Diplomatic tact
BY A . G. N00 R A N I | 7/25/2015

`FOREIGN politics demand scarcely any of those qualities which a democracy possesses; and they require, on the contrary, the perfect use of almost all those faculties in which it is deficient. ... A democracy is unable to regulate the details of an important undertaking, to persevere in a design, and to work out its execution in the presence of serious obstacles. It cannot combine its measures with secrecy, and it will not await their consequences with patience.

The contretemps which developed soon after the joint press briefing by the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan, at Ufa on July 10, amply bears out at the sagacity of Alexis de Tocqueville`s words in his classic Democracy in America. They are true particularly for these two countries which are locked in long-standing disputes that arouse strong emotions in their peoples. It was not wise to omit any reference to the Kashmir issue in the agreed briefing. This had happened once before at the Agra summit, on July 15, 2001, when the then information minister Sushma Swaraj reeled out to the press a host of issues which president Pervez Musharraf and prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had discussed, omitting deliberately any mention of Kashmir. This instantly led to a strong reaction in Pakistan. Its High Commission`s official, present at Agra, promptly set the record straight Kashmir was very much discussed.

If diplomacy is to be conducted purposefully with an aim at conciliation neither side should put the other in an embarrassing position with its own public opinion. The temptation to gratify public opinion at home must be resisted. In the long run it helps nobody.

One witnessed a similar drama in reverse in the famous joint statement which prime ministers Manmohan Singh and Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani issued at Sharm el-Sheikh on July 16, 2009. It was the first summit of the prime ministers after the Mumbai attacks of Nov 26, 2008. Manmohan Singh would have been remiss in his duties to the nation if he had not raised the matter with prime minister Gilani. The joint statement said `Prime Minister Singh reiterated the need to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to justice. Prime Minister Gilani assured that Pakistan will do everything in its power in this regard.

A reference to the status dossier, on the investigations into the attacks in Mumbai, was followed by this accord: `Both leaders agreed that the two countries will share real time, credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threats`. However, it was immediately followed by this fateful line: `Prime Minister Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information on threats in Balochistan and other areas`. Never before had Balochistan figured in a joint statement between the two countries. Mr Gilani could well have revealed in a press briefing in Pakistan on his return, his reference to Balochistan in his talks with Manmohan Singh. In the joint statement it smacked of tit-for-tat. The media and the opposition attacked Mr Singh and his own party, the Congress, abandoned him.

The result was summed up by a notable TV anchor from now on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will not be able to make any significant concessions to Pakistan.

Since independence no prime minister of India, not excluding Jawaharlal Nehru, had gone out on a limb in so determined a manner to forge a settlement on Kashmir. Was the reference to Balochistan worth the damage it inflicted? Jawaharlal Nehru was so sensitive to public opinion that he cared little for the damage his public statements inflicted on the diplomatic process. On Nov 29, 1962, then president Ayub Khan and prime minister Nehru issued a promising joint statement as a prelude to a summit. It spoke of `a renewed effort ... to resolve the outstanding differences between their two countries on Kashmir and other matters.` The very next day, Nehru assured parliament that `anything thatinvolved the upsetting of the present arrangements would be very harmful` to all the parties. In plain words, change in the status quo was rule d out. Anglo-American intercession only yielded the clarification that he was not imposing any `precondition or any restriction on the talks`. Small wonder that the talks between the foreign ministers, Z.A.

Bhutto and Swaran Singh, failed.

It is not easy to reconcile the political necessity of keeping public opinion satisfied with the claim of diplomacy which mandates concessions and reconciliation. But the task must be performed by any leader worth the name.

The leaders of India and Pakistan would do well to heed the advice of Abba Eban, Israel`s former foreign minister. He wrote: `It is unrealistic to expect political leaders to ignore public opinion. But a statesman who keeps his ear permanently glued to the ground will have neither elegance of posture nor flexibility of movement`. •
The writer is an author and lawyer based in Mumbai.

Published in Dawn