Tharoor tweets wisdom

I think that diplomats who talk like army generals after retirement do nothing but burden people with retrospectively acquired wonky wisdom. Such specimens feeding on popular fears are on display these days on numerous television channels and newspaper columns.

They talk endlessly against Pakistan and China for reasons good and bad. They confuse more than they educate. They certainly speak more than they actually know.

Even the seminar circuit is packed by superannuated experts dishing out unsolicited advice to the government on how to conduct its Pakistan, China and even Middle-East policy. They liberally hurl darts at all perceived and real enemies of India. But when it comes to the United States, their eloquence gives way to meaningless, nay subservient, niceties about the country run by a Nobel Laureate who has agreed to send 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan along with a deadline for their withdrawal.

These foreign policy/security experts have turned talk shows into unending blusters with little or no regard for diplomatic nuances or the finery of language that make for a good discussion. There are some honorable exceptions to the rule. But that’s about it.

So, in the middle of such mindless cacophony to turn India into a nanny-State, Shashi Tharoor, an expert in multi-lateral diplomacy who’s now a junior minister in the Foreign Office, has made a brave intervention in the largely one-sided debate on a visa policy to prevent the likes of

David Headley from flying in and out of India on multi-entry permits.

“The 26/11 killers had no (Indian) visas,” tweeted Tharoor in what was the most understated but effective show-casing of the flip side to the shut-the-doors on foreigners cry. I too feel that xenophobia is no good way to fight terror. There are other better ways of doing it.

A pertinent question Tharoor raised was whether India must allow terrorists to make the country less welcoming? “Making it more difficult to visit India (through mandatory intervals between two visits) alienates the country, costs millions of dollars (spent by foreign visitors during their stay) and hurts a large number of innocent tourists,” he wrote. “The issue isn’t security versus tourism, but whether visa restrictions protect our security.”

One couldn’t have agreed more with Tharoor. The price of liberty is eternal vigil— not insulation. I am reminded in this context, of the response of Yashwant Sinha, then Minister for External Affairs, to a request to open the Wagah land border then closed for entry to and from Pakistan.

When told that some intelligence organizations and the bureaucracy was opposed to it, he picked up the phone to ask the designated authority whether or not arrivals from the other side would have visas legitimately issued by our Mission in Pakistan. “We are giving them visas on the premise that they are ordinary visitors and not a security threat. So why deny them the option of crossing in by the land route,” he asked.

Wagah was opened and permission granted. But that happened when relations were better between our two countries. Things today are a lot more difficult.

The need for being extra-cautious cannot be rejected out of hand.

But visa restrictions that’ll impede movements of all foreigners including those from friendly countries, make no sense. The Home Ministry needs to be more innovative and the Foreign Office more assertive. Than alone can we arrive at a balanced policy that protects security and promotes India as a preferred destination.

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