28 June 2012

An (old) lesson on bilateral relations in the subcontinent

[This was a piece published in the 'Daily Mirror' on November 30, 2010, when Pakistan's then President, Asif Ali Zardari was visiting, a day or two after India's then Minister of External Affairs and done his come-see-judge-sentence number.  No Indians around these days, but Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif is here.  So here goes...]

 I am not a student of political science.  I can’t claim to have had any formal training in the field of international relations. I am not a historian.  Nor a ‘South Asianist’ (yes, there are people who call themselves that).  I am appalled sometimes, though, by the pronouncements and by the sheer absence of integrity and shame on the part of those who are.  Still, since I am acutely aware of my deficiencies, academic ones in particular, I take the trouble to read up on things I am ignorant of. I am also not ashamed to ask questions.

Sri Lanka is being ‘visited’, this much I gathered from the newspapers. We had India’s Minister of External Affairs, S.M. Krishna doing the rounds and now we have the Pakistani President, Asif Ali Zardari visiting.  So many things have happened over the past few years, the world spins so fast and events follow one another tripping and tripping over prediction and wish that I was a bit confused.  I asked some questions from my friend and occasional colleague, Jayanath Bodahandi, Creative Director, Phoenix O&M, who hails from Balapitiya. 

‘Did Pakistan drop dhal over the Northern Peninsula?’ I asked, mentioning that the dropping-date might have been in or around the year 1987.  Bodhi replied, ‘No, that was India.’  India?’ I was surprised. 

‘Did Pakistan arm-twist our Government into amending the Constitution and thereby setting in motion a sequence of events that resulted in some 60,000 unarmed men and women being slaughtered?’ I continued. Bodhi looked at me if I was brain-dead. ‘That was India, didn’t you know?’ 

I wanted to get it all right: ‘Wasn’t it Pakistan that provided shelter to, set up training camps for, armed and funded terrorist groups that took on the Sri Lankan state in armed insurrection and committed all manner of terrorist acts including many that would be termed ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’, not to mention ‘ethnic cleansing’?’ ‘Wrong,’ he said softly, looking me in the eye, ‘it was India’. 

‘Didn’t Pakistan send an army, supposedly to disarm the LTTE and thereby further feed Sinhala anxieties which were exploited by the JVP to ferment insurrection?’ I asked just to make sure we were on the same page. ‘No, India,’ the reply was crisp and he sounded a bit irritated, giving me one of those you-must-be-kidding looks that bordered on the what-a-moron-you-are look.   

I went back to the papers.  Lots of photo-ops.  Lots of promises. Niceties. Bonhomie.  Good neighbourliness.  

 Since I am not an expert, I took out my political magnifying glass and read the small print.  Here’s what I found.  Mr. Krishna, at a special meeting with the Indian media at the Taj Samudra Hotel, is reported to have said something about ‘the key question of political settlement for the island’s Tamil community’.  He is said to have reiterated the words of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ‘meaningful devolution’.  On Saturday, at a ceremony to open a consulate in Jaffna, the man had said ‘a devolution package should be worked out, based on the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution’ (which, according to Bodhi was thrust down the throats of the Sri Lankan polity by Rajiv Gandhi, then Indian Prime Minister, using J.R.Jayewardene’s twisted arm). 

Should?  Did he say ‘should’?  ‘Bodhi!’ I shouted. He asked, not amused, ‘what now?’  I apologized for disturbing and asked ‘is is possible that the person who penned this report, one Satarupa Bhattachariya, could have got it wrong; that it was the Pakistani President and not the Indian External Minister who used this un-diplomatic, arrogant and interfering language?’ ‘Not possible,’ the tone was that of a bored human being.    

I went back to the drawing board.  According to Bodhi, India thrust the 13th Amendment down our throats and now says ‘solution should be based on this, i.e. India’s preferred instrument’.  India wants a territory-bases ‘solution’ to a non-territorial problem.  Well, since that’s what I thought and since I don’t know these things, I asked my friend: ‘Bodhi, one last question?’  ‘Ask,’ he said without even looking at me. 

‘It is about this Tamil problem.  This Krishna person says that political settlement has to be done through devolution of power.  Do you think he’s serious?’

‘No. He can’t be.  First of all, 53% of Tamils live outside the North and East. Secondly, history and archaeology sit squarely against the exclusive Tamil homeland thesis.  Thirdly, devolution does not make any economic sense and if taken to its logical conclusion will result in the Western Province asking the rest to go fly a kite. Fourthly, since they cannot cure the gigantic tumour that is Kashmir, the Indian political leadership would look foolish trying to tell us how to sort out our little corns.  This Bhattachariya must have got it wrong. Hard to think that India would have picked a moron as External Minister.’  

‘Sure it is not the Pakistani President? Maybe the reporter got the name wrong?’ I persisted.

‘Are you dumb?  For there to be a solution there has to be a problem. If there is a problem it has to be articulated not with reference to myth and legend but claims that can be substantiated and realities.  You develop solutions on realities, not fictions.  The 13th Amendment was a monstrosity that was built on a monumental fiction.  That’s the kind of thing that arrogance and ignorance produce.’

‘You mean, something that a country like Pakistan would come up with?’ I asked while biting a fingernail. 

‘No, you fool, Pakistan is a friend. Has been, is and will be. Get that into your silly head.’

He stormed off. I sank deep into meditation. Much edified.