Wednesday May 22, 2024

Drowning in hyperbole

By Syed Talat Hussain
December 21, 2015

The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.

We are real suckers for high-pitch hyperbole. It infects us quicker than a virus. Happily, we let the disease grow and take hold of our sense of balance.

This explains why we almost always swing to Delhi’s beat, peace jingles or war wangles. When Indian hawks and fundamentalists fling their fists and threaten to annihilate us, as they were doing a few months ago, we take their words so seriously that unmasking our tactical nuclear weapons seems like a natural response.

And when the sly South Block puts out – with plastic smiles – its peace con, as it has done now, we become whirling dervishes dancing in ecstasy, twirling to sweet-sounding poetry, inhaling thought-numbing fumes, mumbling strange incantations. Sanity leaves us. Poise follows suit. We lunge. We plunge – mostly heads down and feet up. Governments here call it policy. The Dictionary of Commonsense describes it as induced delusion.

We are at it again. One can witness an advanced stage of self-hypnosis unfold, the prime example being Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself, his gaze fixed on the spiral image of the imagined friendship dividend with India. He calls it vision. All courtiers clap loudly. There are others too. National Security Advisor Lt-Gen (r) Nasir Janjua – who until recently had much to say as in-charge of Southern Command on Indian designs and also contributed to the famous dossiers to the UN – has now become a convert to Indian sincerity. A statement attributed to him – later on an explanation said that it was taken out of context (of course!) – speaks of his perfect comfort level with his counterpart, Ajit Kumar Doval (India’s chronic and longstanding spy, who wears his spying stint in Pakistan as a medal of honour).

Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit has also been wasting breath in an effort to win Indian attention to the need for joint efforts to fight terrorism. He did so in a memorial speech in India on the first year of the Army Public School attack – a tragedy of oceanic proportions we partly blame on the Indian intelligence agencies operating from Afghanistan.

Even Imran Khan, who has impressive lung power in giving it straight and jarringly to his political opponents at home – he calls the exercise ‘truth-telling’ – was mewing rather than roaring in India. He seemed so at home sitting with Modi, whose office was quick to remind everyone that the visitor, an MP from Pakistan, had himself asked for an audience with the august host.

In the same vein, the Pakistan Foreign Office reiterates every second day the goodness of “uninterrupted dialogue” with India. Officially-briefed reporters, tasked to spin a positive narrative in their daily grind stretch the importance of likely events such as the prospective meeting of the foreign secretaries to kick-start the renamed comprehensive dialogue process. All in all, an environment has been created that carries the feel of a child-like dream of soon reaching a free candy shop.

In India, however, a steady effort is afoot to keep the context of the dialogue straight, narrow and singularly centred on one issue: ‘Pakistan-sponsored terrorism’. Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Sawarj – whose unassuming demeanour is a bewitching cover for entrenched viciousness – has been leading from the front the drill of reducing the dialogue’s renewal to these three words. Her statement before the Indian parliament was perfectly crafted for this purpose.

Said Swaraj: “The underlying sentiment, on which I am confident that this House concurs fully, was that the continued estrangement of two neighbours was a hurdle to the realisation of our shared vision of a peaceful and prosperous region. At the same time, there was also a sharp awareness that the principal obstacles to the growth of ties, especially terrorism, would have to be clearly and directly addressed. … The National Security Advisors of the two countries accordingly met on December 6, 2015….They focused on peace and security, terrorism, tranquillity along the Line of Control, and Jammu & Kashmir – the State which has been most directly impacted by terrorism and violation of [the] LOC.”

Since then every time Swaraj has spoken or responded to a question, she has insisted that the dialogue is all about terrorism and Indian security. She and others throw in references to the Line of Control, Jammu and Kashmir, and use phrases such as ‘all outstanding issues’ – but don’t be fooled by them. Delhi mentions Line of Control in the context of its allegations of ‘infiltration’; it speaks of ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ in the framework of its stand that only ‘Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’ is the focus of talks; and it interprets ‘all outstanding issues’ to mean any other issues that Delhi might consider related to its security and cross-border infiltration.

Yes, what Delhi can’t seem to mention enough times is the Ufa declaration. Here is the operative part of Delhi’s Ufa love:

“They agreed that India and Pakistan have a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development. To do so, they are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues. Both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia.

“They also agreed on the following steps to be taken by the two sides:

• A meeting in New Delhi between the two NSAs to discuss all issues connected to terrorism.

• Early meetings of DG BSF and DG Pakistan Rangers followed by that of DGMOs.

• Decision for release of fishermen in each other’s custody, along with their boats, within a period of 15 days.

• Mechanism for facilitating religious tourism.

• Both sides agreed to discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples.”

This declaration doesn’t contain even a whiff of Composite Dialogue elements. There is no Siachen, no Sir Creek, no Wullar Barrage, no mention of Kashmir being a dispute. It reduces all dialogue to security and terrorism. Obviously, Indians have locked on to this declaration.

If we weren’t sleepwalking into self-deception we would have used, if nothing else, the Sharm el Sheikh joint statement (which was also a climb down for us but still defendable) as a baseline of renewed dialogue.

Here is the operative part of that statement: “Both leaders agreed that the two countries will share real time, credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threats. Prime Minister Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information on threats in Baluchistan and other areas. Both prime ministers recognised that dialogue is the only way forward. 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.”

What the statement, which also carries a reference to Balochistan, says is this: Terrorism is a two-way issue; besides, you cannot hold dialogue hostage to this one element.

Delhi has conveniently erased this important document from the memory of bilateral relations, and we, typically, are too defensive to recall it. We are too defensive to even dispel the impression that Delhi’s take on the new dialogue phase is becoming dishonest and impractical ipso facto. We don’t want to wake up so we avoid talking about India’s terror financing and other forays into Pakistan’s border areas and cities.

We don’t mention the dossiers. We don’t even mention, much less speak in detail about, a range of genuine outstanding issues that are outstanding because the Indians have been short on sincerity of peace purpose. There is a quiet gag order on official references to the hateful ideology of Hindu fundamentalism that has sanction, support and complete impunity from the Indian prime minister.

In short, we have let the dialogue narrative be built around India’s strange pitch that Pakistan is the hub of darkness that needs to be shown light and India is the paragon of all diplomatic virtues. Not for the first time in our history are we letting reason and reality be drowned in hyperbole. Not for the first time is Delhi getting away with diplomatic deceit – and we don’t get it. Real suckers.


Twitter: @TalatHussain12