Originally Published 2004-10-04 09:47:03 Published on Oct 04, 2004
There is a lot to feel hopeful about the maiden meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Pervez Musharaff in distant New York. If the two nations needed to move ahead with the peace process, set in motion by predecessor Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh needed the personal chemistry working with Musharaff. At the end of the day, both said it did work.
'Externalising' the national agenda ?
There is a lot to feel hopeful about the maiden&nbsp; meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and&nbsp; Pakistan President Pervez Musharaff in distant New&nbsp; York. If the two nations needed to move ahead with the&nbsp; peace process, set in motion by predecessor Prime&nbsp; Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh needed&nbsp; the personal chemistry working with Musharaff. At the&nbsp; end of the day, both said it did work.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The contrast in personality is striking. Manmohan&nbsp; Singh comes off as a sincere, honest and at the same&nbsp; time humble, a rare quality this in contemporary&nbsp; Indian politician. It is another matter that he is no&nbsp; ordinary politician, but an economist and bureaucrat&nbsp; rolled into one - a natural misfit for the job in&nbsp; another era. Through his presidential years, Musharaff&nbsp; has been seen as cunning, slippery and not wanting to&nbsp; look another man in his eyes. Every time Manmohan&nbsp; speaks, it comes from the heart, a product of his&nbsp; superior intellect. In contrast, Musharaff seems to&nbsp; weigh his every phrase, and they come out of his&nbsp; mouth, with the heart playing a role designated by the&nbsp; brain, if at all. Or, so it seems.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Going beyond personal chemistry and the euphoria&nbsp; created by the national media on both sides, there are&nbsp; these lurking words that Musharaff left hanging in the&nbsp; air, and have not been adequately explained by either&nbsp; the media or the officialdom. Welcoming the peace&nbsp; process, he however said that this would be the last&nbsp; bilateral attempt at finding a peaceful solution to&nbsp; bilateral issues and problems, Kashmir included. It&nbsp; does not sound like a deadline for solving the issues,&nbsp; but a threat of sorts for India to yield greater&nbsp; ground if the latter's insistence on a bilateral&nbsp; process were to be kept. If that were the case, it&nbsp; could also be interpreted as an invitation for the&nbsp; world-nations to enter the peace process more openly&nbsp; and with greater legitimacy, Pakistan willingly&nbsp; arguing the case all over again and blaming India for&nbsp; the eternal hiccups and hurdles in the 'peace&nbsp; highway'.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> But going beyond all this, what should concern India&nbsp; and Indians is the temptation for successive&nbsp; Governments in New Delhi over the past decade and more&nbsp; to focus greater attention on Pakistan-centric foreign&nbsp; policy than on internal growth and development,&nbsp; socio-economic issues and political adversities. A&nbsp; permanent and peaceful solution to bilateral ties with&nbsp; Pakistan, and an all-agreeable end to the 'Kashmir&nbsp; issue' is welcome. Both nations also richly deserve&nbsp; peace along their borders and their interiors, and&nbsp; mutual cooperation and contribution to the process&nbsp; cannot be gainsaid.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Yet, there seems to be a greater temptation for a&nbsp; succession of Governments and successive Prime&nbsp; Ministers to be seen as a greater statesman than the&nbsp; predecessor, linking their images - and possibly an&nbsp; unsaid Nobel Peace honour - to foreign policy issues.&nbsp; If Deve Gowda was old-fashioned and out-of-place, I K&nbsp; Gujral had the right intellect and image, but not the&nbsp; political charisma or base. Conversely, even Rajiv&nbsp; Gandhi had his eyes glued on to the Sri Lanka peace&nbsp; process until it became an albatross round his neck -&nbsp; before it literally became one in later days.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The temptation could be for Prime Ministers and&nbsp; Governments to use 'foreign policy issues' as a safe&nbsp; diversion from the daily turmoil of present-day&nbsp; politics and governance nearer home. The media image&nbsp; does help, but it needs to be remembered that the&nbsp; image could be bolstered and the charisma sustained&nbsp; only if the imagery of goals could be achieved. In the&nbsp; contemporary Indian context, it could be yet another&nbsp; way for the leader to keep occupying the centre-stage&nbsp; and talk of Utopian ideas and goals, leaving the&nbsp; backroom to the professionals, for ensuring stability&nbsp; and continuity to certain policy framework, over time.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The reference is to economic reforms and policies that&nbsp; require perceived stability and continuity for greater&nbsp; results over the long term. Nations like the US have&nbsp; it in their political system, with the result today&nbsp; for more specific and pressing reasons, Iraq, and not&nbsp; the economy, is at the focus of the ongoing&nbsp; presidential poll campaign. In the UK, Tony Blair as&nbsp; Labour leader has been more than willing to hijack the&nbsp; Tories' economic agenda, assiduously adapted by&nbsp; Margarett Thatcher from Ronald Reagan's agenda. Japan&nbsp; and Italy have grown with near-stable economic&nbsp; policies despite the changing coalitions that rule the&nbsp; respective nations. More often than not, the players&nbsp; in these games have assigned other reasons, and have&nbsp; adapted other agendas for their parties, politics and&nbsp; polls - leaving larger economic policies, as different&nbsp; from immediate economic issues, untouched. At least&nbsp; Blair has kept the nation's attention on the&nbsp; controversies attending on his Iraq policy.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The Indian experience has been different, at least as&nbsp; of now. The Vajpayee experience showed that neither&nbsp; could the leader's foreign policy goals be met, nor&nbsp; personal image sustained with the result, the voter&nbsp; made his decision despite the media hype attending on&nbsp; his leadership and Prime Ministership. Worse still,&nbsp; with economic growth of the FDI variety being linked&nbsp; to greater peace nearer home and afar, the temptation&nbsp; to keep the nation's agenda internalised seems to have&nbsp; been lost. Sensitive issues of the 'Mandal-Mandir&nbsp; kind' needed putting down, and the protagonists have&nbsp; nothing less sensitive and less sensational to offer.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Other things being equal, if 'economic reforms' helped&nbsp; the Narasimha Rao-led Congress to revert national&nbsp; attention and agenda away from politics, and on to&nbsp; economy, the 'Ayodhya demolition' changed it, but only&nbsp; for a while. There was continuity in the economic&nbsp; policies, more so under the Vajpayee dispensation, but&nbsp; political agendas less sensational than Ayodhya and&nbsp; Hindutva won't sell, the present-generation voter&nbsp; having peaked out on them already. Foreign policy is&nbsp; an option into which our successive leadership seems&nbsp; to be wandering its way into. The current Government's&nbsp; dependence on the Left for its very survival seems to&nbsp; be altering the course a bit, but here again symbols&nbsp; of protests are being created, to ensure greater&nbsp; accommodation by the Government, and greater&nbsp; achievement by the loud-mouthed protagonists. The core&nbsp; issues remain unaddressed, unaltered.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The Pakistani experience in externalising the&nbsp; international agenda of the nation should be worth&nbsp; remembering. Having compromised political ideas,&nbsp; issues and institutions not very long after its birth,&nbsp; the nation, its polity and the all-powerful military&nbsp; establishment have knowingly or otherwise contributed&nbsp; to keeping the national agenda and survival&nbsp; Kashmir-centric and India-centric. Today, that nation&nbsp; needs an internal agenda for its very survival if&nbsp; president Musharaff, or anyone ruling from Islamabad&nbsp; had to dismount the 'Kashmir tiger' that they had&nbsp; climbed when both were young. The anti-Americanism&nbsp; that could be linked to Islamabad's Afghan-Iraq policy&nbsp; after 9/11 could at best be an extension of the same,&nbsp; not an alternative.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Removing 'Kashmir-centric India-baiting' through a&nbsp; meaningful peace dialogue could also remove the only&nbsp; glue that may have bound Pakistan's diversified and&nbsp; ethnic communities and their different regions,&nbsp; together. So much so, the economist in Pakistan Prime&nbsp; Minister Shaukat Aziz may have an urgent need to&nbsp; introduce an alternative, internal agenda for the&nbsp; nation - and make it stick, if not work. That is, if&nbsp; the Islamabad establishment is serious about settling&nbsp; the 'Kashmir issue' and other bilateral problems with&nbsp; India, for good - and still keep Pakistan's nationhood&nbsp; intact.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> A lesson in it - for India, too? <br /> <br /> <em>* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.</em>
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