Millennium Post

This track doesn’t go anywhere

Veteran journalist Ved Prakash Vaidik could not have had it better. He grabbed the TRP ratings for channels, broke the trending records on the social media, the aisle of parliament buzzed with his name, the newspapers too grudgingly gave him some space and Subramanian Swamy threatened to drag him to the court. For a man who for the past few years has been part of several Jantar Mantar agitations and called up chief reporters of the newspapers for giving him some space, the interview with Hafeez Saed came as acres in windfall as till the other day he was struggling to get some media space to squat.

Vaidik if nothing else is a sure repository of information. For over a decade that I have known him, I have called him up several times to check on facts and for sure his information has been bang on target. I have also interacted with him socially working together on a committee of Delhi University, where his presence was always found to be pleasing but his articulation at the meetings always directed at wriggling himself out of a situation where he would have to take a stand.

In past week, glib talking he has once again managed to create a complete inanity about his purpose of visit to Pakistan, how and why he met Hafeez Saeed, why was he pleading a case for Narendra Modi with Nawaz Sharif despite being part of a delegation which was led by Mani Shankar Aiyar, who spews nothing but venom at Modi. In fact despite giving so much airtime and newsprint to him, none in the media managed to find a reason this visit.

In fact there cannot be a ‘reasonable reason’ for such visits to Pakistan and such delegations from across the border coming to India. We for long have been playing this Track II diplomacy game, which for the past two decades that I have been closely following it, has gone nowhere. It gives us an agenda or a reason to go Pakistan, hobnob there with people like us, enjoy their hospitality and invite them to come over and enjoy our hospitality. The only benefit which accrues from such visits is that the grant of the visas becomes somewhat easier.

The alumni of my school – Prince of Wales’ Royal (now Rashtriya) Indian Military College – still has a very influential section whose heart beats for their mates who were with them in the boarding house during the pre-partition era. In 1997, the school celebrated its Platinum Jubilee and two decades back the numbers of such ‘separated kids’ was much higher than what’s it today. The celebration was planned as a big India-Pakistan jamboree with late chairman of Modern School, Major General Virendra Singh leading the team of hosts.

The preparations for the visit started more than a year in advance. A group of alumni led by former chief of army staff General V N Sharma went to Pakistan to invite their brethren. The delegation included several such luminaries who had remained part of the Indian military brass, some socialites, some journalists and similar other people. Needless to say the delegation was accorded red carpet all through their weeklong stay with Pakistan’s then Interior Minister Nasirullah Khan Babar playing the main host.

The delegation came back with the tales of warmth and hospitality and it was decided to accord similar reception to the visiting delegation. One full year was spent on working out the details of the visit. Getting visa for such a huge group of Pakistanis was not easy but pull and push at the right quarters had the requisite effect. Every detail was worked out. They were received at Wagah border close to Amritsar and from there travelled in military escort to New Delhi.

There were a few rounds of lavish banquets and also interaction with media in the Capital once the leader of the delegation, former foreign minister Sahibzada Yakub Khan arrived. Having build-up the atmosphere of absolute brotherhood, the caravan moved to Dehradun in 10-odd luxury buses and several sedans as several members of the alumni joined from the Delhi.

There was thunderous applause as the delegation entered the sylvan campus in Doon Valley. To an ordinary reporter, I was just more than a beginner in journalism then, it looked amusing how could these people fight such bloody war and then hold each-other in such tight embrace. Next morning the official function began. As per tradition, it started by laying of wreath at the Martyr’s Memorial built in the memory of old boys who met martyrdom in different battles since World War II. The Pakistani delegation failed to turn up for the early morning function as ‘they were staying away from the campus.’

Discreet enquiries however revealed that Sahibzada Yakub Khan had asked that the delegation be excused to save embarrassment from laying wreath on the memorial to those who were responsible for defeat of his country in the three wars. Though the celebrations went as per the schedule, the warmth was certainly gone. Though there were several in the delegation who were not as rigid about the ‘protocol’ as Sahibzada was but then Sahibzada represented the Pakistani establishment, to be more precise the military establishment.

Over the years the lesson learnt that early March morning has only been reiterated though we have continued with ‘our brethren’ attitude hosting another huge delegation after the Kargil war. The head of this delegation left the hosts which included Indian military brass red-faced when he said that Kargil has reopened the Kashmir question. Let’s face it, the relevance of the military establishment of Pakistan would wane if peace between the two nations was to prevail. Be it I or II, these tracks don’t seem to be going anywhere. Exchange of such delegations is at best a case of a kitty party extending network across the borders.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post.
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