Diplomatic Divide
PR Chari ·       

We have here a short, breezily written book containing two narratives of the personal reminiscences of a former Pakistani and a former Indian diplomat about their experiences as their country?s plenipotentiaries in New Delhi and Islamabad. The two authors did not serve together in the same capital or at the same time; so they do not address the same events, which is a pity. Parthasarathy also writes about his stint as Consul-General in Karachi during the seventies.

The Series Editor mentions that Roli Books have taken a new publishing initiative, Cross-Border Talks, ?which attempts to provide a new forum to debate the substantive issues which divide the two countries...in which eminent Indians and Pakistanis systematically discuss the issues which divide them within the covers of one book.? This initiative could work if the two interlocutors addressed the same problem areas at some length, but mixing up recollections of men and events with serious analysis, may not be the best way to achieve any useful purpose. However, the book is entertaining and an easy read. It is very different from the self-adulatory or self-exculpatory memoirs favoured by former bureaucrats in the subcontinent.

The two authors have addressed the important events that occurred during their watch, which includes the Indira Gandhi assassination and the Brasstacks crisis during Humayun Khan?s tenure, and Vajpayee?s bus journey to Lahore and the Kargil conflict that occurred when Parthasarathy was serving in Pakistan. Naturally they have widely differing perspectives on the Simla Agreement and the Kashmir discord, but are lavish in their praise of the hospitality they received at the non-official level, despite the frustrations in official dealings. Humayun Khan has not criticised the official surveillance under which the Pakistani embassy is kept in Delhi?75 % of them are intelligence operatives, in any case, according to Parthasarathy, but the latter has detailed the surveillance and routine beatings of Indian Embassy staff in Pakistan. He could moderate this uncivil behaviour, it seems, by arranging a similar treatment of Pakistani diplomats in New Delhi. These are aspects of practical diplomacy that might be codified in the Vienna Convention!

Of value to the academic are the authors? take on the nature of India-Pakistan relations. Humayun Khan notes the existence of an ?adversarial psychosis? on both sides, which conditioned India to take advantage of Pakistan?s mishandling of East Bengal to hive off Bangladesh. Pakistan?s efforts to stoke the insurgency, earlier �in Punjab, and now in Kashmir, �through what India calls ?cross-border terrorism? is clearly its policy to repay in kind. He also, perceptively, notes that ?neither side has made any effort to influence public opinion towards an ultimate compromise. In fact they have both encouraged hard-line thinking and sought to make political capital out of maintaining rigid positions.? Parthasarathy personalises the issue somewhat by noting the obstructive behaviour of the Pakistani Foreign Office towards Indian diplomats that results in ?almost every Indian diplomat posted in Pakistan viewing the Pakistani establishment with suspicion, if not hostility.? He suggests an easier visa policy being adopted by India to showcase itself, which would be conducive to changing the Pakistani mindset.� ��

So the future of� �Indo-Pak relations rests on changing mindsets frozen in concrete. Humayun Khan repeatedly introspects on the dominant military mindset in Pakistan which assesses India only on the basis of its military capabilities, not its intentions that can change overnight. It is a quick step thereafter to conjure up worst-case scenarios and formulate foreign policy in line with these precepts. Parthasarathy also notes the fusion of the feudal structure of Pakistan with its military elite that has illusions ?about Pakistan?s endless strategic importance to the United States and the Western World. Successive Pakistani Governments have paid more attention to how they could forge regional and global alliances to attain ?parity? with India,? than in improving living conditions for its people.

In practice, a two-track policy results, pursue negotiations at one level and activate covert operations at another level. The villain of the peace is, of course, the intelligence agencies ?who always have their sources of information that are unavailable to others. If their predictions come true, they can take full credit. If their predictions do not come true, they can claim that their timely warning was the reason.? A similar situation exists in India with a thick cloak of national security interests concealing their activities in the absence of any oversight mechanism. �

It is systemic factors, therefore, that underlies mindsets and is responsible for the poor state of India-Pakistan relations. The concerned bureaucracies on both sides have a vested interest in promoting bad relations between India and Pakistan for their institutional reasons. The cast of characters is the same on both sides, although their relative influence within the power hierarchy is different. In Pakistan the military, civil bureaucracy and the nuclear scientists in that order form these vested interests. In India, the intelligence agencies, nuclear-defence scientists, civil bureaucracy and the military influence official thinking, again in that order. Vested interests are there on both sides; the mismatch in their relative positions in the power hierarchy also ensures an institutional insurance that India-Pakistan relations would remain in their current parlous state.

There are some glaring errors in the text that were avoidable. Humayun Khan has incorrectly noted that General Sundarji was a cavalry officer. He was, in fact, an infantry officer belonging to the Mahar regiment; his flamboyance was natural to him and had nothing to do with his Corps. For some reason, Parthasarathy repeatedly misspells Brajesh Mishra?s name as ?Misra.? He might have been more careful in dealing with important people.