| A foreign minister and a gentleman
It was an October evening in 1961. Nervous but excited, I stored my luggage in my second-floor room on the B staircase of my Cambridge college, Trinity Hall, and stepped into the balmy twilight to work my way towards my first “hall”, as dinner is termed in Cambridge jargon. Standing in Front Court were two subcontinentals, Jamshed Hamid, who had rooms across mine on the same staircase, and a middle-aged youth dressed rather startlingly in a formal three-piece suit with a rolled-up umbrella (brolley) dangling from his arm. He introduced himself as Khurshid Kasuri from Pakistan, come to take a law degree. I remarked that I had spent a few hours in Karachi where the boat bringing me to England had docked. He said he himself was from Lahore. I told him that was where I was born. Rapport established, we went into hall together, awkward that we were yet to secure for ourselves the black University gowns that were de rigeur. As we sat down, Hamid spoke our collective mind as he wondered aloud — happily in Urdu — what we were supposed to do with the array of cutlery gleaming in front of us.
All of us instinctively took care that first evening not to bring up the ticklish question of Kashmir, but as, over the years, we became friends, inhibitions faded and even Kashmir could be discussed rationally, if sometimes heatedly. I always found Khurshid straightforward and patient, calm, logical and willing to listen. He holds strong opinions and holds them with conviction. But an argument with him does not degenerate into a shouting match. There is scope for disagreement and scope for accommodation. Can one ask for more in a Pakistani foreign minister' For that is where Khurshid has reached. Last week, he was named to the foreign office.
In no country does so important a minister have a free hand. He has to carry his colleagues with him and he has to speak and negotiate on behalf of his government as a whole. In Pakistan, there is the added dimension that the Musharraf regime hardly falls under the Indian definition of democracy. That does not bother me too much because however “democratic” a Pakistan government, be it that of Bhutto or his daughter, Nawaz Sharif or the present government of Mir Zafrullah Jamali, it is the armed forces that hold the gun to the temple of the head of government. So, if Pervez Musharraf is commander-in-chief in mufti, so much, I say, the better for us. Why not deal straight with the puppeteer instead of mistaking the puppet for the real thing' The Pakistani armed forces constitute the best organized and best disciplined political party in Pakistan. It is also the only political party that reflects the population profile of Pakistan and the true balance of power in that country. If the domination of Punjab is overwhelming, and this causes resentment in other provinces and among immigrant mohajirs, well, that is their problem, not ours. We did not ask for Pakistan. They did. And it is for them to sort out the domestic mess they have created.
For us, Pakistan is, or should be, a fact of history and a fact of geography. We can as little run away from our shared past as we can run away from sharing this subcontinent. So, while a billion of us might wish Khurshid were foreign minister of a united India or at least foreign minister of a less convoluted Pakistan, Pakistan in 2002 is Pakistan — and just as well for us that the foreign minister of that Pakistan is none other than my friend, Khurshid.
After Cambridge, Khurshid went on to Oxford and the Inns of Court before returning to a life of dabbling in the feudal politics of Pakistan, first with the high-minded but essentially irrelevant Air Marshall Asghar Khan, later with the Pakistan Muslim League, and now with PML’s somewhat grandiosely named the Quaid-e-Azam faction. More humbly, I joined the Indian foreign service. It is that which brought us together once again. For on being posted to Karachi as consul-general in December 1978, I transited through Lahore. Khurshid was at the airport to receive me with his usual warmth and slightly arcane gentlemanliness. Generous to a fault and hospitable as only a Pakistani grandee can be, he not only drove me around the city of my birth, but took the trouble to trace the apartment in which I was born — 44, Lakshmi Mansions — and gave me the thrill that only a refugee can know of visiting a home he has no memory of! I was only four when I last left Lahore and six when my father fled to Delhi at Partition. But the thought of standing in the very bedroom where I had first seen the light of life was, literally, the experience of a lifetime. Astonishingly, half a century after Partition, Lakshmi Mansions is still called Lakshmi Mansions!
So much for the Indian parody of that country as a bunch of taliban look-alikes. Contemporary Pakistan, like Khurshid himself, is thoroughly modern-minded. Begging Lal Krishna Advani’s pardon, Pakistan is not a theocratic country except in the limited sense that it calls itself an Islamic Republic. No theocratic party has ever won more than five per cent of the vote or more than a handful of seats in any democratic election in Pakistan — until the elections of 2002 which, thanks to “Busharraf’s” kowtowing to the Americans, saw the theocratic parties sweep to power in the two Pakistan provinces adjoining Afghanistan, the NWFP and Baluchistan. Their leader at the centre, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, fell short of becoming prime minister by a single vote. I like to think that vote was Khurshid’s. For, true Muslim though he is (he is the only political bigwig I know in Pakistan who not only refuses to drink but will not serve it in his home), there is nothing fanatical about him. Advani can learn a lesson or two from Khurshid Kasuri on how to be true to one’s religion without being nasty about other people’s.
The Kasuris were fairly frequent visitors to Karachi and I, of course, met up with them whenever I went to Lahore. We holidayed together one summer in the tatty hill-station of Murree — which makes one see why Darjeeling is called the Queen of Hill Stations! Since our return to India two decades ago, the Kasuris have visited us fairly often since Khurshid has been an activist on Track-II. Unfortunately, I was not able to take up his invitation to a Track-II meeting in Calcutta a couple of years ago. He now has the opportunity to translate into policy at least some of his Track-II perceptions. But he can do so only if our government lets him.
Tragically, we are burdened with a government that has no Pakistan policy. Its abysmal ignorance of Pakistan is compounded by the naïveté of the prime minister, the prejudices of the deputy prime minister, and the confusions of the defence minister. The naïveté of the prime minister was exposed when he undertook his flop show of The Bus to Pakistan. The lowest under-secretary in the ministry of external affairs could have cautioned Atal Bihari Vajpayee that there is no place for dramatic gestures in diplomacy without the utmost preparation, such as, for example, the assiduity with which Henry Kissinger prepared for his secret visit to Beijing from a Pakistani airfield. The Vajpayee nautanki was, however, a dance without a stage and so collapsed before the audience finished clapping. Advani, of course, is caught in a Sindhi time-warp from the Forties. A man who cannot be trusted with Indian Muslims is clearly the wrong man to deal with Muslims of another country. And as for George Fernandes, the joker actually wrote in a preface to the revised 1999 Penguin India edition of D.R. Mankekar’s classic, The Guilty Men of 1962 that the “threat” from Pakistan is a “myth”! Then his Enemy no.1 was China. Now that Fernandes himself is this country’s Enemy no. 1, most Indians, I imagine, would much rather deal with Khurshid Kasuri than treat with this Tehelka-tainted opportunist.
The one silver lining is Yashwant Sinha. He is unravelling Jaswant Singh’s dreadful errors in South Block (even as Jaswant Singh is unravelling Sinha’s dreadful errors in North Block!) Sinha is as modern-minded an Indian as Khurshid Kasuri is a modern-minded Pakistani. Unfortunately, both are prisoners of the atavism of their respective governments. There is, therefore, a long way to go, and neither Yashwant nor Khurshid is going to be in office very long. But in the few months they have, they can still carve their niche in history if they were to initiate low-key talks about talks which will render the next India-Pakistan dialogue uninterrupted and uninterruptible, unlike the sporadic dialogues of the past which were always vulnerable to the ups and downs of the India-Pakistan relationship. They were never sustained long enough to produce results. For make no mistake about it. It will be a long, long haul. Khurshid and Yashwant will not be able to see the dialogue through to the end. But as both are friends of mine of four decades standing, I am certain they can, if their governments let them, give peace a chance. “All you need is love, love is all you need”. The three of us, after all, belong to the Beatles’ generation!