“Katti-Batti” on the treadmill!

In the innocuous lexicon of innocent children in Hindi, Katti means “We are not friends” and Batti means the opposite. I see my eight year old daughter declaring Katti and soon Batti within a few minutes to her friends and they to her, many times over in an hour and this happens every other day. As I watch the Indo-Pak relations over the years I wonder if the two neighbours have taken a leaf from children and invented a new type of diplomacy called “Katti-Batti” diplomacy and gained mastery over it.

Indo Pak,wwwpakistantodaycom

For so many years or rather decades, the happenings between India and Pakistan have fallen into a pattern. Some ceasefire violation or terrorist activity from across the border happens in India. India announces cancellation of talks or any peace initiatives. In effect declare Katti! Then in a few months the top leaders from the 2 nations meet in the sidelines of a multi-lateral summit, talk for a few minutes, pose smilingly for a photo –op, release a joint declaration of resumption of a dialogue process – in short declare Batti!

Then the cycle repeats. As it has been for decades. The result is we never seem to have a normalized relationship with Pakistan even after so many years, changes in the theatre and the lead actors in the 2 countries notwithstanding.  I am no foreign affairs expert and diplomacy isn’t everybody’s cup of chai including mine. But a cursory read of the history of relations between the two countries is enough to conclude that at the end of the day “Playing safe” rides upper most in the minds of all the stake holders involved in the discussions. As a natural progression maintaining “Status quo” emerges the safe option for both sides. This results in the Indo-Pak relations being on an eternal “tread mill” as one of the saner voices from PakistanHussain Haqqani (Ex Pakistan Ambassador to the US) puts it aptly!!!

And the other interesting aspect in the dialogue process what I have noticed is that what is discussed among the top leaders is secondary and what is more pertinent is what is dished out as the “Joint declaration”. Whether it is Shimla, Lahore, Ufa or the infamous Agra Summit more time seems to have been spent on drafting the declaration than on the talks themselves!!! And a summit is declared a success if a mutually acceptable declaration is conjured up at the end and a failure if it’s not. The Indian side is happy if the word “terrorism” appears and Pakistan side if the word “Kashmir” is part of the joint declaration. All the other aspects of the joint declaration like Trade relations, people to people contact,.. are subjects of routine.

With the kind of history attached to the Indo-Pak relations, I do feel that the politicians, diplomats and other stake holders are stuck in a time warp and hence a veritable solution is difficult to emerge. Unless the baggage of the past are left behind. And one of the most important baggage they carry for any out of box solution is if that will be acceptable to the people back home.  Has the time come to question some of the stated positions and look for alternatives?

  • Like having an uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue with Pakistan. So no Katti even if there is a provocation. Instead of saying “No more talks”, why not “We Talk more” and “Talk louder” if there is one? An uninterrupted dialogue gives an opportunity to review progress made in the previous talk. On the other hand, an interrupted dialogue gives only an opportunity for an excuse for not making progress in the guise of starting afresh.
  • Like we change our stance on 3rd party mediation. All along, we have maintained that Kashmir is an internal issue and there is no place for 3rd party mediation. When we are unable to find an acceptable solution among our own people regarding Kashmir and Pakistan for 50 odd years, will not a 3rd party help in getting a different perspective and solution which can be sold to the domestic constituency as well?
  • Like we go to the public and ask what they actually want through a referendum. In India we keep saying that through the elections which are part of a democratic process we take people’s opinion and hence no referendum is required. At the same time, we see that there is a public boycott in many parts of Kashmir (though the participation is increasing with every election). Why not call the bluff of the separatists by conducting a pointed referendum in both sides of Kashmir and go by the outcome. Times are changing and as we saw in the case of Scotland the cry for an Independent Scotland eventually met with a “No” in the referendum.
  • Like we ignore Pakistan and focus on our domestic economy and improving relations with other neighbours. No Katti and No Batti. Imagine what would have happened if at Ufa, our PM just said a “Hi” to Nawaz Sharif and moved on. Ignoring Pakistan while making our economy growing will be the ultimate signal to Pakistan that India has moved on and has got more important things in the plate. Ofcourse we have to be prepared to safeguard ourselves from more ceasefire violations and terrorist attacks. I thought that after breaking the ice with Pakistan by inviting Nawaz Sharif for the oath taking, our PM Modi was following this “Ignore Pakistan” route. While at the same time improving relations with all other neighbouring nations. So in that sense our move in Ufa which signaled our return to Katti-Batti diplomacy was a surprise to me.

I’m not saying that these are “the” only formulations. There could be many more. The essence of my submission is that the time has come for a change in approach from all sides. The sooner the better.

Managing relationships between neighbouring countries which have been to war a few times ofcourse is not a simple subject. (Even Bollywood thinks so – #Bajrangi Bhaijaan)Ergo, cracking a solution to the long and vexed problems may not be as simplistic as we think. But then following a staid pattern of “On-off” engagement only means we will only continue to add to the “declarations” we have among our two countries. Ruling parties may change, the leaders may change but ironically our countries may not outgrow the Katti-Batti syndrome. I am certain though my daughter in a couple of years will.

Postscript: In the meanwhile our Bhai Salman Khan has helped a Pakistani girl to return to her homeland Pakistan against all odds in Bajrangi Bhaijaan and declared Bhatti. Now awaiting Sunny Deol Paaji to announce a loud Katti and resurrect his sagging career!!

Indo Pak 2 Neelabhtoons ibnlive

Toon Courtesy: ibnlive.com, Pic Courtesy:pakistantoday.com

“Cut” Uttarakhand, “Paste” Jammu & Kashmir!!!

In my 1st post this year (Read here), one among my wish list was to have a “Natural calamity free 2014”. But that is not to be. As I write this piece, most of Jammu & Kashmir is under a deluge. The fury of the rains has ceased but not before leaving a trail of destruction. The armed forces are pulling all stops in an attempt to rescue even the last human standing. The authorities are yet to ascertain the exact number of people who have been affected.  For most of us in India what is panning out is a very familiar sequence of events.  Just that it was Uttarakhand last year, Andhra couple of years ago, Kosi floods in Bihar few years back and Jammu and Kashmir this year.

With so much money spent on Science and Technology and regular chest thumping announcements of firing rockets and satellites into space we still don’t have a reasonably sound weather forecasting system in place. Most of the satellites we put in the orbit are meant for peaceful purposes including that of capturing imagery which will help in predicting changes in weather patterns,.. But year after year (exceptions like Cyclone Phalin apart) we have never been able to comprehend the scale of Nature’s fury with any reasonable amount of accuracy.  Pardon me for my ignorance if indeed we knew in advance of these floods in which case it is far more worrisome – that we knew what was coming and still we didn’t take adequate precautions.

As cynical as it may sound, in India our approach and response to natural disasters follow a very set pattern. Once a calamity strikes we seem to have a ‘Standard Operating procedure’ the main problem with it being so “Standard” that it can be summarized as “Chaotic”.  I had written about this last year as well. Read here.

First will be the local administration’s efforts to do some rescue without realizing if they have the capability and resources to do it. Followed by the Chief Minister’s visit to the affected areas and then appeal for support from the Central Government. Then the Centre pitches with its support which includes calling the Armed forces to get into rescue. This is followed by normally an “Aerial survey” by the Prime Minister and then announcement of Aid amounts to people who lost their lives,.. As the fury unfolds, media circus under the guise of informing the public gets into a “Coverage rat race” the underlying objective being “TRP rat race”!!! Then there is the blame game between Centre and State if they are from different parties. Then follow the “Photo ops” by politicians and PR plugs on their efforts.  And these days you have the social media “forwards” which add to the frenzy.

Jammu-Kashmir-floods-Rajnath-Singh-makes-fresh-look-2

In all this few questions arise:

  1. For a country like India which has seen so many natural disasters year after year predictably in the same time periods, is it difficult to predict a pattern in Nature’s fury? In the so many crores of money we spend on Science and Technology, Research,.. can we not allocate few crores to “outcome” based projects for example better methods of weather forecasting? If we are already doing it, the concern is on the effectiveness of these spends.
  2. Once the calamity strikes can we not have a method to the madness? Instead of first the Municipality trying to do some relief and then the State trying to pitch in and then finally getting the army to assist,.. can we not have a central nodal agency take over rescue and relief operation irrespective of the scale? Not that we don’t have nodal agencies. There is one called National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) with the PM as its Chairman and till I last heard with a politician as the functional head!!! The Vision of this agency as per the website is a classic case of trying to do so many things and ending up doing nothing. Its vision says “To build a safer and disaster resilient India by a holistic, pro-active, technology driven and sustainable development strategy that involves all stakeholders and fosters a culture of prevention, preparedness and mitigation”.  With so many adjectives and jargons doting that long vision – it’s clear that some management consultant has made a killing in helping the agency draft that impressive vision statement! For instance do we know what role is this NDMA playing in the J&K situation?
  3. Can we not have one Co-ordinating agency on the ground? What is required is an agency which effectively becomes a single point co-ordinating agency in all the post calamity efforts – the 3 R’s. First the Rescue, then Relief and then finally Rehabilitation. Once this agency steps in, even the CM of the state must go thro this agency if he wants to pitch in with any relief effort. It is admirable to see civil society pitching in remarkably. From common public to NGOs there is assistance galore. But without a central co-ordinating agency the nature of assistance can turn chaotic as we saw last year in Uttarakhand and as we see now in Jammu and Kashmir.
  4. Can we not have a process by which anybody who wants to be part of the 3R’s as above must report to this central co-ordinating agency on the ground first? This agency then channelizes resources including men and material according to priority and gravity of the situation on the ground. Today we see many agencies doing their bit without any co-ordination among themselves resulting in a bit of chaos.
  5. Can we stop forgetting once the event is over? While the media goes over the top in coverage for a few days when the action is hot – it completely forgets to follow up after a few days except for revisiting for a day on the Anniversary of the event. After all that what happened in Uttarakhand last year, do we now know if the lessons have been learnt and sufficient precautions have been taken while reconstruction?? Can we say with confidence that come another flood, the scale of destruction will be much smaller?

I am not sure may be these are empty rants of an individual which may not be practical. But I am certain that for a country like India which generally thrives on chaos, it can do without that in the times of natural disasters atleast. As Nature “Cut” Uttarakhand and “Pasted” Jammu and Kashmir this year it could be another state next year. It will be good to see some lessons learnt and new initiatives taken under the task master Prime Minister.  I will then vouch for the arrival of “Ache Din”!!!

You could play a part in the R&R efforts in J&K. You could send in your donations if you wish to

  1. Prime Ministers Relief Fund – Visit here for Online donations.
  2. Uday Foundation – Link here.