To steel or not to steel

The way President Clinton treated Pakistan as compared to India, during his sole mercy visit to Islamabad should have served as an object lesson in statecraft, and so should Modi’s reception in New Delhi

To steel or not to steel


The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Mr Narendra Modi has won a historic victory in the recent Indian general elections. His ascent to the top of Indian political power was being predicted by political pundits for quite some time, just as Congress was sinking deeper by the day into corruption and inaction. Modi is a charismatic person who is also dogged by certain apparently indelible smudges. These include his being thoroughly soaked in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS’s) aggressive communal philosophy and his less than desirable role during the unfolding Godhra incident and its regrettable aftermath. Simultaneously, he is also the sole architect of Gujarat’s meteoric economic rise. He carries to the prime minister’s office his formidable personal credentials of an entirely self-made man, decisiveness and great administrative ability. His vision of India is an unmistakably saffron regional power and economic powerhouse well on its way to becoming a semi-superpower. Therefore no challenges on its periphery will be evinced and conversely peace will get added emphasis.

His invitation to the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) heads of state and government to be guests at his oath taking ceremony was a masterstroke of diplomatic genius, nuanced just like the viceroy’s durbar during Raj times. It not only gave a clear signal of what India considers as its zone of natural influence but also set a precedent for future events and their required participants. Non-attendance by a country within this zone will automatically be considered as distancing or divergent focus. Pakistan, being too eager to please, was easily drawn into this net and promptly received its part of the drubbing regardless of the courtesies of the occasion.

Modi deserves a pat for the artful diplomatic coup de grace that he delivered to Pakistan. He set up an environment that fed on our prime minister’s deep desire to befriend India at all costs, forced his reluctant hand into accepting the invitation for fear of being singled out, and when he walked into the snare, sprang a stunning diplomatic surprise by shooting off a charge sheet against Pakistan at point blank range. The effect was as dazzling as envisaged. Our prime minister must have been utterly dumbfounded, was almost speechless and missed his already inadequate brief completely. The shock of Modi’s audacious frontal attack unbalanced him so much that his press conference soon afterwards was like a bowl of mashed potatoes. Modi pressed his advantage relentlessly by ordering a blistering press briefing by his foreign secretary, uncharacteristically revealing contents of a restricted meeting — a serious breach of diplomatic norms it was — nonetheless it served their national interest perfectly. However, this demolished the Pakistani delegation’s last standing brick. Had his self-serving legion of foreign policy advisers done their proper homework, the prime minister would not have hit a stone wall like that, which shattered his nascent dream of equitable rapprochement so mercilessly. They fed his cherished fancies rather than presenting a realistic assessment.

The moral and diplomatic high ground that Modi has climbed will be difficult to match unless Pakistan is ready to roll out unilateral concession after concession. This is the disadvantage of mixing personal equations with the business of the state. Mr Nawaz Sharif is known to have made repeated mistakes on this score, ad nauseam. In international relations, personal charm, bonhomie and preferential inclinations are only the tools of furthering national interest and not an end in themselves. The way President Clinton treated Pakistan as compared to India, during his sole mercy visit to Islamabad should have served as an object lesson in statecraft, and so should Modi’s reception in New Delhi.

So much for the diplomatic faux pas in New Delhi. However, privately, what passed partially unnoticed by most has been equally incongruous, reflecting rather unfavourably on our sense of proportion and statesmanship. Reportedly, over the heads of the Pakistan ambassador and the foreign office, appointments were fixed with men and women of opaque credentials with the prime minister in his hotel suite and with some in their houses. By now, well known are inexplicable visits by Hema Malini, Shatrughan Sinha, Shabana Azmi and a media house owner interested in opening a joint television channel. More astounding has been the visit by the prime minister, accompanied by his son, to Mr Naveen Jindal’s house over a cup of tea. Mr Jindal is a steel tycoon and therefore this extraordinary visit logically points to a common business oriented discussion. Customarily, diplomatic probity is the beacon of a state dignitary’s foreign visit, which we tend to overlook to the detriment of the country.

What in our celebrated naivety was considered a cushy trip to New Delhi, which might add to his international stature as a statesman, turned out to be a diplomatic nightmare and a fall from expected pre-eminence to inelegant subsistence. Kashmiri leaders were, perhaps, excluded from his visitors list to appease Modi, so was the mention of pressing issues like river waters, Sir Creek, Siachen and Pakistan-exclusive initiatives in Afghanistan. This misplaced cordiality turned into missed opportunity when Modi launched his lightning offensive. Nobody may have briefed the prime minister that, under his broad amiable smile, warm handshake and a simple turnout, there is a man who is extremely purposeful, steeled in the fine grinding grassroots political mill and nurses an uncompromising world vision for his country. This man is to be watched carefully lest Pakistan makes a wrong move to regret forever. His opening manoeuvre suggests that he is going to be much more demanding and will insist on results rather than promises. Our nation’s chief tormentors, the star struck jihadis, and the like would naturally top his wish list. We are going to have a lot of hard work at hand.

At home there is a crying need to heed the urgent beat of the distant drums and the rising columns of smoke from the hilltops. It presages serious trouble. Pause to evaluate why the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) is drawing ever-increasing crowds with ominously committed faces from an otherwise listless people in this scorching heat. Tahir-ul-Qadri is a far more fiery speaker, very well organised and an astute political adversary. His armoury is loaded with far greater lethality. For one he is quite capable of completely wrecking the picnic if he chooses to. He almost did more than a year ago. We might as well listen to what he has to say before he takes to the streets and routs the happy carnival. The mood of the masses is beginning to be menacing and these two are baying for blood. Meanwhile, do measure your steps well before you set out on another pilgrimage of sentiments in the wrong realm of international relations.


The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan army and can be reached at