Imagine if diplomats could sort out all the problems of the world by winks over a glass of wine (or sherbet, in case you’re in West Asia). All the tedium associated with “talks about talks”, “interlocutors”, “third-party intermediation” and other tiresome routines would disappear.
But that’s not how the world works. Even in the best of times.
We seem to have begun believing this make-believe world. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement on Monday came close to this. “I explained to him (King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia) the role that terrorism, aided, abetted and inspired by Pakistan is playing in our country. And I did not ask for him to do anything other than to use his good offices to persuade Pakistan to desist from this path.”
There are many questions here. Even if the Saudi Arabian monarch does put in a word of good advice to the Pakistani establishment, will it change matters in any way? Hopes such as these ignore the fact that Islamabad has invested massive political, financial and military capital to build a formidable terrorist infrastructure to pin India down. To believe that some sane suggestion will change that is to expect too much.
A more pertinent question here is about our suspension of belief about realism in international relations. Yes, the Al Qaeda-Taliban combination threatens the ruling house in Riyadh. Yes, Saudi Arabia is concerned about the Frankenstein it helped create west of the Indus. But will one visit by an Indian prime minister change things? We need to face the reality that India has had little meeting ground— diplomatic, cultural and political—with Saudi Arabia. There is no reason why it should expend time and effort to deliver a harsh, unwelcome message to its biggest friend in South Asia.
Meeting the Pakistani challenge will require much more work than can be achieved in a single visit. Greater diplomatic attention to Saudi Arabia and some patient spadework on the realities of South Asia is certainly called for. But exultation of the kind witnessed this week is out of place.
Pakistan is not a “normal” country: Its ruling elite often displays marked streaks of irrational behaviour, the alleged water dispute with India being one good example. In conditions of this kind, expecting normal diplomacy to deliver is to expect magic.
Can Saudi Arabia change Pakistan’s behaviour? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org