It is a mystery that has never been resolved. But very few Indian journalists have written about their experiences as reporters or foreign correspondents when they have not much to say?or reveal. In the course of their professional life time they would have had occasion to meet all kinds of people from criminals to celebrities, from politicians, to saints and sinners, not to speak of plain ordinary men and women with something to say, reflecting the odds and ends of day-to-day life. There are reporters in plenty in our state capitals, not the least in Delhi itself, a city full of gossip, that can be titillating and entertaining and even may the Lord be praised, educative and informative.
That is why Amit Baruah'sbook Dateline Islamabad assumes especial importance. Baruah served in Islamabad from April 1996 to June 2000, a very dramatic period in the history of the sub-continent serving as The Hindu'scorrespondent in the Pakistani capital. Life wasn'teasy. In the first place, his movement was restricted though he attended every press conference. He and his wife were constantly followed, not secretively, but quite openly. At best an Indian correspondent could visit three cities including Karachi but to go there Baruah had to give 48 hours? notice to the Intelligence people so that, when he landed in the city, his movements could be carefully watched. Social contact was limited. Few Pakistanis?friendly though they were?would dare openly to fraternise with him. Who would want to be asked uncomfortable questions, visited at home and in office by intelligence men? The presumption was that any Indian?even a professional journalist?must necessarily be an agent working for the Indian external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Nothing otherwise would convince the Pakistani ISI to the contrary. It was hilarious even when one is under watch constantly, day by day, literally hour by hour. Not that the people involved were rude. Once, when Baruah had to take his child to a state-run hospital, the intelligence man following him came in to ask: kya hua? Baby theek to hai? (What happened? Is Baby okay). On another occasion, Baruah had to return to India at short notice to be around when his father-in-law passed away. When he returned to Islamabad and was back home, the bell rang unexpectedly. There was a man at the gate?an intelligence man. ?What'sthe matter?? Baruah asked. The man replied: ?I am very sorry about your father-in-law passing away. I came only to pay my condolences.? According to Baruah, his experiences were nothing compared to what Pakistani correspondents went through. He was quick to find that judges were committed more to legalising the dictatorships of successive military rulers rather than in enforcing the rule of law. He watched the Nawaz Sharif government in action, Sharif, for instance reduced the sanctioned strength of the Supreme Court judges from 17 to 12. It is clear from what Baruah writes that Sharif was a disreputable character who had no respect for the Supreme Court and often tried to over-ride its judgments. He was also quick to realise that the Army was ?the most important political factor in Pakistan. The Army ran practically everything, including the economy. As Baruah put it: ?The fauj had always wanted to maintain and perpetuate this larger-than-life imagone of itself in the country?.
The book was written just prior to recent events and one wonders how long Musharraf will last, his talks with Benazir Bhutto notwithstanding. But one thing is clear: Musharraf is not a man to be trusted. To the expressed hope that Indo-Pakistani relations will improve because the people in both countries want that to happen, one can only say: ?Amen?.