COMMENT: Why clutch at every drifting straw?—Khalid Saleem - Saturday, April 16, 2011

Past experience shows that India has made no secret of its earnest desire to use bilateral dialogue to gain time. Its establishment believes — rightly or wrongly — that time is on India’s side and that, if sufficient time is allowed to elapse, issues will ‘settle’ themselves

The fact that the prime ministers of Pakistan and India got an opportunity to have an ‘unstructured’ exchange of views at Mohali is in itself a good thing. The so-called ‘cricket diplomacy’ that facilitated this exchange was admittedly also a positive development. But the moot question remains: do we really need to go overboard over the affair?

President Zardari is reported to have personally expressed satisfaction over what he called “the outcome of cricket diplomacy”. The president went on to call the meeting “a positive development for the region”, while expressing the hope that it would provide further impetus to the efforts for meaningful dialogue between the two countries “on all outstanding issues”. With all due regard, is this not a tad an over-optimistic note, even bordering on make-believe? Or does our leadership know more than meets the unpractised eye?

What takes the cake, however, is the statement of our ever-vigilant minister for information. She asserted, inter alia, that, “Cricket diplomacy has brought both Pakistan and India closer to resolving all outstanding issues, including the Kashmir problem, for peace in the region.” One is dumbfounded to say the least. Should not the learned minister be well advised not to read more into such developments than the situation warrants? Or again, is she somehow better informed than us lesser mortals?

All in all, the question that presents itself and begs for an answer is: why does our side consider it expedient to clutch at every drifting straw — much like a drowning person — rather than wait for the opportune time when something substantive may be available to latch on to? By behaving as we do, we may be giving just the wrong signal to the world at large, thereby relieving the pressure on India. In other words, are we not thereby acquiescing in the shenanigans of Indian strategists?

This is by no means the first time that our side has jumped the gun and given voice to a conclusion that is not entirely warranted. One may mention, in parentheses, that successful international diplomacy depends not so much on what is said but more on what is allowed to remain unsaid. This should become evident if one studies the comments of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the same issue. His observations are more noteworthy for what has been deliberately sidestepped.

If one studies the course of the recent Pakistan-India interaction, one cannot help but notice that while the Indian side has been more than circumspect, it is the Pakistan side that has often indulged in the self-defeating exercise of giving an over-rosy spin to an otherwise murky situation. This was particularly true in the case of the Foreign Office spokespersons’ outpourings during the Musharraf era.

Here it may be expedient to clarify that the foregoing is not an attempt at belittling the so-called peace process. Far from it — any step in the forward direction by the two estranged neighbours is a welcome development. It is bound to be applauded by right-thinking people on both sides of the border. But, then, it needs to be followed up by meaningful and result-oriented negotiations on the outstanding, contentious issues between the two sides sooner rather than later. Whether or not both sides are prepared to move on this path is the moot question.

Past experience shows that India has made no secret of its earnest desire to use bilateral dialogue to gain time. Its establishment believes — rightly or wrongly — that time is on India’s side and that, if sufficient time is allowed to elapse, issues will ‘settle’ themselves on India’s terms. All may not agree with this thesis, but this is the mindset that has to be reckoned with. That is why it is important to remove the cobwebs and to chart our course with clarity, rationality and a measure of circumspection. Any other option could lead the ship of the state into uncharted and choppy waters. This needs to be avoided at all costs.

A word needs to be said about our peacenik brigade. They have let themselves go, ignoring the nettles strewn in their path. It is one thing to be a lover of peace and quite another to play politics with issues of wider import. It is important to assess each situation according to its merits and then to graduate one’s response accordingly. Our armchair intellectuals have got into the rather annoying habit of shooting from the hip.

Coming back to the observations following the cricket diplomacy, they appear to have been dictated by a pre-set notion rather than assessment of the ground reality. Another bizarre aspect is that the head of state should have considered it fit to offer a knee-jerk comment. The higher the level of the person making the pronouncement, the more measured and circumspect it is required to be. This does not appear to have been done in the matter of the so-called cricket diplomacy. It would perhaps have been polite to allow the dust to settle and the horizon to become clearer before making a considered and to-the-point statement. The interim could perhaps have better been covered by making innocuous off the cuff remarks until a cogent comment was formulated.

Is one guilty of talking out of turn?

The writer is a former Ambassador and former Assistant Secretary General of OIC. His first book is a collection of essays titled Halfway up the Tree

Source :\04\16\story_16-4-2011_pg3_2

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