As India and Pakistan lock themselves up in intransigent and ominous positions regarding Kashmir, and the world watches in dismay, it is clear that the gloves of diplomacy have come off for a loud conversation in the blunt language of war.
A Pakistani official visiting Washington this week made it plain that Pakistan would like to force the agenda of addressing the fate of Kashmir as a "substantive and core issue" in Pakistani-Indian relations -- something he charged that India had rolled back from a commitment to do. "Let's talk about talks," said Shahid Hamid, the governor of the Pakistani province of Punjab, in a session Tuesday with Washington Post reporters and editors. Hamid claimed that India had failed to live up to what it committed to in February when it signed the Lahore Declaration, which pledged to boost ties between the countries. As a result, he said, "if there is going to be any give, there has to be some outside pressure."
Pakistani Ambassador Riaz Khokhar accused India of quietly "nibbling and gobbling" along their border since 1972. "It is just that they have been surprised by the mujaheddin this time," he said, referring to the ground captured this spring by Muslim rebels on the Indian side of the Line of Control at Kargil.
Since last month, air and artillery attacks have been a daily event. "If the Indians want to make a fight of this, the onus is on them," Hamid said. "We are not going to be weak-kneed. If they escalate, we are fully capable of defending ourselves. We know what they are capable of and how to respond."
"The fact of the matter is that India is the larger country. You don't want to be in a fight with the neighborhood bully. We are not going to get into a fight with them, but we are not going to be bullied by them," Hamid vowed.
Khokhar said, however, that there is no reason for the conflict to escalate into a nuclear confrontation. "It is a containable thing, and avoidable. There is [room] for dialogue, and so far India has been shunning that," the ambassador continued.
Keep your heads down, everyone.
Small is Beautiful
So, is diplomacy dead? Jon Baldvin Hannibalsson, the ambassador of Iceland, said in a lecture at Howard University Wednesday evening that he never read reports from Icelandic diplomats in Nordic nations when he was his country's finance minister and then minister of foreign affairs and trade. "If I had a problem with one of those countries, I phoned one of my [foreign] colleagues," said the ambassador. "If I wanted to know something specific about one of these countries, I read their press."
However, when he spent four years negotiating with the European Union on behalf of Nordic countries, Austria and Switzerland for the European Free Trade Association, he "discovered that diplomats were useful after all."
"My team of 10 negotiated with 2,000 European Union bureaucrats. We were much quicker to make decisions because we were fewer. Small is beautiful -- as you will learn later in life," he told the 1999 Ronald H. Brown Foundation Fellows at a commercial diplomacy seminar.
Hannibalsson was once quoted as saying: "In today's global economy, the old rules are gone. The new rules are free trade, free movement -- economic anarchy. . . . If you don't comply, you're not even invited to the party." Instead of the Wall, there now is the Web, and the demarcation lines are between those who know and those who don't, he added.
Hannibalsson said his ancestors reached out beyond the confines of Iceland 1,000 years ago by reaching North American shores. "I know you were taught that Columbus came here first. That is totally wrong," he said, noting that one of his missions here is to correct this historical inaccuracy. There are landmarks of the first Icelandic expedition to North America on Baffin Island and in Quebec, among other places.
The most noted traveler of old, however, was a lady by the name of Gudridur Thorbjarnardottir, Hannibalsson said. Her first husband was Leif Ericson, or Leif the Lucky, who drowned trying to reach America. She married three men (this was back in the 11th century) and she insisted that they be explorers. She co-led the third expedition to America, eventually becoming the most widely traveled lady in medieval history, according to Hannibalsson. She became the first white woman to reside for a while in Manhattan. Her travels are chronicled in Icelandic sagas: The Saga of the Greenlanders and the Saga of Eric the Red, father of Leif the Lucky.
An Appeal From Haiti
A group of Haitian businessmen visiting Washington and led by Lionel Delatour has been urging U.S. decision makers not to let Haiti fall off the foreign policy map, arguing that unrest would lead to another round of boat people fleeing toward Miami. The businessmen insisted that the 500 American troops stationed in Haiti remain there beyond their scheduled withdrawal at the end of the year.