From The Hindu (5 February 2001):
"'Earthquake diplomacy' has a precedent"
By K.K. Katyal
NEW DELHI, FEB. 4. During a week-long stay in Athens around the middle of last month, the words "earthquake diplomacy" figured more than once in my discussions on a major issue there, Greece's relations with Turkey.
This was a reference to the accelerated moves for rapprochement between the two countries in the midst of outpourings of sympathy and support in Greece for the victims of an earthquake in Turkey in September 1999. Little did I realise that, soon after my return, I would find these words, or something like that, in use here--in the context of India-Pakistan relations in the wake of the Gujarat calamity. The result of a cruel stroke.
The question, often asked is whether, in the present chastened mood, New Delhi and Islamabad would tone down their animosities and persuade themselves to begin talking about their differences and resume the dialogue.
Those attempting a reply could not shed much light: instead, at times some heat was generated. However, a promising turn is discernible after initial hiccups.
Whatever else may or may not emerge out of it, the stalled SAARC summit is certain to be revived.
Even before the Gujarat catastrophe, New Delhi had veered round to the view that its opposition to the meeting of the heads had served the purpose and continuation of this policy would be counter-productive.
Now that the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, and Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, had had a telephonic talk and Pakistan sent relief material for the quake victims, which was gratefully accepted, the rationale of New Delhi's stand against the holding of the summit, because it would mean the presence of an army dictator responsible for dismissal of the democratic government, did not make sense.
The earlier context changed now. Also, one could safely count on yet another extension of the ceasefire, due to expire on February 25. It may be premature to talk of other gains but reduction in the level of militancy and the pruning of security forces in the State by India could open up new beneficial possibilities.
The earthquake diplomacy reached this point, after following a zig-zag course and experiencing the resultant jolts. Gen. Musharraf rushed into announcing India's "rejection" of Pakistan's help, though all that New Delhi said was that it would inform Islamabad of its precise requirements. Fortunately, the misunderstanding was removed, thanks to timely exchanges at the diplomatic level.
Earlier, the two sides appeared to take a dim view of the chances of new initiatives, as a result of the contacts in the wake of the Gujarat tragedy. Two cases would bear it out.
At the recent meeting of the International Press Institute, the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, was asked by a foreign journalist whether the South Asian region would witness a parallel of the Greek-Turkey post-earthquake diplomatic moves.
The Minister was cautious, saying experience in one area could not be transferred horizontally to another, and that rapprochement model may not be applicable here. India-Pakistan contacts had been on, he said, citing the exchange of the lists of nuclear facilities in their respective territories on January 1 (in pursuance of an agreement signed over a decade ago).
Whether Islamabad would put an end to its compulsive hostility was the core point, according to him.
In a CNN discussion, a London-based Pakistani journalist of the Jang made light of the conclusion of his Indian partner that the sharing of the grief and the despatch of relief supplies by Islamabad could lead to substantive bilateral moves.
He made a distinction between sympathy for disaster victims (Indians would have helped, had, God forbid, something happened in Pakistan) and new political-level beginning. He ascribed his cynicism to deep animosity between Hindus and Muslims--when told this was not the case in secular India, he amended his formulation with a reference to animosities between Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan.
He was not hopeful of resumption of the dialogue, saying the Indian Government would now cite its preoccupation with the aftermath of the earthquake to delay the process.
Even in Athens, opinions differed on the significance of the sympathy factor for the bilateral dialogue. According to Foreign Ministry officials, the conciliation bid had begun months before the disaster.
In the Federation of Greek Industries, the perspective was more positive--"Because of unfortunate circumstances, our ties with Turkey were strained. But after the earthquake, the people went ahead of politicians and offered help and sympathy." "Political limitations," it was pointed out, were major obstacles.
But the rapprochement, "initiated recently brings about a new era of commercial and economic relations. And once economic collaboration begins, political cooperation will follow."