New Delhi: Batting for resumption of dialogue with Pakistan, diplomat-turned-politician Mani Shankar Aiyar says India will not be able to take its due place in the world as long as its western neighbour is an “albatross around our necks”.
The Congress leader, who served as India’s consul general in Karachi from December 1978-January 1982, has dedicated a full chapter to his Pakistan stint in his autobiography “Memoirs of a Maverick — The First Fifty Years (1941-1991)” that hit the stands on Monday.
In an interview with PTI on his new book, published by Juggernaut Books, Aiyar said the high point of his bureaucratic career was undoubtedly his stint as consul general in Pakistan and he has dwelt at very great length on his three years in Karachi in the first volume out now.
India’s “biggest asset” in Pakistan were the people there who did not consider it an enemy country, he said.
“We were coming back from a dinner one day, within the first two-three weeks of the posting, when my wife Suneet asked me a question that reverberated in my mind in my stay in Karachi — ‘This is an enemy country, right’?”
Aiyar said he asked himself the question through his three years there and for the last 40 years since he came back from Pakistan.
“I have come to the conclusion that whatever may be the view of the sections of the army, or sections of polity, as far as the people of Pakistan are concerned, they are neither an enemy country nor do they regard India as an enemy country,” he told PTI.
“Every time we want to display our disapproval of the (Pakistani) government, visas are stopped, films are stopped, TV exchanges are stopped, books are stopped, travel is stopped, so I don’t see why we do not know how to leverage the goodwill of the people of Pakistan as an integral part of our diplomatic approach,” Aiyar added.
For the last nine years all dialogue between India and Pakistan has been frozen, he noted.
“Until Mr (Narendra) Modi became prime minister of India, almost every prime minister, if he had the time, was attempting some kind of a dialogue with the Pakistanis but now we are in a freeze and the victims of this freeze are not the army of Pakistan which is still swigging its scotch, it is the people of Pakistan whose relatives in large numbers live in India and many of whom have a desire to visit our country,” he said.
Aiyar said that during his diplomatic stint in Karachi, he issued three lakh visas and did not get a single complaint of misuse.
“So why are we targeting the Pakistani people? You can target the Pakistani establishment if you want to, but as far as the people are concerned, they are our biggest asset and as far as the establishment is concerned, we can target them but we need to engage with them,” the former diplomat, who quit the Indian Foreign Service in 1989 to join the Congress, said.
He said he was impressed by a book launch event recently where five former Indian high commissioners to Pakistan participated and all insisted that dialogue with Islamabad was important and there can be no progress without it.
“It was Dr Manmohan Singh who clearly showed that if you do talk to the Pakistanis perhaps out of the public eye in an uninterrupted and uninterruptible way, you can resolve even the issue of Kashmir. After all, there was a four-point agreement that had been drafted and virtually agreed upon and it was not because the Pakistanis withdrew from that four-point agreement on Kashmir, but because the government of (Pervez) Musharraf fell into difficulty and eventually fell that the dialogue was interrupted,” he said.
There is need to understand that any dialogue with Pakistan is going to suffer setbacks, is going to take time and we need to have the patience and persistence, to establish a viable relationship with Pakistan, he said.
“So long as Pakistan is an albatross around our necks, we just will not be able to take our due place in the world. It is ludicrous to suggest that India is the ‘vishwaguru’ when we don’t know what to do with our neighbour,” Aiyar stressed.
Aiyar makes a strong case for good relations between the two countries in the book as well, saying common Pakistanis not only speak the same language as us and share much of the same ‘tehzeeb’ (culture), they love Bollywood and its music and laugh at the same jokes and befriend us everywhere outside the subcontinent.
“Almost everyone who has served in Pakistan acknowledges their personal goodwill towards Indians,” Aiyar says in the book.