Let me begin by stating my fervent hope that PM Modi visit will be a genuine breakthrough to peace between India and Pakistan. Like many others I want an end to a long conflict. We must find peaceful means to properly negotiate an end to this conflict.
Let me also state that I am out of my depth. I am a mere economist and cannot talk as eruditely on all subjects as many TV commentators. They have the gift and the education to talk on any and all subjects.
I only have questions on the professionalism of Pakistan (Foreign office, PM office etc) in handling this affair and nothing on the foreign policy aspect of this profound visit. I hope that our polymath commentators will enlighten us all on the visit and address some of m questions.
Question 1: Assume Putin was in the air, and called up Obama to say that I would like to drop in to meet your family. What is the likelihood this meeting would happen?
Question 2: Obama says “Great Idea! I am sitting in my house in Chicago and it is Sasha’s birthday! Do come join the celebrations! Is this possible?
Question 3: Obama says we don’t need the Secretary of State, the National Security Advisor or any of the officials whose brief is dealing with Russia. Could this happen?
Question 4: Since the Treaty of Westphalia, international relations are relations between states and not sovereigns. Kings alone don’t determine relations. These relations are a matter of serious and expert negotiations on which leaders sign. Summits for such signing are set up through careful process. Would Obama-Putin meeting not happen as part of that process?
Question 5: Would Obama not say to Putin I will fly to DC gather my team and we meet at the white house? It will be a matter of hours to make this happen—probably no more than the time it would take Putin to land. Which option would Obama take?
Question6: How important is symbolism in international relations? Could the PM not get to the PM house in an hour and hold the meeting there with all the team? I think PM Modi could not have taken less than an hour to get to Lahore.
Question 7: How appropriate was it to hold the meeting in the personal home of the PM? Could it not have been held in the Governor House or the State Guest? Would that not be the most appropriate venue to give it a semblance of interstate relationship?
Question 8: Would Obama even agree to meet Putin without adequate preparation? Do heads of state of nations involved in longstanding conflicts ever meet to sort out issues without adequate spadework? Do they meet like old family friends? Should they?
Question 9: If this was a Kissinger moment where important breakthroughs were secretly planned and PM Modi’s visit was orchestrated, why was it conducted in non-professional personal fashion of visitor to a personal house with no agenda? If this impression is wrong, perhaps the foreign office can now correct it? If indeed it was orchestrated and planned, why not at the PM house? Why not with the full team? What was the agenda? What was the discussion? What did we gain from making it a private visit of along lost cousin?
Question 10: Has this ever happened anywhere? Has any leader just dropped in to private house of another leader on the wedding celebration unannounced? Has the recipient state allowed that to remain a private event or converted it into a state-to-state event?
Question 11: Most commentators have shown considerable joy at this event marking it as an advent of a new ear of peace. Is this likely? Is PM Modi who rebuffed PM Sharif’s overtures at least 3 times now a changed man? Why?
Question 12: Most commentators feel that peace would be at hand except for the opposition of the establishment (euphemism for army)? Could Modi have come to Pakistan without the army consent?
Question 13: Am I the only one who feels that our commentators blame the army far more than necessary? Is there any country where the army is totally docile? Has Obama not been checked by the army on Guantanamo or even in Iraq and Afghanistan? Yet US columnists are not writing column after column against the ‘establishment’ or the ‘boys.’ Why are our Islamabad based columnists so anti-establishment (read army)?
Question 14: Who gains from this meeting? Modi had a grand diplomatic moment, came to the private ceremony of the PM to his private house? Symbolically, he made the grand gesture—showed himself as a statesman. Is the onus now on us? For what? Will we measure up? Or were we set up?
I ask these questions in all seriousness. I do think we need a national debate on such an important event. I for one worry about the personalization of policy in Pakistan and have written about it often.
Received wisdom seems to be that state policy follows due process and adequate deliberations in various parts of the government to culminate in the parliament or the cabinet for decisions and action. This system known as a democratic modern state was set up to put policy beyond the reach of any individual be it a king or a PM. Should any leader be allowed to bypass state process into a family affair?