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Mistelling The Story

Why a book on India is seen to be unbuyable in Islamabad.

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Updated: April 30, 2016 12:01:25 am
India Pakistan, Institute of Regional Studies, IRS Islamabad, Indian Grand Strategy book, Arif Ayub, India pakistan relation, India news The IRS’s current president is Arif Ayub. He admitted, ‘We had barely sold 30 copies, out of which the ISI had purchased 10′, in the funny speech he made launching a book that doesn’t even have a printline.

Last year, the Institute of Regional Studies (IRS) in Islamabad published a tract — Indian Grand Strategy: Machiavellian or Kautilyan? — and tried to sell it. The IRS’s current president is Pakistan’s ex-ambassador to Afghanistan, Arif Ayub, blessed with a sense of humour. He admitted, “We had barely sold 30 copies, out of which the ISI had purchased 10 (which does not count), so in fact we sold 20,” in the funny speech he made launching a book that doesn’t even have a printline.

As Ayub tells it, “Luckily, India’s [then] High Commissioner T.C.A. Raghavan invited us for his Diwali party, at which I thought the South Asian experts would be present and would purchase the book. However, the majority of people I approached expressed their inability to understand the title of the book, so the question of buying it did not arise.”

It was hilarious. How could the IRS sell its unbuyable book against India’s Machiavellian-Kautilyan rascalities at a reception thrown by India’s high commissioner in Islamabad? And how could canny Raghavan allow this funny salesmanship? The publication contains the following truthful note by him on the back of its title page: “This is the worst book I have ever read. Please do not buy it as it is not worth the paper it is printed on.” Ayub has also printed his reaction: “If Raghavan is so piqued by the book there must be something in it and it should be compulsory reading for the 200 million Pakistanis.”

Ayub wanted to force 200 million Pakistanis to read a badly edited book that sold only 20 copies! Raghavan was a perceptive realist and didn’t baulk at the critical comment of some Indian men of opinion that Pakistanis love to quote: “If I were to receive from a colleague an analysis of Pakistan relying on what Khaled Ahmed or Pervez Hoodbhoy wrote, I would take him to task for being lazy. To any analysis of India which relies on A.G. Noorani or [late] Praful Bidwai, I think we should apply the same criteria. These are great and celebrated Indian dissidents in India and we have a great deal of pride in them, but dissidents have their value only within their specific contexts.”

He then took in some more internationally acclaimed Paki-bashing writers: “If I were to cut and paste only from Husain Haqqani, Lisa Curtis and Christophe Jaffrelot, I may as well pack my bags and go home because in the end you will realise the policy prescription which one can derive from those analyses is very limited.”

Reading the book, however, I came across remarks of three former Pakistani high commissioners to India: Riaz Khokhar (1992-97), Ashraf Jehangir Qazi (1997-2002) and Aziz Ahmed Khan (2003-06). Khokhar gave this advice: “There is a need for us to put a dampener on our pro-activity about Kashmir, because our moment of action would inevitably come at some point in time. We should maintain our cool in the present crisis as the basis of reciprocity. We should not activate the LoC and should restrict our rhetoric internally.”

Qazi’s observation, too, is noteworthy: “We need to resolve the relatively easily resolvable disputes with India and move towards normal trading relations… for the economic prosperity of our country… Pakistan’s response will have to be much more calculated than it has been in the past. For instance, Kargil was an example of state failure. Some of Pakistan’s unilateral approaches vis-a-vis IHK (Indian-held Kashmir) in the past have alienated some Kashmiri leaders. Therefore, we need to coordinate our Kashmir policy not only within Pakistan but also with the Kashmiri leaders of all hues in IHK like the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference.”

Khan said: “Far from being a foolish person, Prime Minister Modi… is a very accomplished politician and administrator. He places a lot of emphasis on efficiency of bureaucracy. When he was chief minister… he used to rely more on a coterie of efficient bureaucrats rather than his ministers. We should focus inwards. Modi was a dynamic fellow in Gujarat… Pakistan needs to respond to Indian requests about progress on the trials of the Mumbai accused. Pakistan will have to take stronger action against the likes of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and Hafiz Saeed.”

So, Pakistan’s high commissioners have not been as “hawkish” as they have been perceived to be by people like me.

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

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