Communication Revolution: Undeniably, communication revolution has added a new chapter to the field of diplomacy. Irrespective of whether their bilateral ties are tense or not, whether the leaders of the two countries shake hands, smile at each other and even hold talks on the sidelines of some international summit, their moves are now being observed and scrutinised more closely than they were earlier. Even though such diplomatic moves may carry little significance in the actual progress in normalisation of Indo-Pak relations, their importance cannot be ignored. Give a thought to the meeting held between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousaf Raza Gilani, on the sidelines of the 15th NAM Summit at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on 16 July 2009. They also issued a joint statement during which they recognised terrorism as a “chief threat” and delinked it from their composite dialogue process. The meeting took place within less than a year of the Mumbai strikes. Equally important is the fact that though the Mumbai strikes spelt diplomatic tension between India and Pakistan, they did not bring the two nuclear-powered neighbours to a warlike or near-war stage. The same period is also witness to the terrorism issue’s centre shifting from Kashmir to other parts of India.
The communication revolution has made both India and Pakistan more conscious than before about convincing the world that the two countries are seriously considering all-dialogue-related options to normalise their ties.
The communication revolution apparently prompted both Indian and Pakistani leaders to add a touch of new diplomatic finesse in their approach towards each other, viewed as an important image-building exercise for the world. This carried little relevance when they preferred going all out for war.
Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Gilani, met again this April in Bhutan on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit. They went a step further by taking a stroll together. Certainly, the “news” value of these meetings cannot be undermined. Even though objections may be raised on the ground that India and Pakistan are still nowhere near the stage of resolving differences on several issues, particularly Kashmir, it is pertinent to look at this diplomatic exercise from yet another angle. The communication revolution has made both India and Pakistan more conscious than before about convincing the world that the two countries are seriously considering all-dialogue-related options to normalise their ties. It is important to take note of the extra effort they have made, particularly in the recent past, when their ties have been fairly tense because of the Mumbai strikes.
The extra efforts include the statement in Egypt and the stroll in Bhutan. Give a thought: What would have been the impression created if the two leaders had chosen not to meet each other, had not even shaken hands and instead given each other a cold look? Of course Indo-Pak diplomacy has reached the stage when top-level leaders of the two countries are not expected to resort to displaying negative attitude towards each other, that too at multilateral gatherings. If they had given even a hint of deliberately avoiding each other, it would have certainly created some “news.” Rather, interestingly, they apparently were keen on adding greater “news value” to their meetings in Egypt as well as in Bhutan.
Pakistan being an Islamic state, in other parts of the world, Muslims of the subcontinent are usually assumed to be Pakistanis till they assert that they are Indians.
The “extra efforts” mutually made by the two leaders are an illustration of this diplomatic reality. After all, their meetings by themselves had sufficient news value. Perhaps, had the meetings not been held in a period when Indo-Pak ties were not clouded by the Mumbai strikes, additional importance may not have been given to diplomatically convincing the world that the two neighbours are not edging towards a near-war or warlike stage. In their respective perception, the extra effort was probably viewed as a diplomatic necessity for the rest of the world.
Interestingly, while communication revolution has played a major role in compelling both governments to dispel fears about their heading for war, it would be wrong to assume that it has had a positive impact only at the international level. At the domestic level, without doubt, its positive role stands out in the coverage accorded to people-to-people interaction. Also, the crossing points along the Indo-Pak border, which were earlier clouded by only war shadows, present a different image today. They now hit headlines primarily for occasions reflecting the positive turn in Indo-Pak ties. These include news on Indian and Pakistani soldiers greeting each other and eating sweets together when it is Diwali or Eid. Had communication revolution not played its role, such occasions may have probably gone unnoticed. Also, little importance would have perhaps been given to make these occasions “newsworthy.” Telecast of Indian and Pakistani soldiers celebrating festivals together certainly plays a major role in making the viewers aware and also convincing them that India and Pakistan have come a long way from the period when their troops were battling against each other. This cannot be dismissed as a minor move. It is certainly suggestive of major steps taken by India and Pakistan to change the stereotyped image still held about the two being constantly at war with each other.
India remains home to a larger number of Muslims than most Islamic states, including Pakistan. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored that most Indian Muslims have relatives in Pakistan.
The role of communication revolution, coalition politics in India, the postpartition phase and the subtle but definite improvement in Indo-Pak ties cannot be delinked from a problem that perplexed Indian Muslims till not too long ago. Their national identity was quite often linked with Pakistan in India as well as other parts of the world. Elementarily speaking, this is not surprising. With Pakistan being an Islamic state, in other parts of the world, Muslims of the subcontinent are usually assumed to be Pakistanis till they assert that they are Indians. Urdu, Punjabi and several local dialects are languages with which both north Indian Muslims and Pakistanis are fairly at ease. Besides, appearances, clothes and even their food habits are quite similar to have a third person feel fairly perturbed about the national identity of Muslims from India or Pakistan. But this is just a minor aspect of this complex issue.
The history of partition, which led to independence of India and Pakistan in 1947 from British colonial power, is also responsible for Indian Muslims being linked with Pakistan. A considerable section of Muslims living in India migrated to Pakistan because of partition, but certainly not all. India remains home to a larger number of Muslims than most Islamic states, including Pakistan. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored that most Indian Muslims have relatives in Pakistan.