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Thursday, 3 October 2013

Nawaz Sharif’s ‘Yo Blair’ moment

By Vikram Sood on October 1, 2013

Nawaz Sharif’s ‘Yo Blair’ moment

This was Nawaz Sharif’s Yo Blair moment. It was at the St Petersburg G8 Summit in 2006 when a microphone picked up George Bush beckoning Tony Blair, and which was later converted to mean Yeah Blair. Except that in Nawaz Sharif’s case it was not an inadvertent comment that a microphone picked up but a deliberate disclosure post event. The difference being that this was not live but reported after the event by one of Pakistan’s most well-known journalists.

Hamid Mir in his interview on Geo TV on Saturday night (September 28) following his breakfast meeting with Nawaz Sharif quite unequivocally and with considerable authority said that the Pakistani Prime Minister, in an off-the-record comment, had said that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s complaints to Barack Obama were like those of a “dehati aurat”.

Hamid Mir went on to embellish this disclosure by analysing the prospects of the Prime Ministers’ meeting. He said that Nawaz Sharif was not very hopeful about the outcome of talks and he did not expect any breakthrough as the Indian Prime Minister was considerably weakened. It seemed that Nawaz Sharif would await the outcome of Indian elections before having serious negotiations with India.

No meeting between heads of Government of India and Pakistan is complete without high drama. These occasions are like any sub-continental wedding which is never complete without the usual tamasha where some aged aunt or uncle has to sulk. In this case Nawaz Sharif was sulking and Hamid Mir provided the band, baja and barat. This one was no different and the usual convoluted cover-up spin and gloss has followed, although with delay. By itself, the expression ‘village woman’ may not be derogatory but the context is relevant and if spoken in chaste Punjabi could be quite expressive. It is the sort of joke that only the narrator finds funny.

The Hamid Mir disclosure and subsequent commentary one saw on Twitter was a kind of a guerrilla psywar operation. The sort of comment that says it is off the record but is brought on record, discussed extensively with some amount of ill-concealed glee and then withdrawn. The message has been delivered, an embarrassment created. The tactic reminded one of the TV conference by subterfuge that Pervez Musharraf had organised at his breakfast meeting in 2001 in Agra where a number of our newspaper mighties were present. Some were caught on camera applauding Musharraf after he had delivered a scathing diatribe against India.

One thing is certain though. Hamid Mir did not concoct this out of thin air and there was that a time lag before damage control was sought to be rolled in. A senior journalist of the reputation of Hamid Mir would not disclose this unless this had actually happened and perhaps even had some clearance from somewhere, not necessarily from Nawaz Sharif himself.

Obviously, Nawaz Sharif did make this comment in some form or the other as he was conceivably upset with the discussions Manmohan Singh had with Barack Obama and the significant declaration about an India-US strategic and global partnership at the end of the talks. His own rant to the UN General Assembly notwithstanding, it must have hurt Nawaz Sharif’s ego when the Indian Prime Minister announced in advance that he did not expect much from his talks. Then, somewhat uncharacteristically, Manmohan Singh proceeded to name Pakistan as the epicentre of terrorism in his UN General Assembly speech.

This would certainly have not gone down well in Rawalpindi or in the various jihadi centres of Pakistan which function like retail chain stores. Nawaz Sharif had to play to the two important lobbies at home, the Army which is sufficiently Right wing and the jihadis who are extremely Right wing and anti-Indian, and his outburst against India comes to him easily as he himself is inclined towards the Islamic Right wing.

The issue then is that possibly an exasperated, frustrated, Nawaz Sharif stifled by an ever-watchful Army, may have had an impetuous outburst. Pakistani journalists, if they were interested in ensuring that this disclosure could remotely jeopardise the meeting, would have kept quiet. The outburst may have been involuntary but the disclosure was deliberate and intentional.

(Vikram Sood is former head of Research and Analysis Wing.)


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