Alternate ambassadors

Punjab Minister and former Cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu has managed to draw some sharp reactions both from his own party Congress and the BJP for his actions in Pakistan. He had recently visited the neighboring nation on the invitation of the newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan to attend his (Imran’s) swearing-in ceremony. Sidhu was the only invitee who deemed it fit to visit Pakistan. The other two invitees, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, did not probably consider it appropriate for them to go for the function. The controversy arose primarily because Sidhu sat next to Azad Kashmir or Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) president Masood Khan and also hugged Pakistani army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa at the ceremony. It may be mentioned that Sidhu was also Imran’s contemporary in cricket. Both these photographed incidents seem to have ticked off those wearing “nationalist pride” on their sleeves. Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh said Sidhu hugged an army chief, the forces under whose command were killing Indian soldiers on the frontiers each day. He cited losses suffered by the regiment of his military service days in recent times. The BJP in turn termed Sidhu’s actions as “no less than a crime”. The fact that Sidhu also represented a national party and that his overtures were likely to be read as political statement have irked the saffron party.

Perhaps all the ballyhoo over the whole affair was unwarranted. By sitting next to the PoK head in which he may not have had any choice or by hugging Bajwa, Sidhu has made no difference to Indo-Pak relations. He was invited to the swearing-in ceremony not as a political representative from India but as a cricketer and friend of Imran. Pakistan’s actions in the past and India’s reactions have ensured that people of both nations have a clear understanding of the intents and purposes behind each and every move of the powers that be on either side. Reports suggested that Masood Khan, who had been seated in one of the inner rows was brought to the front row and offered a seat next to Sidhu deliberately. Sidhu must be given the benefit of the doubt if there was this deliberate attempt to get the PoK chief seated next to him.

In any case, India’s political fraternity need not mistake the friendliness or politeness displayed by an individual leader as acquiescing to Pakistan’s stand on any matter. For a nation (India) whose military claims to have the prowess to choose the time and place to engage with and defeat the enemy (Pakistan), the simple human gestures of an individual need not look like a threat. In fact, if the simple gesture of the sardar can in any way help promote the cause of peace and amity between the nations at loggerheads, it should be welcomed. Sadly, however, our politicians as well as our diplomatic corps always seem to confuse domestic politics with international relations. Anyone trying to portray an anti Pakistan image within India and thinking that is the best way forward in being vociferous as being anti Islam, will be making huge blunders. One simply has to look at the map of India to understand the geopolitical pressures that are prepared to engulf India at any time. Starting from Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan onwards to the filthy rich Middle East, India is encircled by Moslem nations that are not exactly friendly to us. The rest, Burma (Myanmar)-Bhutan-Nepal-China are equally or more displeased with India. The present leader of Burma, Aung San Su Kyi, when under house arrest by the military junta of her country, did not receive any help from both Manmohan and Modi governments. Rather she had been cold shouldered by both the UPA and NDA under guidance of our not so able foreign service. Bhutan, a close ally of India, has been rethinking on China after the Doklam standoff. India, because of its military incapabilities, had simply talked and left Bhutan at the mercy of China’s PLA. Those who would have gone to Nepal recently would have encountered the hostility among the common people of that country for India, generated primarily due to the fuel blockade and our government’s refusal to accept old Indian currency notes after demonetisation. The enmity of China does not require elaboration. Just when PM Modi was embracing the Chinese President-for-life Xi, PLA soldiers were marching into Doklam at that very moment.

The utter failure of India’s foreign policy has never been as glaring as it is now. We have lost out even on a long term friend as Sri Lanka which has eagerly offered various crucial sea ports for use to the Chinese Navy recently. All these go to demonstrate that internal political bickering should never be allowed to manifest on the international stage. When viewed under this light, it is very clear that the numerous trips of our PM to so very many countries in the past four years have yielded nothing positive for the country. Hugging dignitaries may be considered a great achievement in India. However, we Indians should be extremely aware that in most other countries it is considered highly inappropriate for any male to make close physical contact with another man.

Against this backdrop, a Navjot Singh Sidhu might prove very useful and important in a climate of suspicion and aggressiveness. With our foreign policy decisions completely hijacked by Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officials, we are greatly disadvantaged to deal on par with leaders, elected or dictatorial, across the broad spectrum of international relations. Even a very highly placed Indian bureaucrat will only be viewed as a government servant by the leader of another nation, nothing more. The days are gone when the Indian ambassador to Moscow, IK Gujral, could dine with Leonid Brezhnev or a KR Narayanan or Siddhartha Shankar Ray raise toast to PoTUS in Washington DC. These may seem trivial to some of us who do not comprehend the delicate manoeuvrings required in diplomatic dealings that can never be expected from bureaucrats to achieve.

Apart from that, forget what Gen Rawat, Indian Army chief boasted that he could defeat Pakistan at battle. Any war, if started by India, will neither be short nor decisive anymore. And all of us are aware India is not a country prepared for any kind of long-drawn military engagement. Even a petty skirmish with Pakistan could develop into a full-fledged conflagration and we cannot rule out China seizing that kind of an opportunity to cut out the whole of the North East by cutting off the Chicken’s Neck.

Let us also remember that not only the Pakistan army but the whole lot of die-hard extremist Islamic elements that thrive on Pakistan soil have been actively supporting Imran Khan in his political bid. It is also known that Pakistan has nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver them. If a small North Korea and its leader Kim could successfully terrorise the all powerful USA and its President Trump, we can easily visualise what India may have to deal in the not so distant future. If and when such a situation does develop, India can barely depend on its IFS cadre to deliver peace and balance. Even a PM like Modi may not be able to even reach out to Imran. If, God forbid, a situation such as a standoff does occur, India would desperately require secondary, tertiary and other levels of diplomatic engagements. Possibly, a conscious effort by India to develop Sidhu type diplomats may be slowly becoming imperative if we need to keep a semblance of ties with all our neighbours. Business magnates like a Jindal may fail to swing the ball towards the wicket!