An ill-timed decision

In matters of diplomacy, continuity is more important than party affiliation 

An ill-timed decision
During my recent visit to Delhi, I spent some time at the Press Club of India as usual. Around the table were like-minded friends and the politics of the day revolving round the rise of Aam Admi Party (AAP), Congress’s defeat and Narendra Modi’s possible march to Delhi was what we were discussing. But the relations between India and Pakistan cannot be ignored in a discussion when a Kashmiri is around.

Obviously there is a caveat to talk about future of a peace process until the general elections in India are over and a new government is in place. But what emerged of the informal stock taking of this brief luncheon discussion was that Pakistan’s foreign policy is yet to come out of the party politics unlike India. The direct point made by all and on which there was a total consensus was that in India the political parties are together when it comes to an issue centering on national interest. Like in case of the Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade who was humiliated by the United States government in New York, the entire political set up rallied by Manmohan Singh government to take on US and to make it clear that on the issue of national sovereignty there cannot be any compromise. India’s collective response on “national issues” has been part of its successes at various levels.

[quote]Nawaz Sharif has extended a hand of friendship, but there are no takers in Delhi at this stage[/quote]

But in contrast, the divergent positions taken in Pakistan are a matter of concern for those who look for a better Pakistan that could stand up on its own and is able to boast about its independence. The way parties went left and right on the killing of Tehrik-e-Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, it was clear that on a crucial issue that was directly linked to Pakistan’s survival, the parties were not together. Selective appeasement remained the hallmark of the hullaballoo that followed the incident, notwithstanding the fact that drones are an issue, which concerns the sovereignty of Pakistan. But having been accepted as a fait accompli there could have been a unanimous voice on what is wrong and what is right.

Somehow the discussion I was talking about was on the same lines of why the party politics should dominate a decision that could have larger implications. In this backdrop it was about recalling Salman Bashir, who has been High Commissioner to India for last year and a half. Not that a government does not have a right to change an ambassador, but the timing is always important, that too when it is about a “bitter” neighbor such as India. The peace process between two countries has been almost on a halt, though Nawaz Sharif had extended a fresh hand of friendship but there are no takers in Delhi at this stage. Even a visit by his brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif who recently was in India with a high profile delegation was not noticed at all. A usual statement about his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was all that we know.

Since India is heading to elections and new combinations will take place, changing of high commissioner does not seem to be a well thought decision. In any case, the high commissioner is the biggest link and being a seasoned diplomat who has been part of resumption of peace process between two countries in his capacity as Foreign Secretary, Salman could have played a greater and constructive role in building bridges with new political set up in India. Political transformation phase in India something which is to be looked at by Pakistan with caution. “It is a crucial time for Pakistan to build relations with a new government and the wisdom would lie in having him continued,” opines Iftikhar Gilani, a veteran journalist in Delhi who has worked for Pakistani papers for a long time. Not only would his experience help building bridges but Salman Bashir had brought other changes as well. He had opened up the embassy for social engagements like book release functions and musical concerts. Countering the political anathema on bother sides can only be done by taking recourse to such steps and build people of significance together.

There is no doubt that Salman, a former career diplomat, was a political appointee but continuing him in Delhi would not pose a threat to the Nawaz government.

Unlike the thinking in political set up in Pakistan, the parties in India have shown that the national policies, such as those on diplomacy, do not change just to satisfy the egos. When the Manmohan Singh government came into power in 2004, they did not change then India’s Ambassador to US Naresh Chandra and NN Vohra, then interlocutor on Jammu and Kashmir, who had been appointed by Vajpayee government. There are many more examples like these.

So there are lessons that can be mutually learned by both countries in carrying forward the sincere efforts to build peace. In this case, however, the Nawaz Sharif government has failed in reading the much importance of continuity.