Feasting, bickering and rhetorical fireworks. It was a conflicted see-saw day for the prickly relations between India and Pakistan as the Pakistan high commission rolled out a moveable feast for at least 3,000 Indian guests on its National Day in the Indian capital even as New Delhi sharply reminded Islamabad that there is no place for third party (Kashmiri separatists) in the dialogue process.
An eventful day: Party goes on….
March 23, 2015 – it was just another day in the subcontinent, bidding adieu to winter and bracing for the long blistering summer ahead, but it telescoped multiple contradictions in the tangled India-Pakistan relations.
Indeed, it was an eventful day – and all packed in a few hours of drama, sound-bytes and edgy diplomacy. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to Pakistan, conveying greetings for the National Day celebrations, but also made it clear that all bilateral issues can be resolved only in an atmosphere free of tensions and violence. Pakistan’s High Commissioner Abdul Basit couldn’t resist sparking another controversy by saying early in the day that India had no objection to him inviting Hurriyat leaders for the National Day feast. He was partly right, and partly wrong. India quickly reacted, and sharply, with Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesperson for India’s external affairs ministry, saying that there is no place for any third party in the dialogue process. “Having repeated it on so many occasions, there should be no scope for misunderstanding or misrepresenting India’s position on the role of the so called Hurriyat. Let me reiterate there are only two parties and there is no place for a third party in resolution of India-Pakistan issues,” he said.
Twitter-Chatter: Duty & Disgust
But the envoy, who loves a dash of drama, was also partially right as General V.K. Singh, India’s minister of state for external affairs, came over to the Pakistan high commission for some bonhomie even as Hurriyat leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani were schmoozing the motley crowd at the same place. Welcoming Gen. Singh, Mr Basit alluded to Nawaz Sharif’s vision of “Peace for Development and Development for Peace” and underlined that the two countries had a rare opportunity to achieve viable, lasting peace.
Gen. Singh, however, took a philosophic view of his presence at Pakistan’s National Day celebrations, and in a series of tweets tried to unscramble the meaning of “duty” and “disgust” to his followers. Duty and disgust are simple words, without much ambiguity, but Gen. Singh was clearly trying to do some deft messaging, which clearly has not played down well. Yes, it’s the bounden duty of the two nuclear-armed neighbours to engage and talk, but disgust can’t be the emotion that could bring the two estranged neighbours any closer. What one needs is empathy, foresight, statesmanship and some out-of-the-box thinking to pack some genuine emotions and fresh ideas into the perennially conflicted India-Pakistan relations.
What does all this symbolism, rhetoric and below-the-belt barbs mean for India-Pakistan relations and the prospects of the dialogue process? The messaging is confused, but still one can isolate some strands: one, for all the occasional bickering and reiteration of well-known positions, the leadership in New Delhi and Islamabad are increasingly realising that there is no option but to talk and re-engage. There is also a healthy dose of pragmatism, a sobering realisation that bickering between the governments will not prevent bonding and feasting on people-to-people level. If nothing works, they can always bank on the robust appetite of people on both sides of the divide for good food: the rich spread of biryani, chicken tikka and kakori kabab, and the sight of spirited feasting one saw at the national day celebrations dinner only convinced one that people may like a good fight for television drama, but are hungry for peace, sharing and soaking in a good news story.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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