Could a case of delicious mangoes help sweeten the increasingly bitter relationship between India and Pakistan? It could, at least according to Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif.
This week it was revealed Mr Sharif was engaging in mango diplomacy ahead of a possible meeting with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, in New York later this month.
After the relationship between the pair got off to a warm start with the Pakistani Premier travelling to Delhi for Mr Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, a diplomatic spat last month over Kashmir led to a suspension of talks and a souring of the mood. Strong doubts were raised to whether a talked of – but not scheduled – meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly would go ahead after all.
But now word emerges that Mr Sharif has been sending mangoes to Mr Modi to try and repair the damage. A total of 15 cases of the fruits were sent to the office of Mr Modi, along with those of President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.
“The vision of Mr Sharif is of peace for development and development for peace,” said one Pakistani source who asked not to be named. “The gift of the mangoes is a reflection of that vision.”
The source said the mangoes – a mixture of sindhri and chausa varieties – came from the Pakistani provinces of Sindh and Punjab. “Because everything has been halted, it is hoped things can be started by this gesture.”
A meeting due to be held in Islamabad last month between senior civil servants from the two countries was called off after Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Delhi, Abdul Basit, held talks with Kashmiri separatist leaders. While Pakistan had previously held meetings with these leaders, Mr Modi’s government had objected to what it called Islamabad’s interference in “India’s internal affairs”.
The cancellation of the talks surprised many given how well Mr Modi and Mr Sharif had appeared to have got on when they met in May. Their bilateral meeting was followed up with gifts for their respective mothers – a sari for Mr Modi’s mother from Mr Sharif, and a shawl for Mr Sharif’s mother from Mr Modi.
There is intense national pride across South Asia about whose mangoes are the most delicious. Perhaps as a result of this, mango diplomacy is not entirely new.
Kanchan Gupta, a journalist who once worked as a media advisor to Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said he believed the practice was started by Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, who dispatched them to his Indian counterpart, Jawaharlal Nehru.
“I recall recall General [Zia-ul-Haq] sending mangoes diligently, which was ironic,” he said.
“The bomb that blew up his plane was hidden in a box of mangoes,” he added, referring to one of the many conspiracies about what caused Mr Zia’s plane to crash in August 1988, killing him and 31others. Mohammed Hanif titled his 2008 novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, on the theory.
It remains unclear whether Mr Sharif’s efforts, first reported by the Times of India newspaper, will succeed in salvaging his relationship with Mr Modi. There was no word from either Mr Modi’s office or the Foreign Ministry on whether the gift had been received. A spokesman for President Mukherjee confirmed that the fruits had arrived.
Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a political and strategic analyst based in Lahore, said Mr Sharif’s intentions were clear. “I think he is hoping that talks will resume.” he said. “Summer is the mango season and people send good quality mangoes as a gesture of friendship...It shows he wants to move on with the talks.”
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