Wednesday, 2 May 2012

‘Curry - Kebab Diplomacy’

From an Indian to fellow Indians ON Pakistan!

The love of one's country is a splendid thing.  But why should love stop at the border?

I am an Indian and I am not ‘anti- Pakistan.’ I know there will be voices from the other side of the border this minute reiterating, I am a Pakistani and I am not   ‘anti – India’. Still, I will not be granted an immediate parental consent to go visit a friend in Lahore or Karachi, nor would a young person in Pakistan be granted easy access to India. And if by chance it did happen, the Visa story is one that can make for an essay by itself.

It is disheartening to note that the heritage of 8000 years of shared glory has been sidestepped for sixty four years of rivalry on eight critical issues, between India and Pakistan. 

Before I could write this article, I was met with severe opposition. I was told, “This is a sensitive issue.” The larger question here is, Who defines the magnitude of sensitivity? Is it the media waiting like an over- enthusiastic mother hen for the egg- shell to crack, or the politicians, each one trying to get some political mileage when the government is unable to build consensus or is it the antipathy of the masses. The simple answer is all the aforesaid factors have contributed in various degrees to this predicament. 

However, the issue has been blown out of proportion by the Press and Media. Parallel commentary when infantile steps are taken towards a resolution followed by sharp criticism is a classic example of much ado about nothing. More importantly though it is a sign that the time has come when we must decide whether we want to re- live 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999 when we sit across the table or do we start mending the walls by building the foundation on the year 2012. 

The problem with Indo-Pak relations is that there is light at the end of the tunnel, we only have to get to the end first! Post- Kargil both countries have displayed veiled animosity towards each other. Failed symbolic attempts like the Lahore Bus Service and later the attack on the Parliament, Osama's entry and the multiple attacks on various major cities only contributed to the discord. 

The Fate of these two countries hangs in the balance of Time. The Gordian knot of inadequate diplomatic talks coupled with the ineptitude and unwillingness of both sides to break the gridlock has only added to the chaos. 

Unfortunately apart from stinging media criticism and brief Press- statements from both India and Pakistan, the Indo-Pak Diplomatic conundrum has left citizens on both ends of the border to ask, ‘Is the stance adopted aiming at a dead-end diplomacy?’

The butterfly effect was seen most recently when the Chief Minister of Kashmir, Mr. Omar Abdullah was stopped from addressing a seminar on Kashmir in an Institute in Pune because it was speculated that his statements may be controversial. Unfortunately we chose to thrive on pre- conceived notions as to what he would say rather than hear what the gentleman actually had to share. Whatever happened to the Freedom of Speech and Expression? 

In the less than quarter of a century that I have lived, I have studied more of the cautionary  measures that India adopts in its foreign policy  than the actual historical foundations that my country shares with the its Asian neighbours in the sub- continent. The year 1947 is highlighted as the Year of the Agony of Partition more than the year that brought with it the Ecstasy of a free and Independent country. 

In this article, my aim is to establish the inter-twined destiny of History’s longest showcased unresolved dispute. The aim is to lay the bare facts without accusations and allegations. Quite clearly the lapses have been at both ends. 

We played host to the Pakistani Premier a few weeks ago, which was dubbed as the ‘Dargah diplomacy’ by the Indian media. The fact that the gentleman was in India on personal reasons to visit the shrine was used by the Media on both ends who began to fantasize on whether these were new beginnings on the bureaucratic horizon. 

If we talk of rivalry, here are some highlights on why India and Pakistan umbilical cord is not yet been cut. 

As a child one of the first patriotic songs I was taught was Iqbal’s,
“Saare jahan se achchha Hindustaan hamaara Hum 
bulbulein hain iski yeh gulistaan hamaara”
Not many of you reading this article are aware that Iqbal is the National Poet of Pakistan. And this is just one of many examples to start with. Must I forget that my Prime Minister was born in Pakistan, only one of many leaders including Mani Shankar Aiyyar, L.K Advani and scientists like Subramanyam Chandrashekar who have played an active role in the building of the nation for the past six decades? Or must I forget that President Musharraf was born in Delhi but ruled Pakistan again one of many to have that distinction to their credit? No, I cannot forget either. In fact I am amazed at how much we have in common. No one could have put it better than Mani Shankar Aiyyar, who in his book wrote that the exclusion of a neighbour is possible in summits but one cannot exclude the country physically from the sub- continent. 

Cultural commonality

When a journalist from The Guardian, visited Stella Maris college in Madras, the question posed to the students was, With which country in Southern Asia did they feel the strongest affinity; pat came the answer, ‘Pakistan.’ This is proof that whether the elitist and radicals choose to accept it or not, we cannot and must not deny the roots that our countries stand on.

Unlike many other sparring neighbours of the world, India and Pakistan probably share the most integrated history. Etymologically, the names of both countries originally have Persian roots. Hindustan in Persian literally means Land of the Hindus or Land of the Indus while the name Pakistan in Persian stands for Land of the Pure

If in India, 80% of the population is Hindu closely followed by Muslims at second place, conversely in Pakistan the maximum are Muslims while Hindus are a close second; minority religions existing in both countries. The smudges of the Mughals who introduced Persian literature and high culture evince the roots of Indo-Persian culture in the region. 

In India, a Muslim prays in the Mosque just like his brother in Pakistan or any other part of the world. The same is true of all the other religious followers. So the vital question arises, ‘Is the resentment merely the result of the cicatrix in diplomatic relations?’ 
The answer unfortunately is. ‘Yes!’

Where have we failed as Neighbours?

The only isochronal event in the last six decades of our diplomatic relations with Pakistan is the occurrence of a certain event that is called ‘Diplomatic Talks.’ The reason I address these talks as events is because they are down- played by the Media which makes the entire process look like a Curry- Kebab Diplomacy. There is a lot of camaraderie, ministers cross the border, enjoy the hospitality of neighbours and talks which lead everywhere but a concrete conclusion. Apart from this ‘Cricket’ too has been used in a desperate attempt to derive something good, the ‘ek dhakka aur do’ policy prevailing on both ends. 

Even as you read this article, there are thousands of faceless persons moving around in search of a definite identity. These are caught in the seemingly unending saga of this struggle. A nation entrusts its foremost responsibilities to three classes of individuals; Politicians to deal with the domestic issues primarily, Diplomats to smoothen the flow in the International milieu and Judges to interpret the Rule of Law. 

With all the Diplomatic sophistry, all that the Global community perceives today is the existence of two countries sharing limited oxygen on a common life- support system which if not catered to soon may lead to the termination of hope of a new lease of Life.

If Pakistan has the Taliban, India has the Naxal movements. If Pakistan is suffering from internal dissent, India too is dealing with its own fair share of problems. The point is are we to build our relations on the differences or can we look at constructing a Covenant of Similarities

Since 1999, both neighbours have adopted a lackadaisical approach to the resolution of the problems. 

Although Kashmir is the highlight of a strained relationship, there are in total 8 major concerns that have been identified:
1. Kashmir issue 
2. Water crisis
3. Sir creek issue
4. Rann of kutch
5. MFN status
6. Siachen issue
7. State sponsored issues
8. Nuclear Deterrence
For these eight issues to be dealt, deliberated and discussed thoroughly both participants must actively contribute to an Agenda for dialogue.

      Reasons for Failure and some proposed solutions
The following reasons have been contributed to the inefficaciousness of Indo- Pak relations:
A shabbily planned agenda on the part of both States has led to inconclusive and largely unplanned talks or at least they are perceived as unplanned. 
Interrupted phases of discussion and deliberations: This is the most important factor. To give an effective example, the    U.S – Vietnam held continuous talks for six years to reach a conclusion. India and Pakistan must look at ‘continuous’ flow of talks because the stop gap arrangement that we pursue gives rise to new issues. The temperament changes and the talks have to start afresh. It is the prerogative of mischief- mongers to work as divisive forces. Every time, the countries take five steps ahead, the occurrence of an ‘incident’ makes them retract. The key is to continue the dialogue. 
It is interesting to note that when the Pakistani Premier visited India, an invitation was extended to the Indian Prime Minister to visit Pakistan. This sparked off a debate as to what should be a good reason to go? Should it be the Prime Minister’s roots, should it be the surrendering of a terrorist or something else. Why are we waiting for reasons to move ahead? Let’s not forget that a wound when left unattended turns septic. 
Focus on solutions rather than over- simplification of the problem with short labels like ‘War on Terror.’ It seeks to exacerbate the dilemma rather than alleviate it. Diversion from the pivotal issues slows down the process. 
Too many interlocutors: A well balanced and comprehensive panel of leaders is the need of the hour. If too many cooks spoil the broth, it’s definitely time to retire a few.
The need for a fixed venue has been felt by diplomats. It has been proposed that the ‘Wagah- Attari’ border may perhaps serve as the best option.
Another important facet is the restriction on the Media to comment on the on- going talks. It is easier if the Media reserves its comments till something concrete has come up rather than create speculations, raising false hope in the masses. 
Both countries must adopt bilateral talks rather than multi-lateral talks. The nucleus of the Shimla Agreement was to bind both countries to solve issues bilaterally. Since both countries capable of solving issues amongst themselves, why allow other countries to interfere?
Exploiting Soft Power in terms of student and professional exchange programmes, literature festivals, smooth passage for pilgrims wanting to visit will only help to mitigate the hostility that exists in the common man.  

Dial D for Diplomacy:

The crux of the Indo- Pak gridlock is to leave diplomacy to the diplomats and politics to the politicians. The overlapping of the two is severely impeding the peace talks. It is proposed that the politicians must refrain from hindering the diplomatic process, instead working constructively on the periphery to steer the talks to meet a definite end.

We must realise that a lot of time has been wasted. Time has come that we share the burden, pick up the pieces and surge forward as friends.

Before I end the discussion I share with you the optimistic words of a Hindi poet who writes: 

Dosti acchi ho toh rang laati hai
Dosti gehri ho toh sabko bhaati hai
Dosti nadaan ho toh to toot jaati hai
Par agar dosti hamari jaisi ho…..
Toh itihaas banaati hai! 

Someday I’d like to walk the streets of Lahore, visit the famous Mohen-jo-Daro and Harappa sites without any fear and someday I want to welcome a Pakistani friend to see my land and together revel in the joys of a new future.

History is waiting to be re- written. The first step must be taken together.

Katherine. Abraham

@katie_abraham on Twitter

The Writer is a Law Student and Aspiring U.N Diplomat


  1. Touching. Would go through word by word.
    For now don't tell me it has benn written by aspiring diplomat. For me the writer is a diplomat in need. Kudos to you Katie. :)

  2. Tarique you are very Kind! Thank you so much!

  3. Very well-written! Why should we not talk about issues that are "sensitive" or "controversial"? Those are the very issues that need to be discussed!

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you So much Dani! I am so glad that you connected so well with the Blog!

  4. I remember reading an article on conflicts,in which the author explained about the role of 'ego' as a reason of conflicts..he wrote "India and Pakistan are twin sisters as there is hardly any difference in the culture,religion,climatic conditions etc"
    Even if we bring out the similarities and feel about the hidden umbilical relationship of the two nations,the fact remains that India and Pakistan have developed a sense of 'ego' which inevitably has become the wall..which blocks the vision to the solutions! Unless those walls crumble in the force of positive diplomacy..the fearless walk through the streets of Lahore will be a dream!
    Hats off to you Ms.Katie Abraham for such a wonderful post! :)

    1. Thank you Sachin. I agree there is scope for improvements in the relations between the two countries. We must steer ourselves towards a shared positive future.

  5. Excellent article. Great job.
    Some facts about india-pak relation.
    1)Pakistan's foreign policy is influenced by pak military generals and ISI who are tuned to hate India.
    2)Pak school children are taught to hate India.
    3)Religion comes first in Pakistan.
    4)Pak politicians and media iterate anti india comments.
    5)But still there are intellectuals and politicians who dream a peaceful relationship with India.

    ....Yes there is a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. History should be re-written.

    1. Thank you for your comments Anand although I choose to disagree with some of your points.

  6. Ministry of Unification .
    Here is a Korean model for India and Pakistan. Please go through the wiki link.

  7. When I started reading the article, I was very happy to read through it as if my own words are being expressed here so beautifully. Yes, Even I want to roam in the street of Lahore, try to see that historic "Seal" with the bull in it which covered most of my History Textbook.

    Yes, I support Pakistan while watching cricket matches, it is peaceful to listen to the Pakistan National Anthem, It feels like our own.
    I remember the song from 'Veer Zara', "Aisa Desh hai mera". The magical voice of Lata ji made me very emotional. And till date it pours the similar magic in my life.

    I agree with you about our so called 'Diplomatic Talks' carried on between the countries. And I wish You be the one to bring the change, Katherine Di.

    And I am waiting for a day in future when I can actually look forward for a trip to 'Pakistan' and make friends there and cheer for "PAKISTAN".

    1. Thank you Sharanya. I am very pleased that our juniors are thinking positively on the Indo- Pak relations. Yes! If conscious and continuous efforts are taken then it won be long when we will travel to Pakistan the way we do to Nepal or Sri- Lanka..

  8. I think "comment" word should not be used for this article..
    But I can't find any particular word too.. :(
    This is the story.. Actually it's a real story.. Though the all Indo-Pak people know this very well, but no one wants to accept or implement it..
    About this article.. (10/10)

    1. Thank you for your comments Mukund! Glad you connected with the Blog.

  9. Good article but now india and pakistan have nothing in common.India is a Hindu nation and pakistan is an islamic nation.peace should be maintained and relatives who migrated to pakistan shd be given visas.My observation is NO PEACE WILL TAKE PLACE UNLESS IT IS BASED ON ISLAMIC VALUES.iam @shafahmed1 on twitter.

    1. Dear friend India is not a Hindu nation.India is a secular nation.

    2. Shafi, Thank you for your views though I disagree with a few. We must build our relationship on a Covenant of Similarities rather than differences and there is a lot in common between the two countries.

  10. Both countries share an emotional bond - we fight the most with the one we love the most...happens in families too. We take our own for granted. So, its a discord which is bound to reach its fag end. Needs peace, will and strong diplomacy apart from the flexibility to take a few steps back for mutually acceptable solution. A united India-Pakistan can be a cultural, ethnic & world beating combination. For the moment lets focus on sorting our internal issues first.

    1. Thank you Nary! Yes we must solve internal issues, but we must realise that no country lives in isolation, which means we are inter- dependent on each other so it is equally essential to build our Foreign Relations.

  11. Intresting, but being born in 1980 in free india, where the history teaches us that we has three wars with our neighbor, isn't it time to severe all ties and go alone. the culture develops with people not with rewriting the history. I personally think we(Aryans) should apoplogies to Dravidian FIRST and root out inter state animosity before shaking hands across the border. Keep up writing, its always intresting to know what is the view of friends of Pakistan.

    1. Thank you for your comments. I too belong to the late eighties.. That is precisely why I feel that it is high time that we need to break the monotony and continue to promote inter and intra - State Relations.

  12. Good Article Kathy.Reflects the opinions of the majority.

  13. Hey Katie, good thoughts indeed. Although utopian in essence, the wish and intent are rooted in a live context. I think the Generation-C (ie, our generation which is well integrated through social media and digital networking), is ideally posed to scale the walls and blur boundaries. As an Indian and having visited Pakistan several times (easier when one is based abroad, like I do), I found nothing except genuine warmth, camaraderie and good will from people in Lahore and Karachi. I am convinced that the Generation-C is capable of easing the monkey off its back and relate to each other across the border with minimum inhibitions. There are more elements in common than the opposites.

    - Leonard

    1. Hello Leonard, Thank you for your comments. Its great that you were able to cherish the warmth of our neighbours from across the border. Someday I hope we all are that fortunate. In case you would like to share more on your experiences in Pakistan please do write in to Katie

  14. Its a subject that offers much (and rightly so) to write on. May I most sincerely compliment you for your eloquent and easy to read summary outlining your ideas and thoughts on the subject.

    Thanks to others already commenting, soem of my points have been made (Thank You) and acknowledged!

    The utopian mindset, should, in a perfect world be driving the outcomes of economic, political, social, scientific and spiritual activity. Knowledge should be gridlocked with sensitivity, sensibility and compassion. In certain real & complex situations, knowledge propells loathing amongst those forced into an abject condition just as it would in equal terms and nature affect those who are too sensitive to forgive / let-go. :)

    I did identify with certain factual and argumentative disagreements with some of the points made out in your article but those are natural and mean nothing personal. :) These, I am sure will not hinder your will to validate the complentary and counter points of discussion more-so because I gathered you are an aspiring diplomat. I wish you success and wellbeing.

    Look forward to an evening's deliberation over chai on the ways and means to make curry-kebab dimplomacy work! That sure is the larger interest.

    1. Hello Raghu, I appreciate your taking the time off to read the post and comment! Thank you! I would be delighted to have that little evening chat. If you do have some spare time please do write for Tharoorians For Change. You can email me at I look forward to hearing from you. Katie

  15. The author, a highly talented aspiring diplomat, has written a brilliant and acutely perceptive article. She has the wherewithal to not only address these seemingly intractable and longstanding issues from an academic perspective, but also has the creative diplomatic prowess and fortitude to in many cases given the opportunity, genuinely solve some if not many of these protracted problems between two of the world's key neighboring nation-states. In fact, I am counting on her doing so in the years to come, and have every confidence that she can deliver worthwhile results. Indeed.

    1. Thank you so much for your awesome comments. I am so delighted that you liked the piece. I look forward to your comments on all the other posts as and when you do get the chance. Thank you so much once again. Katie