Byline by M.J. AKBAR : Noh Drama
Sincerity is Dr Manmohan Singh’s strength. He began as a reluctant Prime Minister, which itself is a rarity in the grab-culture of Delhi. No one thought that his reluctance was a sham, as is so often the case with politicians who torture renunciation to death. Over the few months in office, this sincerity has created ripples of goodwill that have reinforced his credibility and built a bond of trust with the nation.
Could candour become a weakness? He was candid when he said in Srinagar that he had no mandate to change the geography of his country, implying that the best deal that Pakistan could expect from any negotiations over Kashmir is the status quo defined by the Line of Control. This was construed in Islamabad as a snub because President Pervez Musharraf has said more than once that if the LoC was going to be the solution then it could have been found in 1948. President Musharraf’s instant reaction was to check the voltage of the light at the end of the tunnel.
Indo-Pak relations are both about horizons and process. Process demands a succession of open windows that both sides must strive to keep open. The offer to talk is not tantamount to a retreat from held positions, otherwise there would never be any space for diplomacy. Process is about optics and semantics as much as public negotiations and private parleys. It is a game of discretion in which patience is the ultimate virtue.
President Musharraf has been throwing any number of balls into the air in order to check which of these might come into play. This is fine, and necessary. But the temptation to score a point comes in the way of scoring a victory because, paradoxically, this is a game which can be won only when both sides can declare victory.
There is also the thankless task of preparing the minds of people, including of those whose minds have been sealed by the rigid glue of hyper-patriotism. This is a fever that Army establishments are particularly prone to. President Musharraf must address both the cantonment and the country outside, heavily populated by jihadis who have created a five-decade vested interest in war with India. Prime Minister Singh has to look over his shoulder for the Modi brigadiers who believe that they can win elections only by demonising Muslims and Pakistan.
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