FM Jaitley’s comments recently in Mumbai, that the media did not know much about what happens inside government, riled many a media person. Expectedly, the comment was attributed variously to smugness and being out of touch with the intimacy, the media has got used to in the “chummy’ days of the UPA, when they were actually a “fly on the wall”.
Some media worthies had the grace to take the comment at face value and pointed out that lack of information or communication by government, in the modern age, is as bad as disinformation, because this “city of the Djinns” uses both to self-advantage. The only option is to be open and share in the “information age”
But imagine this scenario. What if the government had early information of the mounting unrest (which has unfolded subsequently) in Pakistan against the Sharif government and felt it was not an opportune time for Secretary Singh to dialogue with her counterpart in Islamabad. Instead, the ostensible reason offered, to pull out of the talks, of being upset with the Pakistan High Commissioners attempt to get briefed by the Hurriyat, seems a master stroke.
The response, however, from a section of the strategic community was severely negative (due to lack of information?), ranging from outright condemnation of this dangerous departure from precedent to approbation for undermining the fundamental basis of Indo-Pak relation so studiously built around “talks” for the last many decades.
How can the government possibly come straight out and say that the fundamental asymmetry between India and Pakistan is similar to the asymmetry between the US and Myanmar. Forget the fire power and soft power asymmetry. It is the asymmetry of political beliefs. Myanmar has Aung San Suu Kyi and Pakistan has Malala Yousafzahi; both heroes in their own right. But the hard fact about long standing militaristic societies is that they change only when their military leaders feel compelled to do so, either because of conviction, or pressure. Also luckily for the US it does not share a border with Myanmar but it is always difficult to figure out the outcomes of counterfactuals (what ifs).
How can there be pressure on the Pakistan army to step out of politics when their unsustainable economy is liberally financed by “friends” in the Middle East, who get repaid with the supply of Sunni Jihadists or financed by the US, in its constant attempt to wedge a foot into the door of this tinderbox country?
And if these friends were not enough, they now also have China dripping investments and promises into ports, roads and infrastructure. Clearly, business school teachers are out of touch when they say the only ones who fail to access finance are those who need it the most. They never took into account a Nuclear Pakistan, passing the “N button” like a parcel between squabbling political leaders, as easily, as they would a shisha.
In India the overwhelming sentiment in the face of the new rash of political problems in Pakistan, is deep sympathy and concern similar to what the rest of India felt for the BIMARU (sick) states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) in the past.
But such lip sympathy is of little use to the people of Pakistan who must be fed up with fighting a daily struggle to survive. The inevitable shortening of life and business horizons; the apathy towards tackling fundamental fiscal imbalances; the seeming disregard for joining the ranks of open economies whose growth is based on competitiveness and the habitual cultivation of an inward looking, defensive perspective, must indeed be soul destroying.
Sad as it may be, there is little than India can do but to “buckle up”, be prepared for being named as the fall guy, yet again and keep open its channels of communications with the Pakistan Army via its (and our friends) friends in the US, the Middle East and China.
Formally, India has never conceded that the Indo-Pak affair is anything but a bilateral issue to be decided accordingly. But beyond the world of formal institutions, lies the “real” world of “informal” institutions, where the fate of common people on both sides of the border is decided. We must burrow deeper into our seat at this “informal table” and make better use of it in the forthcoming leadership level meetings with China and the US.
In India we say “finis” with “supari”. In Pakistan they lately prefer “mangoes”. Neither tactical device generates positive outcomes. Being friends, means assisting, when needed, including to make the mangoes rot.