In the Diplomatic Divide, the first in Roli Books’ Cross-Border Talks series, the authors, Dr Humayun Khan and Mr G Parthasarathy, do not offer any detailed chronological description or intricate analyses of Indo-Pakistan relations. Both of them are distinguished diplomats. Dr Humayun Khan served as Pakistan’s ambassador to New Delhi from 1984 to 1988 and went on to become the foreign secretary of Pakistan. Mr G Parthasarathy served in Pakistan twice, once in the mid-1980s and then in the late 1990s.
The book comprises two long essays written by these gentlemen, basically rooted in memories of their respective assignments in India and Pakistan and the ups and downs in Indo-Pak relations.
It is inevitable that in dealing with India Dr Khan’s memories, reflections and prognosis of events and developments pertain to his tenure in office. Mr Parthasarathy’s essay is also embedded in events and developments, particularly of his tenure as the high commissioner in Islamabad from 1998 to 2001.
Dr Humayun Khan represented Pakistan in India during the last four years of General Zia Ul Haq’s tenure in office. Sikh militancy was gaining support from Pakistan, discussions were on possibilities of signing a No-War Pact, India was taking preventative military action to secure the heights of Siachen Glacier and the Nuclear weaponisation of India and Pakistan was at an advanced stage.
India’s military exercise, ‘‘the Brasstacks’’ and its military and political fallout, the hijackings of Indian Aircraft to Pakistan, and the controversies surrounding the activities of the Inter-Services Intelligence, did not make Dr Khan’s stay in Delhi calm or comfortable. But confrontation and polemics are absent in his post facto analysis and reflections.
The political events he recalls, are generally known. What are more interesting are his recollections of personal interaction with Indian counterparts and Indian political leaders. He is even “sangfroid” about Indira Gandhi’s cold treatment at his first meeting with her. His references to persons like B K Nehru and Kewal Singh, show that his capacity for friendship, warmth and personal relationships transcended the political aberrations affecting Indo-Pakistan relations.
His analysis of the outcome of the Shimla Agreement brings out a fact which is not too well known to analysts. He mentions that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto brought with him to Shimla a number of Opposition leaders from Baluchistan and North-West Frontier Province, who were members of the Congress Party of India in pre-partition days.
Dr Khan mentions that their advocacies also influenced Indira Gandhi in not insisting on Bhutto giving any formal commitments on Kashmir in the Shimla Agreement. Dr Humayun Khan’s chronological description of “Operation Brasstacks” is remarkably objective, except for his attributing the blame on General Sunderji and Mr Arun Singh, a view being held even by some Indian analysts.
Dr Khan says, “My singular purpose is to try and promote mutual understanding and strengthening the hands of people on both sides, who have watched with dismay the sufferings, hardships and waste of resources, distress and bitterness, the utterly avoidable mistakes and misjudgements of the 55 years, which both sides have generated.” He adds that he basically has a nationalistic motive but it is rooted in the belief that Pakistan’s best interests lie in having good and stable relations with India. Dr Khan, of course, skirts the issue of Kashmir and the desirability of a realistic compromise. His description of the Indian military presence in Siachen also has certain Pakistani orientations, which is to be expected.
(Cross-border Talks series edited by David Page); Roli Books; Rs 225; Pp 144
Mr Parthasarathy served in decidedly more volatile times in Islamabad. There was the nuclear weaponisation of both the countries and its fall out, the visit of Prime Minister Vajpayee to Lahore, followed by the Kargil War. There was the increase in Pak-sponsored terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India. There was the military coup in which Nawaz Sharif was removed from power. Yes, he lived in Pakistan during ‘‘interesting times’’ in the sense of the Chinese proverb.
Mr Parthasarathy had a ringside view of interactions between Rajiv Gandhi and two Heads of Government of Pakistan, Zia-ul-Haq and then Benazir Bhutto. Portions in his essay dealing with the tenure of Mr Vajpayee as the Prime Minister, are the most interesting and insightful sections of his monograph. Mr Parthasarathy is down to earth and clinically objective about the realities of Indo-Pakistan relations as they exist today, and as they evolved till the beginning of 2002. One wishes that he had updated his essay till 2004.
Looking at the first book in the series, one should expect a rich feast in the coming months/years.
Mr Dixit is a former foreign secretary of India and has been India’s ambassador to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka