By vocation diplomats are optimistic, who would like to give positive spins to things that to an ordinary person would appear to be irrecoverably lost. Salman Bashir, who has spent his entire working life as diplomat and has been now posted as high commissioner in India, couldn't be an exception to this truism. And he is not, his first media encounter after presenting his credentials in New Delhi being the evidence.
In his view, the "atmospherics (of Pak-India relationship) have witnessed a sea change". In Pakistan, "at all levels - the leadership, state institutions, the people of Pakistan - they realised that it is in the self-interest of Pakistan to have the best of relationships," he told his interviewer. As if it is now that the government and people of Pakistan have decided to mend fences with India. Moving in that groove Salman Bashir has seen "on the drawing board the theatrical construct is almost there". This must be a new revelation, otherwise only a fortnight or so before the foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India had failed to make any headway out of the stalling inertia. The fact is that at the said meeting the Indian side had succeeded in relegating every other issue of contention and dispute between the two countries to the incidence of 'terrorism', Indian diplomats' hobby horse that they often field to sabotage meaningful negotiations in substantive issues. Resultantly, in the joint statement issued after the talks, core issue of Kashmir was placed sixth as 'terrorism' headed the list. And this has pleasantly surprised the Indians, the interviewer told High Commissioner Salman Bashir. No wonder then the interviewer was hell-bent on making the high commissioner concede that the Mumbai carnage was sponsored by "elements of Pakistan's officialdom".
But the high commissioner did not bite the bait. Salman Bashir stoutly rejected all such insinuations, and that goes to his credit. But isn't it quite intriguing that instead of walking the talk on serious issues, that have stayed on the political-cum-diplomatic bilateral agenda all these years and decades, a deliberate effort is afoot on the part of New Delhi to predicate meaningful headway in there by 'progress' on the issue of terrorism. One may ask what progress, if any, the Indian authorities have made on the Samjhota Express incident, and the high commissioner did that. Rightly, he has observed that "we ought to be fixated on the objects that we need to achieve and not get into forensics of a particular situation". For Pakistan, terrorism is much bigger problem that the outside world like to believe. Of course, Pakistan needs to discuss with India more important issues and find solutions. The Kashmir dispute is there on the table for over six decades. Its criticality has never been lost to an average Pakistani, especially now when the struggle for freedom in the Valley has acquired new vim and vigour. Then there are Indian designs to steal water from the rivers that flow through Kashmir. India raises the terrorism bogey to deflect world attention from contentious problems besetting these two nuclear rivals. Others in the international community in general and the Pakistan government in particular need to see through this game. That Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will visit Pakistan only when there is something 'worthwhile to justify the visit,' is a reality that clearly and unambiguously smacks of a negative mindset. Perhaps, too much of back-bending on the part of Pakistani leadership to humour up Indian counterparts has proved to be counterproductive.
Maybe today we feel a little elated over President Obama's take on the Pak-India relationship that he made in an interview with an Indian journalist in Washington. But a message between the lines should also be read carefully. It essentially conveys that Islamabad should come to terms with his analysis that India has obtained the status of a major power in the region. And that for the resolution of Kashmir dispute Islamabad has to talk to New Delhi and none else. "It is not the place of any nation, including the United States, to try to impose solutions from outside," according to him. Clearly, he has endorsed the stated Indian position on Kashmir. President Obama plans to hand over Afghanistan to Indians as the coalition forces move out of that place. For him, "India would be critical to Afghanistan's future". And for Pakistan his is a condescending wish: he wants the world to help the country to be "stable, prosperous and democratic". Juxtaposed against each other these two interviews bring into sharp focus the emerging challenges Pakistan has come to face in the wake of 9/11 and its aftermath. Even when there are too many tos and fros by our senior diplomats we seem to be engaged in a defensive battle. We need to look afresh at our foreign policy options. It's time we should undertake bold initiatives and daring moves to recover our status as an important player in the regional politics - essentially by breaking through this game of international intrigue. Wait, India will talk.