Shooting the messenger

Shahzad Raza

IN the documented history, Greeks, Romans and other empires often beheaded the messengers who brought to them bad news. History is replete with the examples when letters from the enemy armies were replied through the heads of their emissaries. Those acts of barbarism have transformed into less lethal, yet highly tormenting tactics in the modern-day diplomacy. Take Pakistan and India for example.

They expel diplomats, keep them under strict watch, place restrictions on their movement, etc. In short, the diplomats in both countries seem to be living in big prisons following strict rules and regulations. The authorities always find new tactics to make their life miserable. That is not because some sleuth in Islamabad or New Delhi dislikes their faces or hate how they smell. It is a language the two countries prefer to communicate with each other. At times of bilateral tension, as it is nowadays, the language gets harsher.

Recently, videos and pictures went viral in Pakistan after its diplomats in New Delhi were harassed by the agencies. Videos showed riders stopping the embassy vehicles and refusing to let them commute. They took pictures of the commuters and their family members. This is not one of the cases, Pakistani diplomats are denied memberships of elite clubs in the Indian capital. Their meetings are also subject to strict scrutiny and prior permission.

Things are no different in Pakistan. Indian diplomats have been waiting to get their memberships renewed of an elite club. The Indian embassy has built a huge compound to move its business and residences there. For months, the Pakistani authorities have been refusing its request to give a gas connection.

While Pakistan’s foreign office complains against the Indian misbehaviour, the Indian embassy in Islamabad blames the Pakistani authorities of ill-treatment. However, life goes on.

The diplomats learn the art of survival in the hostile territories, so as their families. Once Riaz Khokhar was Pakistan’s High Commissioner to New Delhi and had a very strong stance against India. Regardless of his husband views, the wife had her own way of dealing things. She found a unique way of using the sleuths who used to follow her. After shopping, she often asked them to carry her bags to the car. That’s a cute example how despite of state-level animosities the personal human relations work.

Once an Indian diplomat came to see this scribe. The sleuths could not follow and lost him in the traffic. He received a phone call from one of them, requesting him to share his location. To my surprise, the diplomat revealed that he had shared his personal number with the sleuths. “After all they have a job to do. I have nothing to hide. So I told them to contact me in case they lose me. Sometimes, I love to drive fast,” he said, jokingly.

In 2016, India declared Pakistan a non-school going station. The Indian diplomats sent their school-going children either back to India or to some other countries. That’s a fact that even during worst times the two countries never stooped to the level of harassing the school-going children. India cited security reasons for that decision.

The diplomats either in Islamabad or New Delhi follow the policy and leads from their respective capitals. They work under tough situations. Whichever rabbit the leaders of the two countries plan to pull out of their hats to normalise the relations, the first step is to keep the diplomats at ease. 

Forget about trade, opening more holy sites or other so-called low-hanging fruits. The two countries should start from providing maximum possible leverage to each other's diplomats. Both the neighbours just try not to shoot the messenger anymore in anyway. 

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