By Shakil Chaudhary
Diplomacy is a delicate art. Diplomats are supposed to choose their words with utmost care and they avoid offensive, direct and even plain language. For this reason, they are often called mealy-mouthed.
American travel writer, humorist and a one-time magazine editor Caskie Stinnett once famously said, “A diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip.”
Madeleine Albright, a former US Secretary of State, has also said something worthwhile on the subject. “I do believe that in order to be a successful negotiator that as a diplomat, you have to be able to put yourself into the other person’s shoes. Unless you can understand what is motivating them, you are never going to be able to figure out how to solve a particular problem.”
These thoughts have been crossing my mind since I saw Khawaja Asif, Pakistan’s neophyte foreign minister, in a recent talk show. He said some startling things, proving once again that he is not in the habit of choosing his words carefully. Some even feel that he is temperamentally unsuited to be the top diplomat of the country. He himself says that he needs to learn the art of diplomacy. He had better start learning it without any delay because he has a lot of learning to do.
He contemptuously said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a terrorist and is responsible for Muslims’ massacre. He criticised the Indian nation for electing a terrorist as its prime minster.
One wonders as to how the Foreign Minister would reply to a question about his own leader’s conviction on terror-related charges. On April 7, 2000, a Pakistani court convicted Mian Nawaz Sharif of hijacking and terrorism. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. The Sindh High Court upheld the conviction on October 10, 2000
Mr Khawaja Asif’s first major engagement on world stage was his appearance at the Asia Society in New York on September 26. Mr Steve Coll, the author of Ghost Wars, hosted the event. Mr Asif spoke in a casual tone. His remarks were widely criticised in Pakistan. Some of this criticism was decidedly unfair, but it is clear that he had not done his homework properly.
His denunciation of Modi must have reminded some Pakistanis of Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s criticism of Indira Gandhi in April 1972. During an interview with OrianaFallaci, Bhutto called the Indian prime minister ‘a mediocre woman with a mediocre intelligence, a creature devoid of initiative and imagination, a drudge without even half her father’s talent’, adding that the idea of meeting her, of shaking her hand, filled him with acute disgust.
Bhutto and Indira were supposed to meet at that time, to sign a peace agreement. After reading Bhutto’s interview, Indira announced that the meeting between herself and Bhutto would not take place. This unnerved Bhutto and he made an extremely strange request of Oriana. She was requested to write an article and say that the interview with Bhutto had never taken place, and that she had dreamed it up. Predictably, she refused, calling the demand absurd and insulting.
A similar incident had happened during the 1966 Tashkent summit. President Ayub Khan made fun of Prime Shastri’s short height, infuriating Prime Minister Kosygin. The Soviet leader gave a stern lecture to the Pakistani leader, which greatly demoralised him. Mr Kosygin told the Pakistani leader, “Mr. Shastri is the great leader of a great nation. We greatly respect him. It does not become you to use such indecent language against him in my presence.”
In contrast, LK Advani, a former deputy prime minister of India, was once asked by an Indian TV interviewer whether General Musharraf had lied to him about Dawood Ibrahim’s whereabouts during his first meeting with the Pakistani leader at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2001? Mr. Advani replied. “I would not say he lied to me because he is the president of a country. I would say: ‘He told me an untruth.”‘
Coming back to Mr Asif’s statement against Mr Modi, if someone asks him to substantiate his allegations, he will have a hard time. In January 2014, the Indian journalist Arnab Goswami in his program Frankly Speaking repeatedly pestered Rahul Gandhi on this issue, but Mr Gandhi could not produce any evidence to substantiate the charge that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had made against Mr Modi.
Mr Asif also needs to be informed that India is being ruled by a coalition called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and that the BJP is a broad church, which includes a good number of self-declared atheists.
Mr Asif would do well to remember that no court has convicted Modi of involvement in the 2002 riots. In fact, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court gave him a clean chit in 2012. One wonders as to how Mr. Asif would reply to a question about his own leader’s conviction and that too for terrorism. On April 7, 2000, a Pakistani court convicted Mian Nawaz Sharif of hijacking and terrorism. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. The Sindh High Court upheld the conviction on October 10, 2000.
Had Modi been a terrorist, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would not have welcomed him to his place in Raiwind on December 25, 2015.
In conclusion, I would request Mr Asif not to exacerbate tensions between the two countries. Instead, he should try to improve relations. After all, he is a self-described pacifist. He needs to realise that this hostility is bad for Pakistan’s fragile democracy. And it is bad for the teeming millions in both countries. They deserve better.
(The writer is an Islamabad-based media analyst. He studied international relations in Islamabad and media in London. He has worked for several English-language newspapers. He is the author of Handbook of Functional English (Ferozsons). He tweets @ShakChaudhary)