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Our language has let us down in talks with Pakistan

July 30, 2010 17:46 IST
Apart from S M Krishna's performance in Islamabad, a perusal of the statements made in recent weeks by the Indian side reveals an unfortunate lack of precision in the use of language, feels Satish Chandra, India's former deputy national security advisor and distinguished fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation.

Language is the handmaiden of diplomacy as it is through words, spoken or written, through which one's message is conveyed. Effective diplomacy, therefore, demands precision in the use of language, as all its processes such as communicating, negotiating and evolving agreements require the projection of views with complete clarity and unambiguity.

Sir Ernest Satow's classic Guide to Diplomatic Practice puts this truism in the following terms: 'The use of clear and definite language should in all cases be secured, the meaning of which shall not be open to doubt or dispute.'

In the context of S M Krishna's joint press conference with his Pakistani counterpart on July 15, one may add that effective diplomacy also requires, as in any other field, a mastery of one's brief and a readiness to set the record straight where necessary. Krishna was found wanting in this regard.

He failed to rebut S M Qureshi when he equated our home secretary's purely factual statement with Hafiz Saeed's rantings inciting violence against India; he failed to point out that Qureshi had no locus standi in raking up the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir, and he only intervened on Baluchistan after prompting from our officials.

Indeed, our foreign minister meekly allowed a hectoring counterpart to dominate the proceedings and could only utter platitudes that India wanted a 'peaceful, stable and prosperous Pakistan', that the delegations had a 'cordial and useful exchange of views' and that he wanted to thank Qureshi 'from the core' of his heart. Such assertions appeared all the more out of place as Krishna's sentiments were not reciprocated by Qureshi.

But apart from Krishna's performance in Islamabad, a perusal of the statements made in recent weeks by the Indian side, in the context of our relations with Pakistan, reveals an unfortunate lack of precision in the use of language.

Some of the more striking of these errors, arising either out of inattention or from a desire to please others, are enumerated below:

  • 'Nobody is questioning anyone's intentions. It is the outcome that will decide whether we are on the right track or not.' (P Chidambaram's remarks as reported in Dawn on June 27 at a press conference with his counterpart in Pakistan).
  • Comment: Such a statement is unwarranted as Pakistan's intentions are, in fact, the root of the problem and that it continues to date to use terror against us.

  • 'There is no alternative to dialogue to resolve the issues that divide us.' (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's interview with Saudi journalists on February 27 on India-Pakistan relations).
  • Comment: This is incorrect. There are many alternatives. In any case, making such an assertion only emboldens Pakistan in the continued use of terror against us.

  • 'Pakistan is in many senses our closest neighbour.' (Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao's press conference in Islamabad on June 24).
  • Comment: This, too, is incorrect. There are several countries with which we have land borders and share equally close historical and cultural links. Moreover, such comments can be taken as a slight by our other neighbours.

  • 'India cannot realise its full development potential unless we have the best possible relations with our neighbours and Pakistan happens to be the largest neighbour of ours.' (The PM's press conference on May 24).
  • Comment: This again is incorrect. China is our largest neighbour. It is, of course, true that India's full development potential is more easily achievable in a friendly environment than in an inimical one. But is it wise to make such assertions when Pakistan's sole mission is to weaken India?

    Many Pakistani interlocutors have told me that Pakistan would never allow India to become a global player unless it met all of Pakistan's concerns. In so doing they did not care if Pakistan itself was seriously harmed.

  • 'The destiny of our people is linked to each other. A strong, stable and prosperous Pakistan is in the interest of our whole region.' (The foreign secretary's speech organised by the Delhi Policy Group, June 13).
  • Comment: This is at best a half-truth. Countries do, of course, influence developments in their respective neighbours but this need not be an over-riding factor in the destiny of peoples in the affected country. This is evident from the differential developmental patterns in our own neighbourhood.

    Moreover, such assertions serve only to encourage Pakistan in its intransigence vis a vis India.

    It is also questionable if a strong, stable and prosperous Pakistan is in the interest of the region if it is inimically disposed towards India or any other country in the region.

    In any case, should India be making such conciliatory statements at a time when Pakistan continues to aid and abet terrorism against us including inciting the recent violence in Jammu and Kashmir?.

  • 'The argument put to us by Pakistan was that the executive does not have any control over the judicial process. We understand and respect that. Even in India, we cannot tell the courts what to do. And we have known that the judiciary in Pakistan has been fiercely independent in recent times.' (The external affairs minister's interview to The Tribune on May 20).
  • Comment: This is an instance of our foreign minister talking like the Pakistan foreign minister and making excuses for Pakistan's failure to bring to book the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack.

    Instead of so doing, the national interest would have been better served by pointing out that failure on this score has occurred because the executive did not pursue the cases with due diligence and vigour.

  • 'As I have said, in dealing with Pakistan our attitude has to be, trust but verify. So only time will tell which way the animal will turn.' (The PM's press conference on board Air India One on June 28).
  • Comment: Normally, this is an unexceptionable assertion. But surely, the history of the last 60 years should have given us enough opportunity to 'verify' and to reveal that on every occasion our trust has been betrayed.

    Most recently, all the assurances given to us that Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used for terrorism against us have been disregarded.

    Accordingly, such assertions carry no conviction and are counterproductive as they give credence to the thought that Pakistan intends to remain on the straight and narrow.

    Quite clearly, much greater care needs to be exercised in the statements made by our policy-makers in relation to our dealings with foreign countries. All foreign offices pride themselves in their judicious choice of words and ours is no exception.

    The aforesaid errors may therefore, perhaps, be attributed to the superimposition of the current PMO mindset on our foreign office.

    It is likely that the prime minister's soft approach to Pakistan coupled with his desire to please the United States have dictated the statements cited above and the resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue, the results of which are there for all to see.

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    Satish Chandra