Scrap of paper

Published April 18, 2019
The writer is an author.
The writer is an author.

WITH certain chairs of state, it is the seat that swivels the head. Take any foreign ministership. For Sir Anthony Eden, it was the birth canal to the British prime ministership. A more recent aspirant, Boris Johnson, hoped it would be. Here in Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto used his foreign ministership during Ayub Khan’s presidency as the springboard for his own advancement to the top post.

They parted in an unhappy divorce. Following the 1965 Indo-Pak war, which Ayub Khan suspected Bhutto had instigated, Bhutto at the subsequent peace talks in Tashkent distanced himself from Ayub Khan. The Russian prime minister Kosygin, who brokered the talks between Ayub Khan and Indian PM Lal B. Shastri, noticed Bhutto’s censorious silence. Ayub Khan battled forward regardless, showing more determination there than he had done during the hostilities.

The ink was still moist on the Tashkent Declaration when Ayub Khan and Bhutto returned to their riven country: its public uneasy with the outcome, its leaders unhappy with each other. Ayub Khan’s annoyance overflowed after Bhutto asked to meet him. Ayub Khan told his information secretary Altaf Gauhar: ‘Well, I have an appointment with my barber, but I suppose the foreign minister takes precedence.’

Some analysts see a parallel between Mr Bhutto’s duplicitous departure from Ayub Khan’s government then and the provocative press conference given on April 1 by the present foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. In an open session, held in Gover­nor House, Lahore, he criticised his PTI colleague Jahangir Tareen. It was an unusually public salvo in a hitherto private war. FM Qureshi must have known that PM Imran Khan would defend his billionaire-acolyte. And he did.

An emboldened Modi will do exactly what he wants.

Ironically, a few days later, FM Qureshi had to rescue his prime minister from a gaffe which spawned serious repercussions. PM Imran Khan, addressing a select group of foreign journalists, opined that ‘perhaps if the BJP — a right-wing party — wins, some kind of settlement in Kashmir could be reached’. His remark was similar to President Nixon’s reply to Chairman Mao Zedong in February 1972: ‘Those on the right can do what those on the left talk about’.

The day after PM Khan’s interview, Qureshi had to tell the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs that the PM’s remarks had been quoted ‘out of context’. Qureshi knows how deep the issues of Jammu and Kashmir actually lie — too deep for tears or for any such Mary Poppins ‘spit-spot’ resolution.

PM Khan’s remarks were heard across India. The Congress leadership interpreted it as an endorsement of Modi, parallel to President Putin’s ‘interference’ in the 2016 US presidential election. India has no equivalent of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Therefore, Putin could defiantly, after polling had begun in India, announce Russia’s highest civilian award to PM Modi. (Incidentally, its previous recipients include Mikhail Kalashnikov who gave his name and to modern carnage his infamous gun.)

President Putin’s announcement could not have come at a better time for PM Modi, or at a worse time for us. It is a studied encouragement to Modi after re-election in May to upgrade his forces with modern Russian hardware (anything but a MiG-21, please). It is equally a warning to PM Imran Khan not to take Putin’s supply in 2017 of four Mi-35M helicopters to Pakistan as a dependable precedent.

Many see the formation of an international Gang of Four: US President Trump, Israeli PM Netan­yahu, Russian Presi­dent Putin and a second-term Indian PM Modi. None of them is a friend of Pakistan.

Mr Modi, pursuing the principle that possession is nine-tenths of the law, intends after May 23 (should the BJP win) to suborn the law. Changing the special status granted under Article 370 of the Indian constitution or to tinker with Article 35A regarding property rights would require a two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Mr Modi has no patience any more with such constitutional niceties. He has not kept almost 600,000 Indian troops deployed in IOK simply to return it to its state citizens, or hand it to Pakistan, or leave Aksai Chin with China. An emboldened Modi will do exactly what he wants to do and leave his neighbours to complain about it. After all, haven’t Trump, Netanyahu and Putin done just that to Mexico, Gaza and the Crimea?

Occupied Jammu and Kashmir is to Modi what Sudetenland was to the elected German chancellor Adolf Hitler. He claimed it for his country. In September 1938, Neville Chamberlain negotiated its ownership with Hitler and brought home a peace agreement signed by him. Hitler construed Chamberlain’s flaccid overtures as a sign of weakness, dismissed the agreement as a ‘scrap of paper’, and opted for war. The rest is history, which our leaders should read before May 23.

The writer is an author.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2019


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