Saying it as it is

A RARE spontaneity in the choice of words and the body language of their interlocutors this week shone a ray of hopeifnotanoodofsunshine on the often dark and bumpy journey India and China have endured in their search for a semblance of their fabled friendship.

I am not adept at double guessing mealy-mouthed messages, be they implied, suggested or couched in diplomatese. Therefore, when officials of two responsible albeit rival countries exude unusual warmth whether in the India-China context or the India-Pakistan situation I for one take them at their word.

There was, for example, hardly a reason to doubt his sincerity when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had gushed that he trusted Gen Pervez Musharraf despite the latter`s perfidy in Kargil; likewise when Musharraf described the Indian leader as a nice man.

Need we have suspected Ziaul Haq according his country`s highest civilian honour to Morarji Desai? Was the general being sly as some would have us believe? On hindsight he was, wasn`t he, for all the damage he caused both countries in Kashmir.

Trust and betrayalgo handin hand but they pose a more serious risk if they become interchangeable.

It is a fact that our world is crawling with doublespeak, half-truths and cynical claims on our trust. They could make us hear war drums where they may not exist. Or they may well lull us into believing in the inevitability of a peaceful denouement of a crisis though the latest movement in the Doomsday Clock would point to a higherrisk of nuclear madness.

Insincerity is not an exclusively foreign currency, which is tradable in international relations. It just as often fetches a higher value at home just look at some of the words that have been said with a straight face but without an iota of truth in the threepronged constitutional crisis brewing in Pakistan, or between the populist leaders in India perennially jockeying for advantage. They ban Salman Rushdie and KF.

Husain by turns to create and appease their parochial constituencies.

To return to my maudlinsounding exultation at this week`s India-China bonhomie, need I clarify that I am not unaware of some genuine reasons behind their history of mistrust. After the 1962 SinoIndian stand-off, for example, the Cold War as well as a deeper Sino-Russian rivalry played a hand in advancing the course India adopted vis-àvis Beijing.

It is notable that the breakthrough came in 1988 after Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi famously shook hands with Deng Xiaopeng in Beijing. It may not have been a coincidence that Mikhail Gorbachev was there to shepherd India`s early attempts to recast its role in the region and thereby on the world stage.

Come to think of it, even the first South Asia summit in Dhaka, then considered to be a cabal of countries that were helping China encircle India, happened in December 1985, a few months after Gorbachev`s inauguration as the new Soviet leader.

Be that as it may, for all the differences between India and China ranging from their border dispute to Delhi`s mistrust over China`s military alliance with Pakistan, and in China`s case misgivings about India`s lurch towards a disconcerting embrace of the United States, together with their appetite for energy, water andminerals across the world, from what we heard this week they all look highly manageable.On the face of it the two sides signed an agreement to set up a mechanism to avert transgressions along their rugged border that their 1993 pact on maintaining peace and tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control is kept robust.

However, in an era of nuclear-tipped missiles on both sides such a pact would have little relevance, particularly if what both said was different from what they meant through words couched in diplomatic language.I for one didn`t believe there was anything devious or inherently fake about the Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai euphoria that described the short-lived bonhomie between Jawaharlal Nehru and Zhou Enlai. If things went wrong we should look for the reasons for them elsewhere. (Some of the facts of 1962 can be glimpsed in Neville Maxwell`s classic account in India`s China War although the Indian government has discouraged its citizens from accessing the book.) India`s national security adviser, Shivshankar Menon, described the problems and the opportunities that both countries confronted jointly.

Moreover, he offered a sound advice to the naysayers too.

`There are, of course, certain voices of so-called experts who have argued in both countries China, India and in other countries. Who argue that notwithstanding all the cooperate elements in our relationship India and China are bound to have adversarial relations. I think such determinism is completely misplaced.` That sounds like a sincere concern to me.

(Mr Menon must be particular watchful of the naysayers since it was his draft agreement for an extremely promising rapprochement between India and Pakistan that was torpedoed after the Sharm ElSheikh fiasco by the deep state within his country.) Much of the problem between India and China flows from a studied recklessness found in India`s powerful and usually hawkish media.

According to Prime Minister Singh, and he is right, the Chinese media is not entirely blameless in this regard.

`Despite the persistence of the border problem, both countries have agreed that peace and tranquillity should be maintained along the border,` he declared recently.

`Therefore, by and large, sometimes something appears in the newspapers in our country, something appears in the newspapers in China, that I think invites comments, but overall our relations are quite good.

The Chinese were just as forthright in seeking India`s hand of friendship this week.

`Our Indian friends may have confidence in China`s tremendous sentiment of friendship towards India,` China`s State Councillor Dai Bingguo said.

`While working hard to develop itself, China is fully committed to developing longterm friendship and cooperation with India. It is our genuine hope that India will enjoy prosperity and its people, happiness.

And he underlined a word of caution. `There does not exist such a thing as China`s attempt to `attack India` or `suppress India`s development`. China will remain committed to the path of peaceful development. It will develop itself by upholding world peace and contribute to world peace through its development.

Whatever else you might make of the comments, I think both officials were saying what they meant and vice versa. More often than not, that helps.

The writer is Dawn`s correspondent in Delhi.

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