Pappi-jhappi diplomacy from Gujral to Manmohan

It has become fashionable to scoff at bonhomie between the two Punjabs as pappi-jhappi diplomacy (a Punjabi expression for kissing and hugging). This expression became especially popular, when former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral reached out to Pakistan in the late 1990’s, while striking a chord with his counterpart fellow Punjabi Nawaz Sharif – who  recently got re-elected as prime minister for the third time. Those critical of Gujral’s olive branch towards Islamabad, felt that it was bereft of pragmatism and was driven by sheer nostalgia. While Gujral did make serious efforts to make amends with Pakistan, he also made it abundantly clear that India would not budge from its stated position on Kashmir. The policy of reaching out and making unilateral gestures was not restricted to Pakistan, but included other neighbours as well, and the policy was dubbed as the ‘Gujral Doctrine’.
Gujral’s policy towards Pakistan was followed by his successors Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. Vajpayee too was criticised by some, for being utopian when it came to relations with Pakistan, many used the Kargil episode as a clear illustration of this. Current incumbent Manmohan Singh, born in present day Pakistan, too has made serious efforts to improve relationship with Pakistan, much to the chagrin of many in the strategic community, media and even his own party.
Like Gujral, he too has been accused of being obsessed with Pakistan. In fact, it has been much tougher for Singh to reach out to Pakistan, than any of his successors, since the 26/11 Mumbai attacks took place during his reign, and this has left no space for him to make any symbolic gestures – such as a visit to Pakistan. The skirmishes on the LOC in January, his diminished stature within his party and outside, and ofcourse the low credibility of his government have further reduced the scope for the same. Even a courtesy invitation to Sharif was criticised by opposition parties.
While it is easy to be skeptical about this policy of engaging with Pakistan, and making some unilateral gestures, it would be unfair to assume, that reaching out to democratic forces in Pakistan and liberal elements in Pakistan is a waste of time or is just pappi jhappi diplomacy. Those who subscribe to this view, would do well to recognise one major change in Pakistani politics. A clear yearning and desire in Pakistani Punjab, for closer ties with India, and this is not based on Punjabi sentimentality but a desire for economic ties with India. PPP’s overtures in the economic realm vis-a-vis India received the PML-N’s support. While this change was imminent even during Nawaz’s earlier tenure in 1997 when his party’s election manifesto spoke about better ties with India.

This time, not only did he and other political parties speak about better relations and trade with India, but even caveats such as Kashmir were missing. One of the first steps Sharif is likely to take is granting of ‘most favoured nation’ status to India.
This changing mindset can be attributed to these factors – Anti-Americanism, the desolate state of the Pakistan economy and the increasing number of pressure of business lobbies in Pakistan, perseverance of the Indian leadership, and last but not least the increasing interactions between individuals from both the Punjabs, especially the business community, over the last decade.
The so-called pappi-jhappi approach has thus yielded some dividends and rather than weakening India it has helped in creating a constituency in Pakistan, which may not be in love with India, but is certainly not agnostic to it. The next logical step would be to carry on this engagement. One of the logical ways of furthering this would be greater trade between border-states.
There is no doubt, that Sharif has to solve problems such as the economy, terrorism and India cannot help him in the same. Similarly, he needs to walk the talk on issues such as an enquiry into Kargil and the Mumbai attacks. Yet, India by finding common ground on issues such as trade would strengthen his position since such measures are likely to boost Pakistan’s fledgling economy.
In conclusion, as a pragmatic nation we need to realise that if culture and historical past of any sort can help in improving relations between two countries there is nothing wrong with it as long as gestures are not unrequited. It is also time that we recognise the contribution of Gujral, Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh in engaging with Pakistan, in spite of the problems and criticism they have had to contend with.
Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based columnist.
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