Reciprocity: A Costly Omission
By Shireen M Mazari
What’s with the admirals of the Pakistan Navy? When Admiral Fasih Bokhari was Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), soon after Pakistan’s nuclear tests in May 1998, I was surprised to be asked to a meeting with him but was then horrified to find him questioning why I had supported Pakistan’s nuclear testing. He declared that Pakistan had made a big mistake at which point I asked him why as naval chief he had not given his view officially. Anyhow, it was not at all astonishing to find Admiral Bokhari, after retirement, declaring at an IISS meeting in the Gulf, that Quaid-i-Azam had made a mistake in seeking the creation of Pakistan. It appears Admiral Bokhari got away with a mild rebuke when his peculiar view became known to the military leadership.
Now we are seeing another CNS actually taking the Indian naval chief’s totally out-of-order outburst regarding Gwadar, seriously and actually offering dialogue to address Indian concerns. How absurd can we get! Have the Indians offered to dialogue on their agreement with the US to patrol the entire Indian Ocean region, thereby controlling all the choke points from the Red Sea to the Straits of Malacca? Have we dared to raise strategic concerns over the Indian navy’s rapid expansion or its acquisition of nuclear subs? Has the Indian government or its military ever offered dialogue to allay our fears regarding their activities in Afghanistan or Iran? So why should we feel the compulsion to explain the development of Gwadar — something which is our right as a sovereign state?
The problem is that we have discarded the valuable principle of reciprocity in our dealings with major players in the region, including India. In an earlier column I had already mentioned the disconnect between our declaratory policy on trade with India, and our shenanigans on the ground which were in total opposition to this policy. The result has been a one way financial and trade access to Indian business while our businessmen continue to suffer the consequences of the declaratory posturing.
But the malaise of non-reciprocity extends far beyond trade. Even in terms of diplomatic norms, we do not apply the reciprocity principle. Take the case of the visa regime with India, which in any case is becoming increasingly ridiculous and riddled with contradictions. The Indians require all Pakistanis to fill out foreign residence papers on arrival in India — as well as the usual arrival card which all foreigners fill out. We do not require a similar cumbersome exercise on the part of the Indians arriving in Pakistan. Nor has our High Commission in New Delhi suddenly turned away all visa seekers, demanding they type out their applications afresh! Again, while Indian business and academic elites manage to get visas in a day or so if recommended by official Pakistani sources, the same is not reciprocated by the Indian side.
Now I am all for improving relations and greater interaction with our Indian counterparts, but there has to be a reciprocal base for such interaction. What is happening now is that, thanks to our officialdom’s lackadaisical attitude, we are being short-shrifted by our Indian friends. Nor is it just the Indians. We have always been treated equally poorly by our so-called western allies. Look at the way in which the US and UK deal with Pakistani visitors. Be it Edhi or Pakistani politicians, they are all fair game for abuse by American and British immigration and security personnel. As for any admission of error or apology — what a laugh! But if we were to mete out similar treatment to a few Brits and Yanks at our airports, that is, if we could force ourselves into adopting the principle of reciprocity, we may alter some abusive behavior patterns on the part of our neo-imperialist “allies”.
Given our officialdom’s docile posturing before the West, it is no wonder then that the Brits can simply decide to move their visa office out of Pakistan, thereby making it even more difficult for Pakistanis to visit family and friends in Britain; while a British minister visits India to see how Britain can revise the visa regime to make it easier for Indians to visit their families and relatives in Britain. Yet has anyone heard even a whimper of protest from our foreign ministry or indeed our government?
Reciprocity in inter-state relations is essential because in an anarchic society that is what prevents abuse and maltreatment, and ensures somewhat of a level playing field in terms of interstate behavior and civilized norms of behavior towards one’s citizens from other states and nations. Look how the Indian state and civil society fell behind Harbhajan Singh in the cricket incident in Australia, which took the wind out of the Australian arrogance and un-sportsmanlike competitive culture. Yet we continue to pussyfoot around Australian highhandedness in the cricketing arena. Their latest threat of not playing in Pakistan because of security reasons is yet another ploy in harassing us into submitting to their diktat.
In reality, it is our cricketers who will be facing a major security threat if they travel to Australia, especially if they gain the upper hand. Look what happened to Murlitharan and his fellow Sri Lankan players the other day in Australia. All they did was walk back to their hotel after having dinner and in the process some Australians drove by and attacked them. Such is their hatred for Murli it appears — or such is their fear of his excellent bowling! While there may be no problem of terrorism per se in Australia, clearly there is a very real problem of terrorization by the ordinary Australian! Therefore, it is important for the PBC to stay its ground and assert the principle of reciprocity.
Indeed it is an irony that in a country where officialdom is dominated internally by the principle of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”, often the larger national perspective is lost or deliberately cast by the wayside; reciprocity is all but forgotten exactly where it is required to ensure a basic respect for one’s sovereignty by external players. Even more basic, if the state itself does not respect its citizens, how can it see the value of reciprocity for them from others? And this is a malaise that is rampant in the Muslim world which is why the war on terror has become a golden opportunity for the abuse of Muslims by all and sundry. Last week in India, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and other Muslim organizations protested against the central and state governments’ harassment of the Muslim community in the name of terrorism.
Finally, it seems maltreatment and terrorization of fellow humans is also not something that can be laid solely at the doorstep of the world’s Muslims, as the Western media and politicians would have us believe post-9/11. In India, last week, the press reported that a Dalit man was pushed into a kadhai by his employer because he was too unwell to work. Clearly, dehumanization is a central feature of all class ridden societies. Somewhere it is the caste system; in other places it is the race; in others it is religion and in worse case scenarios it is a combination of all three.
Life is certainly not fair but should one simply give up fighting for some minimal norms of civilized inter-state behavior? Has our state given up on this count, even as our civil society has reawakened to fight for its basic rights?
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)