Today, I saw a column in the Sunday Times of India on Indian foreign policy by none other than Indian novelist, Chetan Bhagat. Mr Bhagat takes a very hawkish line in a whiny tone after the collapse of the India-Pakistan peace talks between SM Krishna and Shah Mahmood Qureshi. If it now acceptable for non-experts to write on international affairs, then I’m happy to oblige. I know next to nothing about the topic, but I do know a thing or two about human nature.
So, what options are really available in responding to a crisis through the proper use of diplomacy? Sir Humphrey Appleby gave the most brilliant exposition on diplomacy in the second episode of Yes, Minister that I’ve ever come across:
Sir Humphrey: Well, Minister, in practical terms we have the usual six options:
One: do nothing.
Two: issue a statement deploring the speech.
Three: lodge an official protest.
Four: cut off aid.
Five: break off diplomatic relations.
And six: declare war.
Hacker: Which should be it?
Sir Humphrey: Well:
If we do nothing, that means we implicitly agree with the speech.
If we issue a statement, we’ll just look foolish.
If we lodge a protest, it’ll be ignored.
We can’t cut off aid, because we don’t give them any.
If we break off diplomatic relations, then we can’t negotiate the oil rig contracts.
And if we declare war, it might just look as though we were over-reacting!
In the episode, these option were laid out with respect to a crisis created by the head of the fictitious African state of Buranda, but with a little imagination they can be made to fit most international crises.
But even this fictitious scenario can’t hold a candle to the most surreal event in the history of India-Pakistan relations. Siachen Glacier holds the dubious distinction of being the world’s highest battlefield -where more soldiers are lost on either side to the elements than to enemy fire. While reading up on how both sides got involved in this intractable conflict, I came across the following passage in the New York Times:
By the early 80’s, both armies were sending expeditions into the area, and suspicions accumulated like fresh snow. In late 1983, the Indians became convinced the Pakistanis were about to seize the glacier, [India’s] General [M.L.] Chibber said. This was inferred from intercepted communiques. If further evidence was needed, he said, it came when India sent procurers to Europe to buy cold-weather gear. They ran into Pakistanis doing the same shopping.
In other words, Indian and Pakistani military officers were shopping for high-altitude gear at the same shop at around the same time and this may have contributed to the outcome of future events.
Now, I know both countries have creative writers. I challenge them to come up with fiction resembling our warped reality.
© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban