The Circle of Life

On July 2, 1999, at the height of the Kargil War, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif telephoned President Bill Clinton and asked for his personal intervention. Clinton was very clear on his message; Pakistan had to withdraw unconditionally and United States would not reward Pakistan for the violation of the Line of Control. On July 3rd, Sharif called Clinton again with a message: though not invited he was leaving for Washington D.C. immediately. Clinton remarked, “This guy’s coming literally on a wing and a prayer.”[1]

In 1999, Nawaz Sharif cut a sorry figure. He was like the resident of Tokyo trapped in front of Godzilla, but indecisive. Prince Bandar bin Sultan who picked Sharif at Washington airport told the Americans that Sharif was in mental pain about the crisis and scared about the reaction from the Pakistani Army, especially Musharraf.

There could be one explanation that this was an isolated incident. But in fact, always fearful and manipulated by Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz and Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad, Sharif was like like Rajesh Kuthrapalli on The Big Bang Theory. In 1998, Strobe Talbott, Bruce Riedel, Tom Simmons and Gen. Anthony Zinni met Nawaz Sharif to dissuade him from conducting a tit-for-tat nuclear test and Sharif, “seemed nearly paralysed with exhaustion, anguish and fear.”[1]

While many join Toastmasters to boost their confidence, conquer their fears and express ideas, nothing can match the fear of death and an exile in Saudi Arabia. On the day Yousaf Raza Gillani was sworn in as the Prime Minister, two American diplomats visited Pakistan and they saw Nawaz Sharif in a completely new avatar.

The leader of the second biggest party in the new Parliament, Nawaz Sharif, said after meeting the two American diplomats that it was unacceptable that Pakistan had become a “killing field.”“If America wants tosee itself clean of terrorists, we also want that our villages and towns should not be bombed,” he said at a news conference here. Mr. Sharif, a former prime minister, added he was unable to give Mr. Negroponte “a commitment” on fighting terrorism. The statements by Mr. Sharif, and the cool body language in the televised portions of his encounter with Mr. Negroponte, were just part of the sea change in Pakistan’s domestic politics that is likely to impose new limits on how Washington fights militants within Pakistan’s borders. [New Pakistani Leaders Tell Americans There’s ‘a New Sheriff in Town’]

The 16th century Malayalam poet Poonthanam wrote in Jnanappana, a treasury of transcendental knowledge, “In a day or two, it is He, who makes them ride on the royal chair.” Poonthanam was writing, of course, about the lilas of Guruvayoorappan, but impermanence as elucidated by ancient bhakti poets seem to predict the affairs in our neighboring country quite accurately.

Poonthanam also wrote, “People who is seen by all; you are the one who makes them disappear. On the shoulder of the king; you are He, who places a tattered heap.” If only President Musharraf could read Malayalam.

1. Strobe Talbott, Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, And the Bomb: Revised Edition, (Brookings Institution Press, 2006).

3 thoughts on “The Circle of Life

  1. JK:
    A great post, not only for it’s contents but the style. Honestly, you’re wasting away your life as a software engineer. You should give it up and become a full-time historian.

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