India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar is a small man. Just how small one realised when he stood next to his Pakistani counterpart Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari at the SCO summit in Goa recently.
Dr. Jaishankar is also a petty man. In a statement crafted for his domestic audience, he said that “as a foreign minister of an SCO member state, Mr. Bhutto Zardari was treated accordingly,’’ then added: ‘’As a promoter, justifier and spokesperson of a terrorism industry which is the mainstay of Pakistan, his positions were called out, including at the SCO meetings itself.”
It may have made Dr. Jaishankar ‘a hero in his own mind’, but as the host at a multilateral moot, it was an unbecoming swipe at a smaller neighbor by a giant nation, within whom hides an insecure pygmy. Inevitably, his remarks reduced the tenor of the high-level SCO gathering to the level of another SAARC boxing bout.
The six member countries in the SCO (which include China and Russia) like the SAARC Six must have been disappointed to find themselves participating in multilateral meetings that degenerate every time into a custody battle over Jammu & Kashmir.
FM Bilawal’s visit was a first in many ways: his first to India; the first by a Pakistani Foreign Minister in 12 years; and the first Bhutto after his grandfather’s trip to Shimla in 1972. It could have been an opportunity for side-door diplomacy, for noiseless bridge-building between two countries.
He could have spoken of his mother’s gracious welcome as hostess to PM Rajiv Gandhi and Smt. Sonia Gandhi in July 1989 in Islamabad. He chose to make only one allusion to his mother, when he referred to her as herself being a victim of terrorism. Tactfully, he refrained from mentioning that both Rajiv Gandhi and his mother Smt. Indira Gandhi had been casualties of Indian home-grown terrorism.
This year, at Goa, power watchers noticed that the Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov met FM Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari with exaggerated cordiality, while the Chinese maintained a diplomatic reticence. Since the 1960s, after FM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s tilt towards China, everyone knows whose side they remain on.
Anyone with eyes can see through Asif Zardari’s strategy to make Bilawal serve his apprenticeship through the Foreign Office before aspiring to a higher position. That was the route used by his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and for a briefer period by Benazir Bhutto. Both in time graduated to the prime minister-ship.
When will Bilawal reach the top of that ‘greasy pole’? In the present mayhem in Islamabad, that is anyone’s guess, except Asif Zardari’s. He is adept at snatching victory from the jaws of another’s defeat.
In a few days, the sacred deadline of May 15 for the holding of provincial elections will have passed. No one knows when elections will be held, and even if they are, how workable or stable their outcome will be.
Parliament continues to be locked in a battle with the Supreme Court over supremacy. The political parties cannot stop clawing at each other. And now, the Pakistan Army has entered the fray with an unprecedented challenge to the leader of a political party.
The ISPR explicitly warned the PTI leader Imran Khan in words that even Dr. Jaishankar might have thought over twice before uttering. It advised ‘the political leader concerned to make a recourse to legal avenues and stop making false allegations.’ Failing that, ’the institution reserves the right to take legal course of action against patently false and mala fide statements and propaganda.’
Imran Khan retorted that his accusations targeted individuals, not the institution per se. This clarification was not nearly enough. Orders were issued, presumably at the highest level within the powers that be and are, to arrest Imran Khan. On 9th May, the Pakistani public witnessed for the umpteenth time the unedifying spectacle of yet another political leader being manhandled into a Black Maria for incarceration.
The backlash this time has been fierce. Images are being circulated on the social media of attacks on the GHQ and the house of Lahore Corps Commander in flames. Both appeared unguarded. Their gates opened at the sight of a mob.
A country of 230 million people expects all organs of state responsible for its safe governance to behave with circumspection and mature self-control. Have they forgotten that such riots are the seeds of a revolution?
Whom can the public turn to for relief from the current idiocy? Who can persuade all those wielding power – irate parliamentarians, vengeful politicians, a divided judiciary, and a prickly establishment – that they cannot condemn the rest of us unwilling lemmings to a senseless suicide?
They should heed Macduff’s warning: ‘Bleed, bleed, poor country!/Great tyranny, lay thou thy basis sure,/For goodness dare not check thee.’
© F. S. AIJAZUDDIN