Paying King Neptune to Cross the Equinox
Those of you familiar with the oceans would know that the Equator sometimes called as Equinox is an imaginary dividing line between the northern and the southern hemispheres and has fascinated seamen for centuries resulting in a vast body of sea legends .As the ancient belief goes on either side of the Equator, oceans flow in opposite directions and moon tips over. But more interesting and widely known is a mythical tradition observed by sailors since the Middle Ages and even today by some. That is, while crossing the Equator for the first time raw seamen are required to pay to King Neptune to be permitted to cross the Equinox and be considered fit to endure hardships at sea. On board the seaman is tried by the King on trumped up charges of every conceivable description under the sun and declared guilty despite his pleadings of innocence. Thereafter the verdict is executed which includes being soiled in foul ship swill, vigorous spanking and lowering into the sea for a good dip and the like.
Allowing poor sailors to cross the Equator after exacting a levy is a royal prerogative of King Neptune. He and his more worldly imperial kinsmen have quite a few other privileges too. Julius Caeser was a powerful man and there remained a mere stream known as Rubicon between him and Rome before his rise to absolute power. He hesitated briefly and then crossed over (49 BC).That changed the course of Roman history and the region that it ruled subsequently. The difference between the two expressions of power is that while crossing the Equinox is a compulsion of the practically captive ordinary sailors; the Rubicon is a decision of the royals, gamble of the mighty to try their luck at gaining absolute power. As a result one of the two contenders perishes or at the least become a pliant vassal if not a valet. Neptune and his preference for a strange ritual could be a page out of mythology with a lesson to impart but when Caeser crossed the Rubicon he actually committed an act of brute power which has perpetuated a lasting but unusually clear notion in an otherwise opaque diplomatic vocabulary.
As Prime Minister Modi came to power in India, our leadership in Pakistan fondly hoped to replay the good old ambience of the late nineties when BJP was led by Mr. A B Bajpai, who travelled down to Lahore and did all the things politically correct. Unfortunately the initiative did not prosper, leaving our leadership with only the benefit of their imagination as to how well it might have unfolded. Problem with self-seeded imagination and nostalgic notions of the past is that they tend to shut the door to a realistic re-evaluation of the current situation, thus inducing illusions without reasonable basis. NS also has an endearing habit of employing personal rapports in pushing interstate relations, which invariably results in disappointments. In the diplomatic world personal equation is merely a tool to advance national interests and not the main operative framework Mr. Modi’s oath taking ceremony is an objective example.
Our hopes were by no means raised by PM Modi but were conceived by Pakistan itself. Therefore disappointments as and when they occur are also the privilege of Pakistan to endure. Modi is a person in his own particular cast which Pakistan needs to carefully weigh before stepping out to embrace his measured overtures. One ought to be mindful that behind his informal looking exterior is a man with determination, a clearer vision of his nation and a definite view of future the way it must unfold for his country. He appears to be quite clear about what he wants to achieve in the region and how, and is eminently equipped with the necessary political traction.
Shall we say an opportunity arises where our two countries might decide to normalize relations. Regardless of in which point in future time that might occur, we will have to address a few seemingly obstinate questions determined by historically uneven reciprocity between the two countries. It is fair at this stage to examine possible terms of endearment should India be inclined towards a rapprochement with Pakistan.The list is long and heavily underscored but some stand out more prominently.
Pakistan is a country whose nuclear weapon power ability stands alone amidst a school of underdeveloped national support indicators like raw political architecture, incompatible technological base, and aid dependent economy unable to service nuclear infrastructure and developmental goals simultaneously and limited capacity to absorb major advantages of nuclear research and development if any or tackle a sizeable nuclear accident/conflagration. The net effect is that we are perceived as an ‘accidental nuclear power’ rather than a capable one. In this perspective India would rather see Pakistan’s nuclear undertaking controlled if not capped. That sits well with the similar sentiment voiced by the West and US too. It is not as much a nuclear irritant as it is a capability and reliability issue for the world at large, our chronic insecurity notwithstanding.
Lingering Kashmir dispute between the two countries is a matter that has embittered mutual relations for long. Mr Modi’s inclination seems to be to formally annex the territory already held, lay a claim over the part west of Line of Control and thereby let the issue simmer as it might for indefinite period in future. Pakistan’s stance has been quite consistent diplomatically where as militarily it was tempted occasionally. Both countries’ approaches are flawed as they seem to perpetuate the dispute rather than resolve it. Leaderships on both sides have a rare opportunity to grapple with the issue decisively and peacefully as they have a majority in their respective parliaments. Saber rattling is no substitute for statesmanship. A workable resolution of sticky Kashmir dispute is going to have another salutary effect. It will largely take away the locus standi or shall we say the patent from the swelling Kashmir centric extremism in Pakistan. It makes good political sense even if it might scrape across tender emotional sores. Needless to emphasize that Pakistan must come down hard on all varieties of militancy on its territory in her own interest.
Pakistan is located auspiciously over the junction of major economic zones in our part of the world. It could earn sizeable returns by providing transit to the inter-region surface trade. India and Afghanistan followed by Central Asian States and separately China, look towards just such a facility. Pakistan does realize her central position but has shown inadequate method, planning and foresight for the same. This drift is causing growing resentment amongst our neighbors, particularly India, and loss of great amounts of revenue to the country. Pakistan must address this issue seriously, weigh all its implications and then devise a transit trade policy that not only serves our national interests but also facilitates regional trade. During the height of Bosnian war, one had seen thousands of freight trucks plying both ways through the war zone from Turkey to anywhere in Europe unmolested by the adversaries.
Having said that let’s examine what Pakistan is being asked to pay to cross the Equinox? Sheer size and economic-military capital has slowly but visibly pushed India into a position of strength which lends her stance to unilaterism .That is not a conducive vibe for the purposes of a forward movement where so much hostility already exists .As a result what was a mere line appears a whole zone for Pakistan to cross from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn. India can cross the Rubicon whenever it wishes to but Neptune must consider carefully if the seaman could survive a prolonged prosecution of the kind sought to be imposed? Dignity remains nonnegotiable.