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Say cheese

Matters of policy: Diplomacy works on trust and an assessment of balance of power, writes AG Noorani.

india Updated: Dec 19, 2006 00:43 IST
AG Noorani

Shmule meets Moshe on the road and asks him, "Where do you go?” Moshe replies: "To Minsk." Shmule retorts: “When you say I go to Minsk, you want me to believe that you go to Pinsk, but I know that you go to Minsk, so why do you lie?" ZA Bhutto told YD Gundevia he was going to Minsk. “He may have meant us to believe that he was going to Pinsk, but we knew that he was going to Minsk, so why did he lie?”

YD Gundevia, an able foreign secretary, liked to tell his favourite story to drive home the point that when Bhutto spoke, one had to think furiously to detect exactly what he meant. But all the same, he enjoyed negotiating with Bhutto during several sessions in 1962-63, as did Foreign Minister Swaran Singh, who himself was as slippery as an eel.

Indira Gandhi knew of this interlocutor when fate brought them together in June 1972. She concluded the Simla Pact with Bhutto. It remains the bedrock of India’s Pakistan policy.

Diplomacy rests on a wise blend of scepticism and trust. Policy-making rests on the assessment of national interest in the context of the balance of power in the situation that faces the policy-maker. Churchill had no hesitation to saying, "If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons."

He made a cynical pact with a man he had regarded as the Devil, Josef Stalin, at Moscow on October 9, 1944. Churchill recorded, "I wrote out on a half-sheet of paper: ‘Romania/Russia 90 per cent, the others 10 per cent; Greece/Great Britain 90 per cent (in accord with the US), Russia 10 per cent; Yugoslavia 50-50 per cent, Hungary 50-50 per cent; Bulgaria/Russia 75 per cent, the others 25 per cent...’ He (Stalin) made a tick upon it and passed it back to us.” Churchill suggested. "Let us burn this paper." Stalin replied, "No, you keep it." The deal rested on trust. It collapsed when the trust eroded during the Cold War.

Necessity had forced the two to trust each other. Churchill testified that Stalin kept his part of the bargain and sold the Greek Communists away just as he had sent the German Communists to their deaths after his pact with Hitler in 1939.

Leaders are those who consciously discard the crippling legacies of the past, break the mould which imprisons them and take sensible risks. Certitude has little place in the conduct of foreign affairs.

Richard Nixon dismissed the doubts of his National Security Advisor Henry A Kissinger and decided to make an opening to the People’s Republic of China. Kissinger regarded the move as foolish and impossible of success. On his part, Mao Zedong formed a study group of four wise men, retired marshals of the People’s Liberation Army, led by former Foreign Minister Marshal Chen Yi. All counselled acceptance of Nixon’s overtures; this was not because they trusted him, but because their country’s national interest rendered it necessary. Sino-Soviet relations were then at an all-time low.

One was amazed at TV anchors posing the question and inviting viewers’ responses — a sport that has lost whatever little charm it ever had — “Can we trust China’s President Hu Jintao?”. Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has been a particular target of such distrust. During the Agra summit in 2001, he happened to see one such programme and was hurt.

These questions reflect an outlook that is chauvinistic and reveals crass ignorance of the very nature of diplomacy. Summits are organised precisely to size up what we can gain from the visitor. The BJP regime itself wrecked the Agra summit and sold a whole package of falsehoods to cover it up. Uniquely in diplomacy, Prime Minister AB Vajpayee and Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh took turns to denigrate Musharraf for well nigh a fortnight.

In the Rajya Sabha, on August 10, 2001, the then Leader of the Opposition, Manmohan Singh, punctured the balloon by hinting at the tell-tale draft of Clause 1 written out by Jaswant Singh in his own hand as a finale to the accord: "I know that he (Jaswant Singh) did provide a lot of technical assistance to the Foreign Minister of Pakistan to correct his English and, according to various accounts, he and Abdul Sattar had jointly initialled a draft, and I think, it was left to Advaniji in the cabinet committee on security to shoot down the draft." He was on target. That handwritten document was published without any contradiction by Jaswant Singh. His memoirs ignore the embarrassing revelation.

One wonders at his level of trust of Taliban leaders when he escorted four prisoners held in our jails for safe delivery at Kandahar. He had walked into their den; on trust, surely.

How and where does trust come in on the Sino-Indian boundary dispute, pray? Official maps attached to the two White Papers on our

Indian states, in 1948 and 1959, showed the entire boundary from its Sino-Afghan-Indian trijunction in the west right down to the Sino-Nepal-Indian trijunction as ‘undefined’. The McMahon Line was clearly shown as a defined boundary. There was clearly an unfinished job to be done — defining the boundary where it was undefined. On July 1, 1954, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru decided to discard the maps of old and issue new ones showing a defined boundary in the Aksai Chin, on which he later stood firm. Archival material since disclosed reveal that trust was not in abundant supply either in New Delhi or in Beijing even in the bhai-bhai days.

On Kashmir, the issue of trust has arisen in an amusing form. Why is Musharraf making those embarrassing corrections? What is his motive? We were so comfortable when Pakistan demanded a plebiscite in J&K and the likes of Munir Akram speared venom. But this shift forces us to respond with concessions to Pakistan, an exercise to which we are not accustomed.

On Siachen, it has been left to the army to decide whether to trust Pakistan or not once troops of both sides return to the Simla positions of 1972, as was agreed in June 1989. Army Chief Gen JJ Singh has broken all precedents in intervening in the discussion repeatedly and publicly on the eve of talks. A disturbing precedent has been set. Pakistan cannot afford to — indeed cannot dare to — violate any accord on disengagement by deploying forces in the vacated zone. Everyone knows that the obstinate insistence on authentication is unstatesmanlike. The army chief’s persistent public interventions are grossly improper.

No government should act in any such situation without inviting the army’s professional judgement. But trust rests on factors more than one. How much trust is required in a particular situation and whether to trust or not is a political judgement for the political leadership to make. Air Chief Curtis Le May was rude to the President during the Cuban missile crisis. Kennedy decided to ignore Khruschev’s brinkmanship and even deceit and saved the peace. He acted on his assessment of the balance of power and on his country’s strength. History applauds him for his wisdom.

First Published: Dec 18, 2006 23:57 IST