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Good intention, bad drafting

July 20, 2009 16:17 IST


I have lived all my professional life with comments from fellow Indians that Pakistani diplomats were smarter than the Indian ones. The only consolation was that, according to Pakistani diplomats, they heard from their nationals that Indians were way ahead of them.

In fact, no one could tell, as both were smart and often the outsiders marvelled at the brilliance of South Asian diplomats. Any document produced between them was so balanced that both could claim victory.

But for once, the Indian diplomats have been outsmarted by the Pakistanis in Egypt. The joint statement may be no sellout in substance because India has made it clear that the composite dialogue will begin only after verifiable action is taken by Pakistan. But the text simply says the opposite.

'Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed. Prime Minister Singh said that India was ready to discuss all issues with Pakistan, including all outstanding issues.'

This is simple English language, which cannot be interpreted in any way other than as a commitment by India not only to begin the dialogue without waiting for any action by Pakistan this time, but also not to suspend it even if there are other terrorist incidents in the future. There is only give and no take in this particular instance.

Some may claim that there is a major 'take' in the text in the form of the missing 'K' word. Yes, the word 'Kashmir' is not there in the text. But why all issues, including 'all outstanding issues'? Why did not the sentence stop with 'all issues with Pakistan'? Quite obviously, Kashmir is the outstanding issue in the text, as anyone can see.

The very fact that Pakistani spokesmen are gloating over their success, while many Indian thinkers and writers are agitated is proof, if proof were needed, that, for once, our capable diplomats let their guard down and let the Pakistanis run with the ball. There is no escape route in the text, even if our cleverest spokesmen like Minister of State Shashi Tharoor, who apparently had no say in the drafting, argue that our options are open.

The only way is to refrain from starting the composite dialogue till we have satisfaction over Pakistani action on Mumbai. We simply do not budge and stick to our position regardless of the language of the statement.

I have no quarrel with the idea of resumption of talks if that indeed is the intention. There may be matters, which are not in the public domain, in the mind of the prime minister. He may want to strengthen the democratic forces in Pakistan as against the army and the ISI and President Zardari may well gain by the Indian gesture.

It may also please the Americans in light of the Hillary visit. But if that is the intention, we do not need to hide behind ambiguity. There may be some merit in saying in public what we say privately. If the honest judgement is that it will serve the national interests, by all means let us go for it. Let us not lose the substance and preserve the form.

NAM summits seem to be the places where we make concessions to Pakistan. It was in Havana that India conceded for the first time that Pakistan was as much a victim of terror as India was. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Pakistan was the obvious target in the eyes of the members of the UN when we talked about terrorism. We had managed to create such a vocabulary over the years and Pakistan felt compelled to exercise its right of reply every time the word, 'terrorism' was mentioned.

By conceding that the greatest perpetrator of terror against India was a victim of terror, we let Pakistan off the hook. Moreover, since Pakistan accuses India of State terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and also in Lahore, we were also unwittingly accepting the allegation.

By stating that 'terrorism is the main threat to both the countries' with an unprecedented reference to Baluchistan, we have given away our trump card. This aspect of the statement is even more damaging for us.

To say that the sentence on Baluchistan has been attributed to the prime minister of Pakistan is to question the whole logic of bilateral statements. Otherwise, why not have a sentence attributed to the Indian prime minister that Kashmir is an integral part of India?

The UN records are replete with the various tricks that Pakistan has tried to tie us in knots. One instance deserves special mention. In the midst of the preparatory work for the Vienna Conference on Human Rights in Geneva, the Indian delegate had to leave the committee to walk her dog.

Using this opportunity, the Pakistani delegate moved an amendment to the text to urge member states to refrain from violating human rights in 'UN recognised disputed territories'.

The committee was willing to accept it, but the chairman kept it pending till he could consult the Indian delegate. She was told the next day that the amendment would be included if India had no objection. She called me in New York and asked whether she could let it go. I was aghast because it was a thinly veiled reference to Jammu and Kashmir. There were many disputes in the world, but Kashmir was the only one which was mentioned as a disputed territory in every UN map. We were saved from great embarrassment because of the thoughtfulness of the chairman.

India-Pakistan problems have made their contribution to many UN resolutions of both the Security Council and the General Assembly. One celebrated case is on the question of self-determination. Although the UN Charter declares that all peoples have the right to self-determination, India had reserved its position on this issue.

India and Pakistan used to quarrel over this problem for many years, but it was agreed between us that all peoples 'under alien or colonial domination' have the right to self- determination, much to the relief of the rest of the world. Whenever the issue came up, this phrase was inserted and there was no more argument on it. I do not know the history of that formulation, but we believe that Palestine, but not Jammu and Kashmir, is covered by it.

I remember we had to put 'state(s)' in a text on peace-keeping because we wanted plural and Pakistan wanted singular. We were willing to accept 'state or states,' but Pakistan would not agree. We had the last laugh because neither the Chinese nor the Arabic text could accommodate the grand compromise between India and Pakistan. They just wrote 'state or states' without realising that it was not acceptable to Pakistan.

The latest joint statement may well become historic like the other compromises, but no interpretation of the text will meet our position unless we believe that terror or no terror, we will proceed with the composite dialogue. It will not matter since the battle will be in the composite talks and we will certainly mind our language there.

Former Ambassador T P Sreenivasan is a visiting fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.

T P Sreenivasan