In the NAM of multilateralism, stop!
India and Pakistan just cannot get enough of each other. At every opportunity they get anywhere in the world, they display a dangerous obsession where either they are making up or breaking up.
This never-ending saga of rapprochement and finger-pointing leaves little choice for chroniclers and hacks to look beyond them when they go visiting multilateral forums. Every major event has been gracelessly hijacked by these two countries whenever they have shown up together. One wonders why they cannot talk on their respective soils. Non-aligned summit in Havana, United Nation's General Assembly (UNGA), Yekaterinburg and now the non-aligned summit at Egyptian sea resort of Sharm-El-Sheikh have all become casualties of this endless engagement.
In Havana, for instance, three years ago in 2006, there was some interest about the NAM summit as there was speculation that the ailing Fidel Castro may show up at one of its sessions. That may not have happened, but even in his absence he continued to loom large over the congregation. The fact that it was in revolutionary Havana, fired anti-US sentiments with Venezuelan Hugo Chavez and Iranian Ahmedinijad reiterating how George W Bush was bringing misery to the world. They tried to snare the Indian PM Singh on to their side, but he astutely side-stepped them by giving precedence to sorting out matters with its troublesome neighbour - Pakistan. If this is a ploy to keep other issues at bay, then surely it has worked well for both the prime minister as well as the ministry of foreign affairs.
In Havana, hype was built on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's meeting with the then Pakistan President Pervez Mussharraf at the sidelines of the summit. Right kind of atmospherics were created by Singh when he declared that Pakistan, too, was a victim of terror. This was a major departure by the Indian government, which had blamed its northern neighbour for all acts of terrorism. Questions on NAM, meeting with Castro or Chavez were sparse. It was Pakistan, Mussharraf and acts of terror in Malegaon that occupied bulk of the time during PM's pressers. This skewed nature of reporting is exacerbated by the avalanche of information that comes to reporters in real time about happenings from across the border. So deeply immersed are many of them in trivial details about Pakistan that the prime minister's conference degenerates into MEA briefings. All those editors and journalists who do not share similar fascination of Pakistan find themselves sucked into competitive reporting.
The same story was repeated in Yekaterinburg, Russia, where PM had gone to attend two summits. No one would recall India's contribution other than the indiscretion committed by the PM when he ticked off Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in front of Indian media.
More recently, during the journey to the latest edition of the NAM conference at Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt, Pakistan was on top of the agenda. The background briefings were on Pakistan. There was a passing mention of other business that Indian PM was expected to transact in Egypt. Although mention of bilaterals with Egypt, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam were mentioned, but they did not merit a single question in PM's press conference on July 16. Very briefly, though, Menon, did report on Singh's interaction with Vietnamese President and Slovenian PM. The speech, too, of the PM did not set the Red Sea on fire. It was restrained and generally non-committal about what India could do to work together with other countries to fight the ravages of the debilitating global slowdown.
So involved was the PM with his Pakistan's Gilani that he could not spare enough time to Nepalese PM, Madhav Nepal. Meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, too, proved to be a hurried affair. Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai could not meet the PM as his car could not be organised. In other words, India's other responsibilities towards its neighbours could not be adequately met. Similarly, there was no mention of any other meeting with the Cubans, the Iranians - Ahmedinijad did not attend the summit - or any African leadership with which India needs to engage more to counter Chinese influence in that continent. Important opportunities were squandered as India was locked in this mindless embrace with the enemy.
The Americans may have de-hyphenated India and Pakistan, but New Delhi and the Indian media refuse to think that way. For them, Indo-Pak talks is not foreign policy, but reporting on domestic politics in a roundabout way. Hopefully, the collapse of hate politics of the Hindutva parivar would bring about a change in this outlook.