The coarse art of tread­ing on toes!

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS - Khalid Saleem

This, how­ever, is not all! A good part of the re­main­ing half is spent on liv­ing down the af­ter-ef­fects of hav­ing (in­ad­ver­tently?) trod on some (ten­der) toes, or the other way around. The same can be said of na­tions and na­tion states. So, when one talks of ‘per­sons’ the im­pli­ca­tions are rather wider!

Tread­ing on toes, it must be stressed, is as old as his­tory it­self. Per­sons of all sta­tions and divers dis­po­si­tions have over the ages lost their heads over it – and not only fig­u­ra­tively. In the in­di­vid­ual sense, tread­ing on toes is the bane of all so­ci­eties. Most - if not all - of the so­ci­ety’s prob­lems can ul­ti­mately be traced down to this phe­nom­e­non. Most dis­putes, machi­na­tions and vendet­tas have their ori­gins in an in­ci­dent or in­ci­dents of tread­ing on toes, in the fig­u­ra­tive sense. Of course, it is im­por­tant to know who does the tread­ing and whose toes are be­ing trod on, since one can­not af­ford to be non-dis­crim­i­na­tory when it comes to toes. Toes have a peck­ing or­der too, you know. There are toes and there are toes!

Ori­en­tal so­ci­eties such as ours are par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive. Tread­ing on toes in our kind of so­ci­eties at times be­comes a mat­ter of fam­ily (na­tional) hon­our, in a man­ner of speak­ing, with its myr­iad ram­i­fi­ca­tions. Our feu­dal lords (not to talk of lords not so feu­dal) have pe­cu­liar sen­si­tiv­i­ties about their toes be­ing trod on by the small fry. Come to think of it, in this age of glob­al­iza­tion, de­lib­er­ate tread­ing on toes ap­pears to have caught on like an epi­demic. A good many state­ments is­sued by pub­lic fig­ures, for in­stance, Email: bin­wa­keel@ya­ ap­pear to be aimed at some­body’s toes. The news­pa­pers are full of them. The own­ers of the toes on the re­ceiv­ing end, quite nat­u­rally, con­sider it their duty to re­tal­i­ate in kind; and so the bat­tle is joined. Sev­eral pub­lic fig­ures have be­come past mas­ters at this game of sorts. Prac­tice makes per­fect, as they say. One could name a few names if only one did not have one’s own (ten­der) toes to worry about!

World his­tory would not be what it is to­day, if only known per­son­al­i­ties and na­tions had paid a bit more at­ten­tion, be­times, to what they were tread­ing on. In fact, one could safely ven­ture far­ther afield and opine that a lit­tle re­search into this sub­ject could well sift this out as the sin­gle most sig­nif­i­cant cause of the out­break of armed con­flicts. Why go far; a cur­sory glance at the re­cent mil­i­tary ad­ven­tures of the pow­er­sthat-be, and the chain of events they un­leashed, should be enough to pro­vide am­ple food for thought.

All in all, the art of in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy has a lot to do with how deft one is at avoid­ing tread­ing on at least toes of the wrong kind. Suc­cess­ful diplo­macy can aptly be de­fined as the abil­ity to cross a mine­field of sen­si­tive toes and emerge on the other side with­out hav­ing trod on any. About our own diplo­macy, the less said the bet­ter. If any­thing, we ap­pear to spe­cial­ize in tread­ing on toes; and the wrong ones at that. Add to that our wee­known re­luc­tance to pro­tect our own toes from be­ing trod on and you have the whole pic­ture! There are times when our diplo­macy – our own sore toes notwith­stand­ing - ac­tu­ally goes through a whole se­ries of tread­ing on (sen­si­tive) toes, in­ter­spersed oc­ca­sion­ally, for good mea­sure, by the drop­ping of an almighty clas­si­cal clanger. Who said our brand of diplo­macy is not ex­cit­ing?

On an­other note, our lib­eral brigade ap­pears to have per­fected tread­ing on toes into some­thing of a fine art form. Need­less to add, half of our so­cial prob­lems stem out of this re­gret­table prac­tice. Life would be a lot sim­pler (though per­haps not as ex­cit­ing) if only peo­ple gen­er­ally held on to the dic­tum that toes are a part of the anatomy just not in­tended for be­ing trod on. But how de­sir­able would such a state of af­fairs be? One re­al­izes that this would take the spice out of life, leav­ing it dull and goody­goody. How many per­sons would wish to pe­ruse the morn­ing pa­pers with all the juicy bits and pins and nee­dles miss­ing?

It would be too much to hope, per­haps, that our pub­lic fig­ures would leave one other’s toes alone. Such habits dye hard. What can be ac­com­plished, though, is in the fields of diplo­macy and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. Our state­ments in the do­main of for­eign af­fairs could be honed in such a fash­ion as not to give a han­dle to our crit­ics to dis­cover a chink in our ar­mour. The ten­dency to shoot from the hip (that we have ap­par­ently bor­rowed from our friends, the Amer­i­cans) will need to be shed in favour of a more cir­cum­spect ap­proach to­wards sen­si­tive is­sues. For the time be­ing, the moot point is how to side step the Su­per­power jug­ger­naut! Our diplo­matic toes may be in for an ex­cru­ci­at­ing painful ex­pe­ri­ence in­deed and that in a not too dis­tant fu­ture! — The writer is a for­mer am­bas­sador and for­mer as­sis­tant sec­re­tary gen­eral of OIC.

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