When Narasimha Rao rejected Benazir’s ‘tea diplomacy’ in London
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto asked former British Prime Minister John Major in 1996 to arrange a meeting with her Indian counterpart PV Narasimha Rao in London over a ‘cup of tea’, but Rao thought she was ‘immature’ and rejected the offer. Mentioned in confidential documents with the heading ‘Cup of tea’, the initiative described as ‘novel’ was conveyed by Major to Rao in a letter. Rao read that section carefully twice but turned it down, the declassified papers released by National Archives on Tuesday reveal.
The idea was to make it appear that the two Prime Ministers meet ‘accidentally’ and privately to discuss the state of relations between their countries. But British officials noted that there was no major multilateral event scheduled in London in early 1996.
Major wrote to Rao: “I know I can confide in you that, earlier this year, Prime Minister Bhutto made the confidential suggestion that I might arrange for Narasimha Rao and her to meet over ‘a cup of tea’, to give them the chance privately to discuss India-Pakistan relations”.
“We have always been ready to help Indian and Pakistani leaders establish a dialogue, providing both sides were content for us to do so. That remains the case; and, if you were interested, I would be happy to offer the UK as a venue for a meeting of this kind”.
Major’s letter was written after the Foreign Office advised Downing Street to make it clear that London was acting as a ‘channel of communication, not launching a UK initiative’. British diplomats met Rao in New Delhi to discuss the letter.
The meeting covered issues in Major’s letter, such as the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, nuclear disarmament and Bhutto’s ‘cup of tea’ initiative. The ruling Congress and other parties were then in campaign mode for the April election.
The British high commission reported to London: “Rao read the passage about Benazir Bhutto carefully twice. Then he said that…we had better forget about cups of tea until after the Indian elections. Such suggestions might be useful in due course, though it was difficult to drink tea in secret”.
“He hoped that in time he would be able to dispense with the intervention of friends and talk to Benazir Bhutto direct. He did not doubt her good intentions, but she was immature and was not mistress in her own house. There was no short-cut to summit level dialogue,” the note said.
After the election, when the Congress lost and H D Deve Gowda became prime minister, British high commissioner David Gore-Booth reported that he “took Deve Gowda carefully through the ‘cup of tea’ initiative”.
Gore-Booth wrote to the Foreign Office in June 1996: “I stressed that we were not trying to muscle in where we did not belong and would only act if both sides asked us to do so.”
“He said that after he had received Ms Bhutto’s message he had asked her to first have discussions at Foreign Secretary level. If necessary Prime Ministers could meet thereafter…He had received no response from Ms Bhutto to his offer.”
Source:- Hindustan Times