WikiLeaks & Indo-Pak Relations

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Ironically, “Wikileaks” have excited little concern in the subcontinent. On one hand, India has not still restrained in making diplomatic noise against Pakistan regarding 26/11 Mumbai-strikes, as and when required. So India did on 26/11 anniversary and this “news” shall probably continue hitting headlines in the subcontinent for quite sometime to come. This is, however, one side of the story. The recent weeks have also been witness to two important festivals- Diwali for Hindus and Eid-ul-Zuha – for Muslims. Both were marked by Indian and Pakistani soldiers sharing sweets at their borders. Though this practice has in recent years assumed the nature of an important diplomatic ritual, it has ceased to have much relevance for media. In other words, “news” suggesting Indo-Pak “diplomatic cordiality” is not given as much importance as their blowing fumes against each other.

Media-hype, raised by India about Pakistan not having yet fulfilled its promises regarding 26/11 Mumbai-strikes, did “make” news and served concerned leaders’ interest. The same days were, interestingly, also marked by India and Pakistan exchanging notes on enhancing their economic ties, which received little media attention. Some coverage given to Pakistani stalls at the India International Trade Affair (Nov 14-27), described them as a great “hit” with Indian visitors. Notwithstanding all the noise made over Indo-Pak relations being “tense,” certain Pakistani fabric, surma (eye-makeup), spices and of course onyx stone have become quite popular among Indians. It cannot also be missed that among the 23 countries, which participated in this year’s trade fair, the biggest delegation was from Pakistan.

Despite peace diplomacy across the Wagah border and talks of enhancing Indo-Pak economic ties not being as news-worthy as creating media-hype over their differences, regarding Kashmir, problems linked with terrorism and so forth, at least the two countries have not backtracked from moving on the former path. This assumes greater significance in context of certain WikiLeaks raising concern about tension between the two “nuclear powers.” Just when it seemed that world leaders have become a little wiser about reading too much into noise India and Pakistan make about their ties being tensed, WikiLeaks indicate the opposite.

On one hand, there is nothing really astonishing and/or new about India and Pakistan moving on with their respective nuclear drives. Besides, they remain concerned about terrorism still being active across the subcontinent. In fact, in recent past, terrorism appears to have become a bigger headache for Pakistan on its own soil than as a problem affecting its ties with India. Interestingly, WikiLeaks indicate that Uncle Sam is more concerned about Indo-Pak “tension” than apparently the two countries themselves.

Undeniably, where Indo-Pak ties are concerned, media across the world accord topmost priority to their tension. Thus when India and Pakistan hold bilateral talks or have separate discussions with a third country entertaining amicable ties with both, little importance is given to details of whatever was deliberated upon. But even if a hint is given that Indo-Pak differences, particularly over Kashmir and terrorism, were discussed (or touched upon), that tends to become headlines.

The importance of certain issues, in today’s era, has begun being judged by the media coverage it secures. Thus, irrespective of improvement in Indo-Pak ties being marked by their relations at bilateral and multilateral levels, their diplomatic stand on Kashmir and terrorism overshadows it all. There is yet another angle to Indo-Pak ties, perhaps incomprehensible for Uncle Sam, which cannot be ignored. It is apparently not difficult for United States to understand Indo-Pak tension, when crucial issues such as Kashmir and terrorism are highlighted. However, Uncle Sam has not yet begun giving importance to viewing Indo-Pak ties from the lens of today’s Indian and Pakistan. And this is not surprising. The WikiLeaks, so far made public, carry no reference to why Bollywood stars are popular in Pakistan, Pakistani singers in India or why a particular Pakistani (eye) cosmetic is a craze for Indian women just as some Indian sweets are a favorite for Pakistanis.

Commonality of culture at several levels has played its own part in bringing Indians and Pakistanis closer, than was perhaps envisaged when -before becoming nuclear powers- their relations were primarily defined by conflicts. Communication diplomacy between people of the two countries has played a greater role than apparent to the White House in defusing tension in what were once war-like situations. True, these haven’t hit headlines or accorded as much media coverage as have the statements issued now and then regarding Kashmir and terrorism. Nevertheless, there is nothing really new about Uncle Sam voicing concern over these and being apprehensive of a nuclear conflict in the sub-continent. United States has entertained this attitude since the time India and Pakistan initiated their respective nuclear drives. WikiLeaks, at most, have given ample media coverage to this stand of United States once again. Indians and Pakistanis seem hardly bothered about Uncle Sam’s concern spilling through WikiLeaks.  Not surprisingly, rather than brooding over WikiLeaks, the past weeks have been witness to their being more engaged in their own culture, from exchanging sweets at the border to Indians displaying fondness for Pakistani surma and Pakistanis for Indian movies!


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