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Cricket and diplomacy

K. NATWAR SINGH

Wednesday 9 June 2004, by NATWAR SINGH*K.

ON several occasions I have said that India-Pakistan relations are accident-prone. However, the current mood provides some hope for a better future for our bilateral relations. It is, however, too early to make a final judgment on the course these relations might follow.

Even an insignificant incident can upset the goodwill generated on both sides of the border in the past few weeks. The One-Day International cricket match at Karachi was a welcome change from such encounters in the past. The people of Karachi gave our team a cordial and warm welcome and applauded Sourav Ganguly and his comrades when they won the match on the last ball of the last over. Equally striking was the popular welcome given to Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and her husband Robert. Cricket matches between the two countries in the past achieved high levels of bitterness, hostility and the body language on the field was war-like.

At a deeper level we have to watch how General Pervez Musharraf conducts himself after the cricket matches are over on April 18, 2004. In his televised address to the India Today Conclave held recently in Delhi, he again mentioned Jammu and Kashmir as the core issue. The temptation to do so obviously proved irresistible. This is not a good sign. We have, therefore, to ask - has the climate of India-Pakistan relations changed or just the diplomatic weather? If there is a change of climate, then something of very great significance has happened. However, I do not look at diplomacy and international relations through the "optimism-pessimism" syndrome. We must thoroughly analyse such situations with clear-headed realism. The wise will watch and see what the next few months have in store for the people of India and Pakistan. The Americans will never alter their pro-Pakistan attitude when the chips are down. The Vajpayee establishment must keep this in mind.

If there had been a change in the diplomatic climate, its repercussions would be seen not only in the SAARC region or Asia, but also throughout the world. Just imagine if India and Pakistan had a broad agreement on foreign policy, defence policy and security matters, the world would sit up. Sometimes one gathers the impression that in both countries, the people are ahead of their governments. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf have put their necks on the diplomatic railway line. In India, the Congress party has shown the way to improve relations with Pakistan and has supported Prime Minister Vajpayee’s initiative to have better relations with Pakistan. I am not sure whether President Musharraf has the entire Pakistani establishment - the Army, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the business and bureaucratic communities on his side. President Musharraf is not a Punjabi. The Pakistan Armed Forces, the Army in particular, is Punjabi dominated. The Americans will push him to the edge but will never abandon him. We in India do not have the pressures the President of Pakistan faces - Taliban in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, the dangerous activities of A.Q. Khan whose greed made him sell lethal technology for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. It is amazing but not surprising that the Americans have dealt with Khan with such leniency.

I WAS in Bangalore two weeks ago where I met a young lady named Tejeswani. I was not familiar with her name earlier. I discovered that it was a household name in Karnataka. She asked me if I would appear on her TV programme. She works for the Udaya TV network. When I asked my colleagues in the Congress party in Bangalore whether I should agree to an interview by Tejeswani, their response was overwhelmingly in favour of my appearing in her TV show. During the interview, Tejeswani impressed me with her self-confidence, her intuitive intelligence and her mastery of the television technique. Apparently the interview was seen and appreciated by a very large number of people. I generally avoid appearing on television. Charming young men and beautiful young ladies sometimes address complicated issues with fanciful and pretentious cocksureness. To me, television is a double-edged weapon. Its capacity to do good is enormous. Even greater is its capacity to do harm. However, the intrusion of TV channels in our homes is irreversible and one has to learn to live with it.

WHEN Shaharyar Mohammed Khan was Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary and later Ambassador to France, he was not well known even in Pakistan, let alone India. Now he is. As Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, he is very much in the public eye. Shaharyar and I have been friends for 50 years. We were contemporaries at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Later we joined the Foreign Service of our respective countries. In the mid-1970s, we were posted in London. When I was Ambassador to Pakistan (1980-82) I visited him and his mother in Karachi. There is an older link. My wife’s grandfather, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala and Shaharyar’s grandfather, the Nawab of Bhopal, were friends and rivals in the Chamber of Princes in the 1920s and 1930s.

Shaharyar is an aristocratic gentleman. He has sent me a personal invitation to come to Pakistan to watch the One Day matches and the Tests. I hope to get away at least for 24 hours to Lahore. I have not been to Pakistan since December 1988 when I accompanied Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to Islamabad for the SAARC Summit. I am looking forward to my first passage to Pakistan in the 21st century.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

Pic : REUTERS ; Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf receives a bat with autographs of Indian players from captain Sourav Ganguly, during a meeting in Islamabad on March 17, 2004.

in Frontline, volume 21, Issue 07, March 27 - April 09, 2004.

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