All too often, when Yashwant Sinha was finance minister, I had to write critically about his government’s macroeconomic policies. He took it personally. My response, that I had also written good things about him and defended him when he was right, could not have convinced him. The fact that all the stupid measures he had to take and justify were forced on him by more senior lea- ders of his party — something he could not say — must have heightened the apparent unfairness of the criticism.
I have not written about him at all since he became foreign minister. In the first months, I felt that he deserved to get some time to settle down and get a feel of the job. Later, I felt that he had made a welcome change of direction. Jaswant Singh had focused exclusively on the United States of America. He no doubt needed to, immediately after the nuclear ceremony; and he did a superb job of converting a strained and distant relationship into a robust and cordial one. But he took no interest in relations with other countries. He was extremely disdainful of Japan and the Europeans. He did a good job, but then he had defined it very narrowly.
It is this narrow focus that Yashwant Sinha has abandoned. He has given more time and energy to building up relationships with neighbouring countries. This, in my view, was a good idea. Ever since 9/11, the US has concentrated on sorting out the Middle East. First it invaded Afghanistan and replaced the taliban with a pliant regime; then it invaded Iraq and replaced Saddam with a colonial regime. Neither move has worked, and neither can work. The US is trying out the Israeli model in these countries; it has worked disastrously in Israel, and the disaster will be replicated on a vaster scale wherever the US takes it.
In this phase, interaction or cooperation with the US would be extremely unwise. So Jaswant Singh’s policy of getting close to the US was best abandoned for the time being. Yashwant Sinha has not only let the Indo-US romance cool a bit, he has engaged with neighbouring countries — mostly south and south-east Asian countries, but also countries to the west and north such as Uzbekistan and the United Arab Emirates. His China initiative has thawed the relationship for the first time in 15 years; it is a step towards the only possible resolution of the Sino-Indian dispute, which is for each country to keep what it has and to give up claims on what it does not have.
Sinha’s task vis-à-vis Pakistan is relatively easy; it is to score points without achieving any real progress. Pakistan is obsessed with Kashmir, and India can give Pakistan nothing it would value on Kashmir. So it is no use talking to Pakistan; but making a show of de-escalation without conceding anything has a PR function. That, I thought, was what Sinha was doing, and it required no great skill. But then I read about an interview Sinha gave to Geo, a Pakistani television channel. That is when I thought: whether easy or difficult, he is playing the game well.
Sinha was asked why India had reneged on its promise of a plebiscite embodied in a United Nations resolution. He asked in return why Pakistan gave away 5,300 square kilometres of Kashmir to China, and why it did not pull its troops out of Kashmir as required by the UN resolution. He was asked why India had established relations with Israel. He said: we are a country of a billion people. We decide our relations with other countries on the basis of our security and geography. We have borders with many countries; we do not decide our policies with regard to only one country.
Then came my favourite answer. Sinha said Pakistan always sought parity with India. Did it ever talk of parity with China' Afghanistan' The US' Iran' If Pakistan had ever talked of parity in terms of human development, economic prosperity, education, democracy, etc, we would have been delighted and helped it. All it talks of is military parity.
Sinha was asked why India had blocked Pakistan’s readmission into the Commonwealth. He replied that Pakistan had been expelled as a result of a military coup. India did not mastermind it. India is a responsible member of the Commonwealth, and it is its responsibility to raise issues involving a conflict with the charter of the Commonwealth. After what it did to Javed Hashmi, Pakistan could hardly call itself a democratic country.
Sinha forcefully rebutted the allegation that Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar were involved in activities against Pakistan. He said they had been there before the taliban took over, and were only reopened. If Pakistan had evidence against them, why did it not give it to the government of Afghanistan'
The interviewer posed one of Musharraf’s favourite questions. India, he said, had 700,000 soldiers in Kashmir. Indian films portrayed them as brave and chivalrous. How is it that this great army could not stop infiltration into Kashmir' Sinha said, the Indian army is really brave and chivalrous, not just in films. But how do you know there are 700,000 soldiers' Did you count them' Give me a single example of Pakistan’s having tried to stop infiltration: has it, for instance, killed a single infiltrator on the line of control' Earlier we were less vigilant. Now we have got the latest gadgets; terrorism will not last long.
The interviewer was, of course, not Musharraf. If it had been, he would have denied that there was any infiltration at all. He would have said that all the “freedom fighters” were Kashmiris. He would have said that Javed Hashmi was an Indian agent and a traitor. He would have said that Pakistan was a peace-loving country, that it was India that had threatened it, amassed troops on its border and forced it into an arms race. He would have asked what was the difference between Israeli troops killing innocent Palestinians and Indian troops killing innocent Kashmiris.
That is just to show that no one has a monopoly of cleverness, and that cleverness will solve no problems. But if we accept that there is no solution to Kashmir, cleverness is all that is possible, and Sinha did very well in that department.
Even apart from these tactical victories, however, I think Yashwant Sinha is doing his job well — better than Jaswant Singh is doing his. So I venture to offer him a suggestion: he should replace immigration officers with graduates of typing schools, and the server and the software of the database that they consult with a newer version. It is very old and very slow; that is why immigration officers take so long over each passenger, and spend all their time looking down and doing mysterious rituals, never looking at passengers. Now much more powerful servers are available. Fibre optic cables have been laid, and it is possible to connect all entry and exit points to a single computer. Back-up computers at every such point would eliminate transmission time; the databases on them can be updated once a day from the central database. After that, the immigration officers can be taught to smile.