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Fantasy-peddling is not diplomacy

M.J. Akbar

SAINTS are the exception. Anyone else in the writing business, including those of us at the nether end of the business, can rarely resist the temptations of glory.

The danger is obvious: vainglory, that purgatory space where imagination outstrips the boundaries of reality and ego functions on the basis of what we imagine we should be rather than what we are.

One reveals no secrets when recording that an itinerant Delhi columnist Ved Prakash Vaidik, who enjoyed his fifteen minutes of fame last week after a visit to Pakistan, has declared freedom from the desultory limits of nationalism and repositioned himself as an internationalist in the intellectual category of Rousseau and Karl Marx, the former a philosopher of the French Revolution and the latter an author of the Communist Manifesto.

That is how Vaidik describes himself on his Twitter account, and who are we to argue? In his ranging role of a world citizen, Vaidik has been advocate of a solution to the vexed problem of Kashmir: a united and independent state.

This, understandably, makes Vaidik Pakistan's ideal Indian. The reception he received during his last trip to Islamabad and Lahore included a chat with our next-door Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and a very hearty meal with one of the world's most despicable terrorist ringleaders, Hafiz Saeed, who organised the assault on Mumbai in 2008 and continues to live like a lord in Lahore. This information is not confidential either. Vaidik has been talking about it to anyone who has the time to listen ever since he returned to Delhi.

When journalists try and make news rather than break it, they generally offer a butterfly story: it flits around a bit and then dies a quick death, killed by a yawn or a shrug. This is precisely what had happened to Vaidik's tale, until Congress, for reasons that continue to defy political sense, decided that it was something they could beat the government with. It is possible that Congress, still unbalanced after the heaviest defeat in its history, has not been able to find its thinking cap. But to imagine that it could launch a credible attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi over terrorism only means that the party is still skewed. No contemporary leader has better credentials than Modi in our ongoing national war against terrorists. His record, as well his oft-declared convictions, speak for themselves.

It is strange that Congress did not even bother to check the names of Vaidik's companions on this Pakistan tour. It would have discovered its own stalwarts, like Salman Khurshid and Mani Shankar Aiyar, along with fellow-travellers who have received grace-and-favour appointments in Congress regimes because of their relentless criticism of Modi.

It says something about the plight of the party that a free kick turned into a self-goal. One of the depressing aspects of Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi's decade in power is that they handed virtual control of Indo-Pak relations to busybodies operating under high-falutin masquerades such as Track 2 and Track 3. In the competitive shouting match between peaceniks, Track 1 disappeared.

This suited Islamabad brilliantly, for it could sustain the fiction of a relationship without having to answer hard questions about terrorism, particularly after the Mumbai attack mentored and managed by Hafiz Saeed and his allies in the Pak army and its intelligence services. Delhi became a willing party to a game where national interest was parlayed into a minstrel show.

Pakistan was able, in such a simulated atmosphere, to put forward a face it wanted to show, confident that none of the goodwill missionaries was interested in the second, more pernicious, face of the Islamabad establishment. Worse, such interlocutors missed -- deliberately or unconsciously -- the great changes that were taking place among the social forces in Pakistan.

Hafiz Saeed cannot be touched in Pakistan not merely because he is protected by the government. His true strength lies in the support he receives from an increasingly radicalised Sunni population that is dragging Pakistan, step by violent step, towards anarchy in the name of religion.

India is but one of the targets. Pakistan has turned into a graveyard for Shias as these self-proclaimed jihadists turn their weapons on anyone who does not fit their version of faith. The irony of course is that the father of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was a Shia, but don't whisper that too loudly these days. They will begin to shoot up Jinnah's portraits next.

A shallow approach to a complex problem has driven India's relations with Pakistan to a cul-de-sac, and no one quite knows where to go next. A low intensity war continues on our borders, even as the likes of Hafiz Saeed continue to plan another conflagration within India. What is certain is that Delhi and Islamabad must stop this pretend-dance and grapple with harsh facts. Pseudo-diplomacy and fantasy-peddling have done enough damage.
 

The writer is Editor of The Sunday Guardian, published from Delhi, India on Sunday, published from London and Editorial Director, India Today and Headlines Today.

Published: 12:00 am Monday, July 21, 2014

Last modified: 1:53 pm Monday, July 21, 2014

TAGS: India diplomacy Pakistan Nawaz Sharif Manmohan Singh BJP Congress Narendra Modi Kashmir Hafiz Saeed

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