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First things first

Sir — K.P. Nayar has reason to be angry that Rakesh Sharma’s path-breaking space flight has been all but erased from public memory — and from the records of the Indian Space Research Organization (“Missing out on the glory”, Feb 5). But in his fit of anger, he has probably forgotten that 1984, when Sharma went to space aboard Soyuz T-11, was also the time when the Cold War was at its peak. Everything the Americans did would have to be done slightly differently by the Russians (then citizens of the Soviet Union), and vice versa. This meant that if an American going to space was an astronaut, a Russian doing the same would have to be called by a different name: a cosmonaut, to be precise. Since the Soyuz flight was a Soviet venture, Sharma automatically became a cosmonaut. And hence, technically, there is nothing wrong in the report of the Moscow correspondent of the Reuters: Kalpana Chawla indeed was “the first India-born astronaut ever”.

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Roy, Calcutta


Borders of the mind

Sir — The stand-off in the diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan continues, with the expulsion of Pakistan’s acting high commissioner in New Delhi, Jalil Abbas Jilani. There may be much truth in India’s allegation that Jilani had passed on some money to persons from a Kashmiri separatist outfit which necessitated his expulsion and that of a few others in the high commission. The retaliatory action of Pakistan in sending back India’s charge d’affaires, Sudhir Vyas, was entirely predictable (“India, Pak in tit-for-tat expulsions, Feb 9).

While it is a little difficult to believe that the Pakistani diplomat was so naïve as to get involved directly in such a sensitive matter, it will be equally naïve to believe that the behaviour of Indian diplomats in Islamabad has always been pure as driven snow. Espionage in varying degrees is common in the diplomatic missions of practically all countries throughout the world. But in few countries do things deteriorate to the level of expulsions of senior diplomats. A cautionary rebuke from the foreign office to the ambassador of the offending country has been found sufficient in most cases. Even during the most acrimonious periods of the Cold War, the United States of America and the former Soviet Union did not go about expelling diplomats as frequently as India and Pakistan have been doing over the years.

Through their actions, India and Pakistan have only displayed their diplomatic immaturity. The world community has every reason to be worried because both countries possess nuclear weapons.

Yours faithfully,
Kangayam R. Rangaswamy, Madison, US


Sir — How much longer will it take the two neighbours, India and Pakistan, to grow up and their leaders to behave responsibly' It is a pity that India, despite being the bigger and more powerful of the two, has done little to normalize the situation in the subcontinent. If the door to dialogue is kept closed, the situation will never return to normal. However great may be the provocation, India should either take the initiative for dialogue or allow international mediation to get things moving.

Yours faithfully,
Kalyan Ghosh, Calcutta


Sir — I watch Pakistan Television regularly around 10 pm to know the attitude of the government of Pakistan towards India. This is the time when PTV telecasts group discussions. I was quite surprised to watch a live discussion recently on the souring of relations between the two countries and the reasons behind it. There were two participants. One was a hawk and the other was a moderate. The host was also a hawk. The hawks went about their usual India-bashing. But what surprised me was the fact that the moderate openly criticized Pervez Musharraf’s walkout from the Agra meet. He also appreciated Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Lahore visit. That the Indian prime minister came on foot at the Wagah border to meet Musharraf was appreciated, while the onus for the failure of the Lahore summit was put on the Pakistani government. Musharraf’s policies were also held responsible for the failure of a meaningful dialogue between the two countries. The host kept pretending that the moderate speaker was saying something very unusual by criticizing Pakistan and praising India. The discussion was telecast live, but it could very well have been stopped if things actually went out of control.

This could have been yet another ploy by the Musharraf regime or a genuine effort to acknowledge past mistakes and work towards normalizing bilateral relations. As an Indian, I hope that the latter is true. Musharraf must realize that a character certificate from the Indian government will do his sagging image in the world as a patron of terrorist groups no end of good.

Yours faithfully,
Govind Das Dujari, Calcutta


Sir — It was revolting to see Gulzar releasing an album by the Pakistani singer, Abida Parveen ( photograph in page 6, Feb 8). Isn’t it funny that Indian celebrities quite frequently canvas for Indo-Pak friendship through such gestures as releasing albums and promoting shows by Pakistani performers, while these gestures never find reciprocation from across the border' Does one get to hear about an Abida Parveen or a Ghulam Ali releasing an Indian singer’s album in Karachi or Lahore'

Many try to preach that the Pakistani “people” and the Pakistani “government” are two different, mutually exclusive entities; while the latter is an evil one, the people are a decent lot. This theory may not be entirely true. In recent years, several Pakistani singers have done, and are still doing, brisk business in India, while the popularity of Indian singers and films in Pakistan is mostly through plagiarism — bringing India little business. This is one-sided and unfair.

Yours faithfully,
Chameli Pal, Batanagar


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