General Musharraf, the Delhi-born commander-in-chief and president of Pakistan, was an enterprising man. He tried to resolve Pakistan's problems with India. He came to Agra in July 2001 without any result. This column was written in Business Standard of 9 October 2001.
I know just how inept BJP’s economic policy is, what a mess it has made of the economy, and how much more damage it will do in the years to come. By comparison, I have far more respect for its foreign policy. It has explored new frontiers, sought new alignments, and tried to remove the misfit between our foreign policy stance and national interest that had emerged after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. I do not think Jaswant Singh should have been so exclusively focussed on the US and so rude to Japan; and the government’s policy towards neighbours has been somewhere between fitful and slapdash. But these matters of detail aside, Jaswant Singh’s tango with foreigners has provided a better spectacle than Yashwant Sinha’s Bharat Natyam with assorted moneybags.
That is why the behaviour of our leaders since Musharraf’s arrival in Agra has puzzled me. Leaders, because Jaswant Singh is no longer the only actor; the Prime Minister and the home minister have jumped on to the dance floor with a thud. First, the theatricals. The PM staying in a swadeshi hotel, the Pakistani President in a foreign one. One visiting the other accompanied by family. More like a match party (I mean a match between aspiring bride and groom, not a cricket match). The only reason I could find for this pomp was that the PM likes good hotels.
Then came Musharraf’s breakfast with Indian editors – or rather, his address to the Indian people over their heads. To me he seemed to be saying: give me a road map to the solution of the Kashmir problem, and I will agree on everything else with you – trade, investment, etc etc. He did not define a solution; he did not say, give me Kashmir, or let Kashmiris decide where they want to belong. He said, you define a solution and tell me how we can get there.
His TV breakfast caused consternation in the Indian official community. Our politicians and bureaucrats thought that Musharraf had broken some protocol by talking in public about things being discussed behind closed doors. Maybe he did. In difficult negotiations like these, both sides generally agree on some rules in advance. Maybe they had agreed not to talk to the press before a certain time. Even if they did not, Musharraf’s was a breach of etiquette.
But that is not why he caused such outrage. The indignation of the Indian official community arose from the message itself, not its time or place. For what is its road map to a solution? It is: convert the line of control into an international border. Let us keep what we have, you keep what you have. If our leaders had said that, Musharraf would have flown back even faster. That is why Vajpayee never says it: because that would put an end to all negotiations. But that is our answer, is it not? If it is, I simply do not understand why our leaders bother – I mean, bothered, for Musharraf will not talk to them any time soon. From his point of view, they were not serious; from their point of view, he was not desperate enough.
Then comes Black Tuesday. Shocking acts of terror; five Indians died, together with 5000 others. There was widespread sympathy for the Americans, and the Prime Minister was obviously right to express it. There were arguments for and against offering help unasked; but the reason is obvious – maybe the US could be persuaded to work against all terrorists, not only anti-American ones. But why publicly? Why trumpet it? Why not just tell Ambassador Blackwill quietly what information we have that might be useful to the Americans, and offer to share it? Or even offer airports? Why must the Prime Minister make a phone call to President Bush? Why send Brajesh Mishra to the doorsteps of US officials? Agree as I do with the government’s aims, the means adopted completely escape my understanding.
The moment when General Colin Powell asked Pakistan which side it was on was dramatic; it was good spectacle the way General Musharraf writhed and wriggled. But he made up his mind quickly and clearly; from that moment on it was clear that the equations had changed. Pakistan had suddenly raised its value to the US. It was not our fault; it was just fate. One has to take such reverses in one’s stride. Instead of which our leaders burst into public paroxysms of hurt pride, indignation and wishful thinking. They dreamt of a democratic alliance against terrorism that would include US and – you have to believe it! – China. They kept offering facilities to the US which no longer wanted them. Pakistanis must have enjoyed their discomfiture as much as we did Musharraf’s. Then came the attack on the Kashmir assembly. A little girl dead without knowing why. A bleeding man propping himself up in the street. It is desperately sad. It is intolerable. But should the PM have told Bush that our patience was running out? One should never utter a threat unless one is in a position to carry it out.
In 1970, as refugees streamed across the border from East Pakistan, Mrs Gandhi said publicly, repeatedly, that India’s would not tolerate the situation. She went to Washington and delivered the message to an unsympathetic President Nixon. She went on doing it for six months; and in the meanwhile she asked General Maneckshaw to prepare for war and gave him whatever weapons he asked for. Then, in a swift three-week campaign he made good her word. But why did she warn everyone? So that other countries would not be taken by surprise and do something incalculable; and so that she could gauge their reactions and hold the international variables constant while she carried out her subcontinental military strategy.
That is leadership.. I do not expect our leaders to make public speeches about how they are going to settle Pakistan’s goose; I do not even want to know how they are going to deal with Pakistan. But I wish they would stop talking and start doing something. Or at least stop talking so much, so pointlessly.
And if they are looking for something decisive to do, they should look at the last ten years’ history. In these ten years, the west’s perception of India and Pakistan changed diametrically. From a sickly child of the Soviet Union, India came to be regarded as a potential tiger; from a reliable friend, Pakistan came to be seen as a rogue state. Why? Because India overcame a payments crisis and came to grow at 6 per cent, while Pakistan sank deeper and deeper. Economic growth is what makes a difference to a country’s international weight in the long run; that is why the harm the BJP leaders have done to India’s economic performance is far more treasonable than their speeches on foreign policy are patriotic.