India, Pakistan need to grow up and stop this petty behaviour | By Karan Thapar

The diplomatic tit-for-tat between India and Pakistan is remarkable for its pettiness. Here, they’re as guilty as each other.

columns Updated: Mar 17, 2018 22:20 IST
India Pakistan,Delhi Golf Club,Pakistan
Ask an Indian or Pakistani diplomat and he won’t hesitate to describe the other side’s behaviour as juvenile, petty and unbecoming. But ask about his own and the same candour is missing.(AFP)

There are times when India and Pakistan seem to behave like children intent upon quarrelling with each other. Rarely is this more so than when their diplomats indulge in their frequent bouts of point-scoring and tit for tat. We seem to be going through that once again.

To be honest, it’s irrelevant to question who started it. That’s just detail. When they’re determined to give as good as they’ve got, they not only sense slights and injuries where possibly none exist but also, with great calculation and speed, strike back. But what’s truly remarkable is the pettiness. Here they’re as guilty as each other.

Let’s take a tiny example of the foolish nonsense that lies beneath the present episode. Pakistan, it seems, is delaying membership of the Islamabad Club for our new High Commissioner, Ajay Bisaria. For the Indian middle classes that’s a serious matter because how can a self-respecting individual be denied decent club membership? Perish the thought!

For their part, the Pakistanis claim the Delhi Golf Club charges them $15,000 for a three-year membership whereas Indian diplomats can enjoy the services of the Islamabad Club for just $1,500. It’s a bit rum to demand a king’s ransom for the privileges of a club’s golf course and swimming pool even if, unlike the Islamabad one, it has a bar!

Of course, the problem goes further. The Pakistanis often switch off electricity and water facilities leaving our diplomats unwashed and in the dark. In turn, we stop their children on the way to school and harass their drivers. If this isn’t enough we even ring each other’s doorbells at 3 am! And now Islamabad has called its High Commissioner for consultations.

Yet these are games we play. Not only do we know it but so, too, does everyone else. Two decades ago, a Belgian ambassador to India discerned what lies at the heart of this folly. “India and Pakistan are two countries with the most unprecedented relationship. You understand each other better than anyone else yet you still love to hate each other. And you delight in making trouble for the other bloke. There’s nothing that’s too small or too silly. And when you’re at it, it obsesses you completely.” I doubt if any Indian who’s served in Islamabad or any Pakistani who’s served in Delhi could actually disagree with Guy Trouveroy.

Yet ask the same Indian or Pakistani diplomat and he won’t hesitate to describe the other side’s behaviour as juvenile, petty and unbecoming. But ask about his own and the same candour is missing. A self-righteous guard goes up and he’s convinced he’s been singularly ill-treated and retaliation is, therefore, justified.

So, is this how divided siblings behave? Is this the inevitable outcome of the fact that once upon a time we were one country and one people? Possibly, but I would add that’s an inadequate excuse and certainly not a convincing explanation for our tiresome behaviour. If we could only see ourselves as the rest of the world does we would realise we’re the cause of mirth and ridicule. It’s time to grow up!

The truth is we have a lot more to genuinely worry us. And we both know this foolishness only makes the problem personal and, therefore, more intractable. Even if our governments won’t talk, there’s no justification for our diplomats to squabble. They need to keep open lines of communication so that when their governments are prepared to speak, this is readily possible.

First Published: Mar 17, 2018 18:05 IST