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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 20.04.05

All that the Pakistan president, Mr Pervez Musharraf, had wanted was to watch an Indo-Pak one-day international. The Indian government transformed what could have been an innocuous visit into a major diplomatic interlude on terms set by the Pakistan president. A more reasoned response to Mr Musharraf?s eagerness to watch the flannelled fools would have been to invite him to a match being played far away from the capital. This did not happen. Mr Musharraf?s visit came to be surrounded by a tremendous amount of hype, and he got, as was to be expected, a kind of publicity which perhaps he does not deserve. With so much of mutual and public back-patting around, it might be a trifle out of tune to suggest that the handling of the visit by the government of India lacked finesse. Like the Indian cricket team, Indian diplomats display a propensity to lose their nerve when faced with a challenge from Pakistan. It is a cardinal rule of diplomacy that no visits should be made to the negotiating table without a well thought out road map. In the absence of such a map, diplomacy is reduced to mouthing platitudes and the introduction of certain cosmetic goodwill measures that really do not add up to much.

Mr Musharraf arrived in Delhi, and met and parleyed with the Indian prime minister, Mr Manmohan Singh. The outcome was a joint statement. All this is par for the course unless one uses that ill-fated Agra visit of the Pakistan president as the benchmark. At Agra, an aggressive Mr Musharraf completely outplayed the Indian side. But as has been noted, the entire context of international relations has radically altered after the attack on the World Trade Center. Thus, a much mellowed Mr Musharraf, tutored and groomed by advisors from Washington, took his stance in New Delhi this time round. What needs to be pondered by the Indian side is whether what has been announced in the joint statement needed a presidential visit for it to be accomplished. The answer, if the hype and the atmospherics can be eliminated, will be in the negative. The outcome of the visit only adds to what is already being achieved by the ongoing Indo-Pak dialogue. Only these additions come gift-wrapped in a grandiloquent joint statement.

The really hard gains of diplomacy hardly ever emerge through the initiative of individual personalities. The art of diplomacy knows of no personality cult. Diplomatic breakthroughs are produced after hours spent at the negotiating table by hard-nosed mandarins trained in the science of real politik. Presidents and prime ministers come in at the end of the process to put their signatures and to win the applause. They represent the icing on the cake. Mr Musharraf and Mr Singh were the icing, but there was very little cake underneath.