WHILE the visit lasted barely a day and a half, the ‘analysis’ generated by Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s decision to attend the Shanghai Conference Organisation’s Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Goa will outlast any reasonable time frame.
You will have noticed the word ‘analysis’ was used in quotes above. One can be sure you have also figured out why. What we have a flood of is partisan comment and very little genuine analysis on what was always going to be a visit in pursuit of multilateral, rather than bilateral, goals, as the foreign minister himself stated.
This vitriol towards Pakistan and its foreign minister was unleashed by the right-wing Hindu nationalist government’s foreign minister Dr S. Jaishanker: “As a foreign minister of an SCO member state, Mr Bhutto -Zardari was treated accordingly. As a promoter, justifier and spokesperson of a terrorism industry which is the mainstay of Pakistan, his positions were called out and countered including at the SCO meeting itself.”
Mr Bhutto-Zardari may have calmly and firmly spelt out Pakistan’s stance on both India’s unilateral annexation of Indian-held Kashmir and how it was an obstacle to any bilateral dialogue and also rebutted New Delhi’s accusation of being a state sponsor of terrorism, but hyper-nationalists on the right in Pakistan attacked their own foreign minister rather than India.
What happens when Indians and Pakistanis meet unhindered by official positions and a media craving for controversies?
Senior PTI leader Dr Shireen Mazari tweeted thus: “This is the fascist, hate-filled India Bajwa & now PDM want Pakistan to appease? Unbelievable absurdity of Bajwa Plan now being carried out by PDM … So this is what FM rushed to Goa for? To let Pakistan be insulted not just from Indian media but also from his Indian counterpart at official briefing on SCO.”
By contrast, Myra MacDonald, Reuters’ former bureau chief in Delhi and an author of three books on the two countries including one on the Siachen dispute, saw the Jaishankar diatribe thus. “I am sympathetic to India’s complaints about terrorism emanating from Pakistan. And I am very dubious about CPEC. All that said, the choice of words here seems unnecessarily undiplomatic and focused on a domestic audience.
“There’s an element of being rude to a guest that India would not have done before. But it’s also striking that Jaishankar reserves his harshest language for Pakistan (the far weaker country) than for China (the far stronger country) nibbling away at its borders.
“All in all, it looks to me like a government that is letting its own nationalist domestic political imperatives get in the way of intelligent choices about foreign policy.” Her tweeted response was more aligned to independent thinking on the issue. This argument carried weight as Karnataka state elections are scheduled for next week and even national elections are due early next year.
However, the bulk of the Indian media reflected its own domestic political loyalties and priorities as well as regional and domestic polarisation, with many outlets and journalists shaming themselves in the process as they churned out partisan rubbish in the name of ‘informed analysis’.
Our own ultra-nationalists were not to be left behind. You have consumed enough of their garbage including objections to why the Pakistan foreign minister reciprocated his Indian counterpart’s greeting by holding both palms together with fingers pointed upwards because it was a ‘Hindu namaste’.
Of course, the peddlers of this nonsense have never travelled in Sindh, parts of Balochistan and further afield in Bangladesh and even Thailand just to cite a few examples of that gesture not being indicative of faith but more of a cultural tradition in each case. Russian as well as other SCO member states’ media had no such objection to their foreign ministers exchanging the same greeting, rather than a handshake, as they arrived for the formal sessions.
Let me now draw your attention to what happens when people (including Indians and Pakistanis) meet, unhindered by official positions and a media craving for controversies. Abrar is a Pakistan-born German national whose family lives in their Lahore home. Abrar does a travel vlog on social media and has over 1.2 million followers on YouTube alone.
I have watched his travels across Europe, the Middle East, West Asia and our own subcontinent. A truly soft-spoken, unpretentious, handsome young man in his 20s, with an endearing demeanour, he rides a BMW trail bike and films his travels with helmet-mounted/ hand-held professional cameras.
What is staggering is that within hours of his uploading the latest episode, views run into hundreds of thousands. His most recent series after ‘I somehow got lucky enough to be finally given an Indian visa’ is an eye-opener. Yes, an eye-opener because one seldom gets to see/read anywhere the sort of content Abrar presents through his ‘WildLens’ YouTube channel.
He has a huge fan following in India as well. This cuts across faiths, ethnicity, language and gender. His staggering visual accounts of his journey from the southern-most to western, central and north Indian states and most urban centres along his route hold you glued to the screen. He takes you to historic sites and shows you people in their own cultural environment as a good storyteller would.
He posts on social media more than once a day sometimes and also schedules ‘meet ups’ with followers along his route. The adulation he gets from young and old, men and women, girls and boys is a sight to behold. He can’t obviously carry a lot of luggage on his bike and gets overwhelmed by gifts.
While many insist on hosting him for a meal (he was treated to Sindhi biryani in Surat by a family originally belonging to Sindh), others show their affection by riding alongside on their own bikes or by waiting for and greeting him along his planned route that he posts.
I am almost tempted to suggest we should get Abrar (and a few more like him) drafted into the Foreign Office because he seems to be winning more Indian hearts and minds than anything else we seem to have tried.
email: email@example.comAbbas Nasir, "Biker takes India by storm," Dawn. 2023-05-07.
Keywords: Foreign relations , Foreign policy , Foreign debts , Foreign aid , Foreign exchange , Taliban-Afghanistan