The evening of Friday, 16 July could be termed as a, “night of the hawks,” on India’s news channels many of whom are replicas of mushy soap operas churned out by entertainment television for the debate on Indo Pakistan Foreign Ministers talks concluded in Islamabad a day before turned into a hard slanging match targeting the Pakistani establishment in general and Mr Qureshi the Foreign Minister in particular. The most matured observations by India’s unflappable Foreign Secretary Ms Nirupama Rao who reiterated that going forward was the way for India as well as Pakistan were sadly blanked out by over enthusiastic editor anchors whose cacophony increased each time the debate seemed to expose their inadequacies.
The remarks made by Mr Qureshi in the morning of the Indian side not being prepared and India’s External Affairs Minister Mr S M Krishna looking toward Delhi for advice during the meetings were no doubt uncalled for, but so were the many comments made by venerable opinion makers in New Delhi.
Fortunately better sense has prevailed and after a day of acrimony India and Pakistan now seek to leave behind the bad taste of their Islamabad encounter which had terminated into a spat between the Foreign Ministers which though avoided during the Press Conference erupted much later. The good news is that there would be continuation of talks which is welcome and therefore the Indian Foreign Secretary who was quick to assure the media in India on Friday when there was much mud flying all over that bilateral talks have not collapsed was the most sobering one.
Kudos to Ms Nirupama Rao for standing firm and “tall” even though many of her most respected predecessors seemed to belittle her as well as Mr S M Krishna’s sagacity and diplomatic skills.
What went wrong in the end will never be clear but the atmospherics pre talks was certainly not in order on the Pakistani side the statements by the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir so called “Prime Minister” and on the Indian side those attributed to the Home Secretary had sullied the atmosphere thus much was not expected. It is apparent that unfulfilled expectations on both the sides made all the difference and it was seen that this has possibly led to frustrations. Such annoyance is best left within and not expressed in pubic unless these are very grave or there is a definite statement being made through them, what was the intent of both sides and particularly the Pakistani Foreign Minister in personally attacking Mr Krishna remains to be seen.
India’s firm commitment to continue with the talks however should be welcomed. For a country where over 70 percent of the population lives below $ 2 per day, yet an economy which is in the first five in the World on GDP PPP, assuming regional leadership will have to go hand in hand with rising level of income of its population below the poverty line, for this resolving key issues with neighbour Pakistan is essential. While the arm chair opinion makers in the air conditioned studios in Delhi who are unaffected by inflation and whose visits depend on their hawkish postures had no reason to mellow down their rhetoric, Ms Rao was thankfully supported by many sane voices.
India has to also play big brother to Pakistan now that it has permanently settled off the differential with its western neighbour by the firm trajectory of economic growth. Pakistan on the other hand is virtually at the mercy of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan a meeting of which is being held in Islamabad and to which the same Mr Qureshi is beseeching for more favours. The law makers in the country are also under siege for fake degrees and there is a real danger of fresh elections though the ruling class will ensure that its interests are protected.
What is however important is to note that there are many areas of contention in the militant space and while there have been a large number of actions taken by the security forces these have not been able to address the core issues of divisions in society which are many, the key one appears to be that between the Shia and the Sunni with the eruption of crisis in Kurram Agency on Saturday which has suffered in the past with attacks by rival groups. The Taliban have been behind many such attacks on the Shias and security measures have failed to prevent recurrence from time to time. What may now be necessary is not merely political and security tweaking but also some socio political measures to ensure that the people space is secured by attempting to reduce the extremism seeping in society.
India can contribute to this not by sounding hawkish but by helping the Pakistani people and the political parties wade through their many troubles, talks will remain the way ahead, so listen to Ms Nirupama Rao please.