Notes on “Dateline Islamabad”

Just finished reading this fascinating account of the tumultous relationship between India and Pakistan. The author was the Islamabad correspondent for The Hindu between April 97 and June 2000. Incidentally, this was also a period of high-drama in the relationship between these two nations: Kargil, the nuclear tests, the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight, the military coup by Pervez Musharraf…. As expected, the author has much to report.

Some notes:

  • There is no such thing as the “state of Pakistan”. It depends on who is at the helm. Pakistan is a heady concoction of multiple power centers taking turns at directing its foreign policy (admittedly, much of this “foreign” policy is India-centric). The Prime Minister and his cabinet, the ever-present military, the President..even the Supreme Court ! Who do you deal with ? What do you frame your policy on ? In its search for peace with Pakistan, the Indian leadership sure has its work cut out.
  • The Pakistan Army (The Fauj) is the biggest conglomerate in Pakistan. It owns sugar mills, huge tracts of property, educational institutions, hospitals, fertilizer units….you name it. It yields such a huge influence over the destiny of the nation that no political leader (not even one with a powerful mandate) can dare ignore or sideline it.
  • The Kandahar hi-jacking: I cannot, for the life of me, understand what it was that the Indian leadership was planning to do. The Aribus A-300 flight was hi-jacked from Kathmandu and was forced to land in Amritsar since Lahore had denied landing permission to the hi-jackers. The lethargic Indian leadership could not act fast enough to keep the plane there. Instead, the hi-jackers flew the plane to Kandahar: the strong-hold of the Taliban. Even at this stage, the Indians were blind to the turn of events. No official was sent to Kandahar to negotiate. When finally, the horror of the threats turned real did the government make a move. And what a tame move it was !
  • Pervez Musharraf has been able to keep the Indians on a leash all through the last few years. I believe it has been a huge failure for the Indian leadership to not be able to push him into a corner even when the tide was against him. I think the Indians need to go under the surface and deal with the General’s real compulsions instead of blindly trying to prise a deal out of him.

I believe the book had a lot of potential. Fascinating as it was, I had expected more from the book when I picked it up. The Hindu has always been my favourite daily and I expected some juicy insider bits from this correspondent. Also, a huge disappointment was the absence of any pictures. A lot of metaphorical water had passed under the bridge during this period and there would have been a lot of photo ops. Also missing is the much-expected account of the workings of the Pakistan media, how it viewed India, how it viewed its own government, what challenges it faced in a turbulent state.

Where do I get all that from ?!?!?!

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