When Pak panicked, Manmohan bristled: Kasuri’s memorable anecdotes

  • Zia Haq, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Oct 15, 2015 18:12 IST
Former foreign minister of Pakistan Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri speaks during the release of his book. (PTI Photo)

Former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, whose book, ‘Neither a Hawk nor a Dove’ has grabbed national attention, enlivens the bulky memoir with some choice anecdotes, giving the reader a peek behind the gilded walls of diplomacy between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

Take for instance, former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf’s April 2005 trip, when heads of both governments and their spouses – in this case Musharraf, his ‘begum’, Manmohan Singh and Gursharan Kaur – witnessed India and Pakistan play a match at Delhi.

“A carnival atmosphere prevailed in the stadium…” Anyone will tell you cricket matches in India are carnival time, but this was indeed big deal.

Musharraf was so engrossed in the game he wanted to delay his summit-level meeting with prime minister Singh (who was sitting beside him). Since that was not possible, his curiosity about the match was being whetted through chits at the meeting. The Pakistani delegation at the stadium, including foreign minister Kasuri, got “the odd feeling” that Pakistani batsman Shahid Afridi was deliberately “aiming his shots” towards where the general was seated. Pakistan won not just the game, but also the series.

During that visit, the Gen. Musharraf and his foreign minister Kasuri hosted Congress president Sonia Gandhi. “She seemed rather reserved when she came to call on President Musharraf,” Kasuri writes in a chapter titled aptly “Great Leap Forward – Sonia Smiles at Last”.

Kasuri was not happy to see a glum Sonia sit through coldly. He knew he had to do something to “cheer her up”. Kasuri told Sonia that while he was in Cambridge, he was once taking a stroll on King’s Parade, the historical main street in Cambridge. He was then quite struck by the sight of a man “walk from the opposite direction”. Kasuri was told the “handsome young man” was Nehru’s grandson Rajiv. “That’s why I married him,” Sonia said, breaking into a smile.

The 2005 UN general Assembly turned India-Pakistan relations frosty after a rapproachment a year ago. India was taken aback to hear Gen. Musharraf rant about Kashmir in his speech. When the India Pakistan delegations met, PM Singh, generally a man of few words, gave a mouthful to Kasuri in presence of Musharraf in a single long sentence: “Kasuri Sahib, Ek to aap Pak-Bharat taluqaat ko improve karne ki baat karte hain, lekin doosri taraf aap khub koshish kar rahein hein Hindustan ko bahar rekhne ki UNSC se”. (You claim to work for better ties with India, but at the same time you are trying hard to scuttle India’s UNSC bid). Kasuri knew he got in the neck from Singh and made up with him later.

The hardline on Kashmir in Musharraf’s speech was surprising to even Kasuri because Kasuri writes that both Musharraf and Kasuri did not have a chance to see the speech beforehand. To any Indian, that will sound like Ripley’s believe-it-or-not.

Kasuri also writes Pakistan became very nervous of losing the Kashmir plot after 9/11, fearing the Twin Tower attacks would tilt the balance on terror in India’s favour. Pakistan’s civilian government similarly got rattled when the attack on Indian Parliament took place and before than the Kargil war, fearing a US blowback.

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