. . . . . .  

The only region in the world unaffected by global warming is our subcontinent, where diplomatic relations between our two countries remain as frozen as polar ice. Dialogue between our diplomats reminds one of the igloo-talk between two arctic explorers whose words emerged embedded in cubes of ice. They had to melt them to find out what the other was talking about.

Do officials in the MEA in South Block and the Foreign Office in Islamabad huddle over their separate stoves, searching for meanings in pots that have been kept simmering since 1947?

There are still optimists on both sides of the fractious border who hope for an improvement in our relations, to witness the spring that should logically follow the winter of our malintent. They are however becoming as rare as coelacanths and, like those near-extinct fish, they prefer to remain submerged in the darkened depths of discretion.


On the surface, in India, Narendra Modi is completing his first term as prime minister. In Pakistan, Imran Khan is completing his first hundred days. Before his election, Mr Modi had never stepped foot in the Lok Sabha. Imran Khan hated very minute he spent as a MNA in the National Assembly. Today, Mr Modi keeps his eyes focused on being re-elected in 2019, advertising his own performance as much as he derides the floundering immaturity of his Congress opponent. Mr Khan rummages in his pouch in search of an unbroken electoral promise.


Internationally, Mr Modi is now on first name terms with world leaders. Mr Khan has yet to make his first official visit to any of the superpowers that matter: the U.S., China and Russia.  Interestingly, in their dealings with the superpowers, both Mr Modi and Mr Khan are unconsciously being made to replay a 1971 scenario. In August of that fateful year in Indo-Pak politics, Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin commented to Dr Henry Kissinger on ‘the ironic development where they [the Soviets] were lined up with what we had always thought was the pillar of democracy while we [the U.S.] were lined up with the Chinese.’


Even the outgoing US Representative to the UN Nikki Haley would agree that the role of the U.S. in this area is diminishing to the point of superfluity. Old hands in the State Department must rue the day they rejected Mr. Z.A. Bhutto’s offer in 1973 to give them a toe-hold in Balochistan’s coastline. Then, Americans preferred the non-controversial insularity of Diego Garcia. Gwadar was within their reach; today it is beyond their grasp.


Once again, Chinese support for Pakistan is being counterbalanced by Russian interest in India. Russia gives a S-400 air defense system to India. China offers 48 high end armed drones to Pakistan. It is clear to everyone that the scales of weaponry can never ever be tilted in favour of Pakistan. Yet, the scales are never allowed to remain empty or motionless.  Both India and Pakistan are condemned to an ‘uninterrupted, uninterruptible’ see-saw of armed disparity.


Meanwhile, our intellectuals meet and talk about each other, rather than to each other. This year, again, the Khushwant Singh LitFset in Kasauli will have no Pakistani delegate. It seems that only ashes are allowed to travel without visas. Khushwant Singh’s ashes were carried across the border and interred in Hadali, here in Pakistan. And this week, the ashes of Kuldip Nayar were brought and immersed in the Ravi river that flows past Lahore.


T.S. Eliot’s poignant words come to mind:  ‘Ash on an old man’s sleeve/ is all the ash the burnt roses leave’? Will Indo-Pak amity be reduced to the ash that burnt expectations leave?





[The Tribune Chandigarh, 14 October 2018]




14 October 2018
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