Final at Mohali on the invitation of the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, are a bit much.

The Foreign Secretary, Ms Nirupama Rao, could not contain herself at what she described as the Mohali spirit on full display, generated by the mere fact of the two Prime Ministers having had ‘conversations' which, she was careful enough to point out, were entirely different from the ‘orthodox' category of talks. Apparently, ‘conversations' connote an impromptu, informal exchange of views, while ‘talks' take place in a structured format, with a previously set agenda and a record of minutes. ‘Conversations', in that sense, also free the participants from any obligation to follow up on the views expressed.

But, never mind! Ms Rao laid it on thick, raising hopes of the ‘conversations' bridging the gap between both countries, and contributing “a great deal to cementing, understanding, and friendship” between them.

“This is re-engagement”, she exulted. “It's about peace, it's about healing wounds, it's about reconciliation…with a very positive agenda of contact and exchanges between India and Pakistan.” Does the event justify this kind of soaring rhetoric? Does it stand to reason that 63-year old intractable problems can be spirited away, as if by the wave of a magic wand, as a result of desultory ‘conversations' inside a cricket stadium? If so, why didn't such a miracle occur when Presidents Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf came to watch cricket matches?

In fact, India's Foreign Secretary's own indications of what transpired during the ‘conversations' do not bear out her description of them as ‘wide-ranging'.

Routine civilities

Dr Singh reiterated the need for an atmosphere free of violence. Mr Gilani had no problem agreeing with the lofty sentiment. Mr Gilani invited Dr Singh to Pakistan. Dr Singh, in his turn, readily accepted the invitation. Mr Gilani suggested a visit by Indian cricket team to play in Pakistan and exchange of visits by Parliamentarians of both countries. All present lustily applauded the ideas.

Nothing the least surprising in any of these routine civilities. No surprise, also, that there was not even a hint matching Ms Rao's euphoric mood of a breakthrough on any of the issues bedevilling the relations between the two countries. Indeed, there could not have been anything more to the ‘conversations' than what is on the surface, with so many jostling about and around distracting the dramatis personae in a setting that didn't lend itself to any serious discussion. But I notice that even hardened observers of the happenings in the sub-continent have gone overboard in greeting the outcome. For instance, one famed strategic analyst sees at Mohali “a refreshingly different approach to the exercise to impart a strategic new dimension to the bilateral relations”. He has been impressed by the two Prime Ministers themselves “beginning and taking charge of a carefully calibrated ‘re-engagement' process” to give a fillip to the continuation of the resumed dialogue process agreed upon by them when they met in Thimphu last year.

Hedged in verbiage

Try as one might, one finds it hard to discern the difference between ‘a re-engagement process' and ‘a resumed dialogue process', except, maybe, that the former brought the two Prime Ministers together to have ‘conversations' at Mohali and the latter signifies ‘talks' at the levels of Ministers and officials.

One sees nothing so very ‘carefully calibrated' about the former either, nor, from the look of things, has anything extraordinary come out of the two Home Secretaries meeting at Delhi meriting the build-up it has received.

As is only to be expected, both Secretaries reiterated the commitment of the two countries to fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and reaffirmed the need to bring those responsible for such crimes to justice. (Nothing new there.) They agreed on some non-controversial aspects of earlier decisions to promote maritime cooperation, counter drug and human trafficking, streamline visa procedures, exchange prisoners, and strengthen the watch against fake currency and cyber crimes. (No reason again not to agree.)

The Indian side played up Pakistan agreeing to let a Commission from India undertake Mumbai terror attack investigations in that country. Nothing to get bowled over, as Pakistan has hedged the agreement in a lot of verbiage. All that it has done is to express “its readiness, in-principle, based upon the principle of comity and reciprocity”.

And, yes, the Home Secretaries will set up a hotline “to facilitate real-time information sharing with respect to terrorist threats”, although hotlines, wherever provided, have a history of turning into ornamental appendages. Of course, the Home Secretary of Pakistan invited India's Home Secretary to his country for the next round of talks and the latter graciously accepted.

Granted that every movement, however little, taking India-Pakistan relations forward deserves to be welcomed. Granted, too, that confidence-building measures in the nature of composite dialogues, people-to-people, institution-to-institution, civil society-to-civil society contacts, cultural exchanges, sports events and the like have their place in creating a climate conducive to mutual understanding.

Making Asia a model

But these should not be regarded as ends in themselves; rather, only as a means of preparing the ground for purposeful negotiations on core issues at the highest levels. They should not be spread too thin on too wide a canvas.

The discussion must be narrowed down to two or three specific items coming in the way of lasting peace and friendship between the two nations. A sampler: Rooting out jihadi terrorism; abjuring the use of nuclear weapons; expansion of trade; and bringing tranquility and harmony to Jammu and Kashmir.

More than all, both countries must come to the table determined to overcome decades of suspicion and insecurity by displaying the needed political daring and statesmanship. Any half-hearted measures will only do enormous disservice to the cause, which is nothing short of making Asia a model of progress, prosperity, stability and cooperation for the world.

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Published on April 02, 2011
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