The Rediff Special/K Natwar Singh
Master of the Game
St Stephen's College, Delhi, had produced two heads of State.
Both were Muslims. Mr Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed did not choose to migrate
to Pakistan in 1947. Lieutenant Zia-ul Haq's lower middle-class
family left Jalandhar for Pakistan in late 1947.
President Zia-ul Haq was proud of being a Stephanian. So am I.
The Stephanian link helped me to establish a working rapport with
Zia possessed one extraordinary talent. In the management
of his public relations he displayed genius. His manners were
so impeccable that those who came to jeer, returned to cheer.
I saw this time and again with Indian visitors who were received
by the president.
In 1981, Professor Mohammad Hasan of the Jawaharlal Nehru University
came to Pakistan with a group of scholars from several Indian
universities. I was much impressed by their views on Indo-Pak
relations and what could be gradually done to improve them. They
appreciated that a wide gulf divided the desirable and the achievable.
A day or two after my talk with this group, I met the president
at a reception. I asked if he could spare a few minutes for Professor
Hasan and his colleagues. "Why a few minutes, Kanwar Sahib,
I shall invite them to dinner at my house," the president
On the appointed day the five assembled at my residence. I told
them they were to have dinner with the president. They were incredulous.
When we arrived at Zia's house, even I was astonished. Present,
beside the head of state were five cabinet ministers, four vice-chancellors and senior officials. All were standing to receive
The president of Pakistan spent nearly three hours with five
unknown though not insignificant Indians. There was not a jarring
note. After the dinner he came to the porch to see them off and
did not leave till the last Indian car left. I can think of only
one other head of government matching this quite fantastic PR
exercise -- Chou En-Lai.
Zia put Kashmir on top of his agenda and persuaded many Islamic
countries to side with him purely on religious grounds. I repeatedly
told him that by raising Kashmir day in and day out he was not being at all helpful. He persisted but without the special brand
of hysteria invented by Benazir Bhutto Zardari.
I might here say something about the quality of Pakistani diplomats.
They are a formidable group. Their best are as good as our best.
For some Pakistani diplomats the foreign service was both a cause
and a career. For a handful it was a crusade. A few, however,
gave the smell of being oversmart. It is no mean achievement to
keep alive the Kashmir question on the international agenda for
so long. Even greater is their achievement in maintaining excellent
relations with China and the US and at our expense. That too
when Americans were dead opposed to Mao's China from 1962 to 1971. The
Americans used Pakistan to first establish contact with China
in July 1971. The world was taken completely by surprise.
Men like Agha Shahi, Abdus Sattar, Agha Hillai combine subtlety with
sophistication with engaging ease. If ever the two countries achieve
common foreign policy objectives, a combined Indo-Pak diplomatic
team would be difficult to match.
Zia spread his India net wide. He made it a point to cultivate
the Sikhs in particular. Each year large Sikh jathas visited Nankana
Sahib and Panja Sahib. Zia made certain that
they were not only well looked after, but also ensured that their
leaders met him. I informed the Pakistani foreign office that
unlike the past I would accompany the Sikh leaders when the president
In 1981, the MEA official attached to the jathas
was Lakshmi Puri, the under secretary in charge of Pakistan. She
had had a pretty thin time during Narasimha Rao's visit earlier
in the year. Since Rao had not protested, I as an ambassador could
then do nothing to get her a fair deal. This time I was determined
to establish that an Indian lady diplomat was not subject to antediluvian
Pakistani laws regarding the place of women in society.
it conveyed to the foreign office that Lakshmi Puri was an officer
of the IFS and was in Pakistan on official duty. She would accompany
the jatha leaders when they met the president. The answer was,
no, this cannot be done. I decided to ignore this preposterous
foreign office diktat. I took Lakshmi Puri in my flag car to the
president's house. Zia greeted the Sikh leaders, gave
me a lukewarm handshake and all but ignored Lakshmi Puri. He handled
the situation with exceptional delicacy. The man could think on
his feet and think fast.
As we sat down on his spacious and well-manicured lawn, I saw
his ADC whispering to Lakshmi. For a moment I thought she was
being asked to leave. I decided that I would leave
with her. Zia also acted instantly. Begum Zia appeared, and Mrs
Puri was taken to her. A table was laid and tea for two was served.
They were no more than thirty yards from where we were. It was
quite an act. Here was an IFS under secretary having tea with
the numero uno lady of Pakistan! I thought the president and I
both emerged quits. I had made my point. He his. Lakshmi Puri
received star treatment.
A few weeks later the president retaliated. I was denied permission
to see Khan Wali Khan at his home in Charsada. I
informed the BBC representative about the Pakistanis restricting my movements.
The whole world got to know. We got much mileage out of this decision.
Zia grew in his job by the day. He was a far more successful and skillful diplomat than any of his predecessors. He never talked
of a thousand-year-war with India, avoided confrontation, made
all the right noises in the presence of Indians. He pursued a
policy, the aim of which was to reduce the level of hostility
with India. At the same time he did not evolve any framework of
a positive, self-sustaining process for maintaining good neighborly
relations with India. He used religion, Kashmir and India's defence
budget to tarnish our image.
He respected and feared Indira Gandhi. As a military man he knew
only too well that a post-1971 Pakistan was no match for India.
He never made snide remarks about her person. That was left to
the Urdu print media.
Excerpted from Profiles & Letters by K Natwar Singh, Sterling Publishers, 1997, Rs 350, with the publisher's permission. Readers who wish to buy a copy of this book may e-mail the publishers at email@example.com
'What does Pakistan have about which India should be making such a noise?'
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