Are we really a banana republic stuffed with mango people? At first, when this comment was made, it sounded extremely derisive. There was justifiable national outrage.
But let us for a moment leave aside the validity of the comment. Let us not rue the role of the dice that made someone else rich. Let’s not talk of our civilizational heritage that puts us in a class far above banana republics. Let’s not even take pride in the human capital that is recognised the world over as distinct from the ordinary; the stuff that is mango.
Let’s leave aside our national angst at the insensitivity of that comment. Instead, let us cast an unprejudiced but a critical look at our recent record; at how others regard us. Do foreigners consider us a pushover, a soft or worse still a ‘supine’ state? Do they really think that they can trample all over us without provoking a whimper?
Alas, our recent record is not very promising. Let’s take the case of Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik’s visit to India. And let’s start from the beginning; the objective of the visit. After all in a relationship as prone to misadventures as the one we have with Pakistan, every step must be carefully calibrated and the consequences pondered over carefully before making a commitment. Sharm el Sheikh was an unmitigated disaster that should have served us as a painful reminder of the result of an ill-considered move.
In the case of Malik, there was ample reason to be doubly wary. Remember, he was denied entry into the army headquarters at Rawalpindi when he arrived there unannounced. He is known to be untrustworthy in Pakistan; its Supreme Court said so recently and a few years earlier the High court of Pakistani Punjab had indicted him for corruption. People there also accuse him of having sped away from the scene when his leader Benazir was murdered. In sum, his credibility within Pakistan is low. With India, his record on 26/11 has been consistently disappointing. How could we then have trusted such a man to deliver on his promises?
Unfortunately he did not help his own case; his comments throughout the visit were hypocritical and provocative. He had no business interfering in an internal matter like Ayodhya, and he showed little regard for the sensitivities of his hosts by brusquely dismissing all evidence on 26/11.
Did he not see the non-stop media coverage of that carnage? Did he not see the recordings of instructions to kill more and yet more that were conveyed relentlessly from Pakistan? The fact is that he is simply not going to take any action that offends the sponsors of that terror; the last time they denied him entry into their sanctum, this time the Pakistani army could do worse. So it was naïve to expect that he would dare expose them, or take any action that puts their protégés like Hafiz Sayyed in a spot.
But the worst was yet to come. In a bizarre remark he opined that Captain Kalia and his five colleagues were killed by animals. Captain Kalia’s father rightly asked in a rejoinder if animals in Pakistan shoot bullets? But why fault Malik for his brazenness? He too must have heard about the banana republic. And he may have concluded that he could get away with anything that he said.
Sadly, we as a nation are guilty of not even knowing the facts of the case. Captain Kalia was not taken POW during a war (Kargil) as is commonly understood. He was on a patrol mission in early May 1999, weeks before the hostilities broke out. It was then, during peace time, that he and his colleagues were captured by Pakistanis.
In war, sometimes crimes are committed in the heat of the moment. Even that is inexcusable. But this cannibalistic brutality against our men was committed during peace time.
And during peace time a bilateral treaty requires each side to return a captured or a straying soldier within 24 hours. We did so recently by returning a Pakistani soldier.
But Pakistanis inflicted the worst form of torture on Capt Kalia. Did they do so in the confidence that we will not agitate beyond sending a bureaucratic note? Unfortunately even our human rights bodies chose to ignore this extreme violation of human rights. But why blame Malik for his offensive behaviour; for coming on an official visit and trashing us publicly as if we were the most spineless of banana republics. Look at how tiny Maldives treated us recently.
A former ambassador, the writer is a novelist and artist