Scoring own goals

I am not a fan of Khurshid Kasuri, nor of his politics. In any case, he is a political lightweight who has made the journey to be able to sell his book. This is fine — many of his countrymen and women have made similar trips to India to begin or enhance their careers — political, business or artistic. Besides, a hostile political reception in India helps both the politician and his book when he goes back home. Many would remember General Musharraf’s (in)famous TV interview conducted by stealth during the Agra Summit in 2001. He was a hero when he returned.

Ahead of his book launch in Mumbai on Monday, former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri held a press conference with Observer Research Foundation chief Sudheendra Kulkarni, whose face had been smeared with black ink by Shiv Sena activists. Pic/PTI
Ahead of his book launch in Mumbai on Monday, former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri held a press conference with Observer Research Foundation chief Sudheendra Kulkarni, whose face had been smeared with black ink by Shiv Sena activists. Pic/PTI

Some years ago, Najam Sethi while speaking at the IIC, New Delhi made the cardinal mistake of speaking out of turn about intelligence agencies in his country. Soon after he returned home, he had midnight visitors, who dragged the befuddled Sethi out of his bed, roughed him up and left him helpless on the street. The message had been delivered.

On a visit to India last year, Kasuri was particularly condescending when he remarked that Pakistan would have no problem with India’s presence in Afghanistan provided India mended its fences with Pakistan. We all know what mending fences means in the Pakistani narrative. It is to be expected that his book would have the same central thread. This would mean accepting a dialogue and the centrality of Kashmir without a reference to terrorism. Even otherwise, Kasuri’s remarks on India-Pakistan issues have been on usual lines in the past and this should not surprise any one of us.

Normal relations and peace with Pakistan are not possible unless Pakistan stops supporting terrorism and there is verifiable evidence. For this to happen, the Pakistan Army will have to have a change in its strategic outlook and realise that the peace dividend for the Army and Pakistan will eventually be much higher than the current war dividend. Many in India continue to hope that Pakistan’s politicians alone can solve the problem and if we give concessions to Pakistan or appease them, we will ensure peace. This is just not going to happen because Pakistan’s politicians cannot deliver on their promises. When in India, Pakistani leaders are particularly circumspect or alternatively vociferous, faithfully following the script their minders give them.

Even so, what the Shiv Sena goons did to Sudheendra Kulkarni preceding Kasuri’s book launch was a national shame. This action does no credit to any Indian. Coming as it does just after the even more reprehensible murder of Mohammed Akhlaq by another set of bigoted goons near Delhi, it leaves many of us immensely troubled.

It is true that Mumbai has several reasons for its anguish about dealing with Pakistan and Pakistani visitors. The incidents of March 1993, July 2006 and November 2008 bring sad memories. There is particular anger at the attitude of the Pakistan government to deny and prevaricate; worse, there is now not even a semblance of sympathy and quite often one hears the advice that India should forget the past and move on.

There is also never a right time to launch peace initiatives with Pakistan or have high-profile events. It does look odd to many that in the first fortnight of October, while four of our soldiers were killed by Pakistan-based terrorists a few days ago, two Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists were apprehended in Kashmir and a J&K police lost a senior officer to terrorist attacks, some of us are hosting a politician helping him sell his arguments.

High-profile bilateral events between India and Pakistan— without adequate and painstaking homework — become mega media affairs, are highly prone to early disaster and are best avoided. They raise hopes unfairly and the disappointment in this group is just as high. They are, therefore, counter-productive.

We had let a group belonging to the talks-without-interruption school to go to Pakistan for Kasuri's book launch. The inevitable corollary to this was an invitation to the author to launch his book here, presumably without reading the 800-page tome. Treated as royalty with several big guns sharing the stage with him, the author gets invited to Mumbai, by which time tempers are high. Kasuri gets his prime time in India where he speaks uninhibitedly about Pakistan’s perceptions on Kashmir while we are left with our faces tarred, literally and figuratively. The invitation to Khurshid Kasuri was poorly imagined with unintended consequences.

Once again we have scored own goals, outsmarted and outplayed.

The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)

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