Hero’s welcome

Hero's welcome

Events in Italy last month should have alerted the Indian authorities that Rome had no intention of returning the marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone to India to stand trial for killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano had given a public assurance to his countrymen that the two marines would be back home unscathed. When they returned to Italy to vote, they were personally received at the airport by Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi. Then Prime Minister Mario Monti also met them. A courageous Italian journalist pointed out that the marines were not exactly heroes kidnapped by a radical group such as the al-Qaeda, as was being portrayed in the media. She was flooded with hate mail.

Touch me not

Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has got into trouble with conservative clerics for hugging a weeping Hugo Chavez's mother at the Venezuelan leader's funeral. Vice-President Hamid Ansari recalls from his years as a diplomat that it is always a problem reconciling different cultural traditions of greeting and mourning. Indira Gandhi had a clear-cut rule: that she would shake hands with all officers of military rank and greet everyone else with folded hands. Many years ago, the Iranian ambassador to India was very keen to meet Ansari, then in the diplomatic service, to sort out what he called a pressing matter. He wanted to ensure that when the then speaker of Iranian Parliament, Hashemi Rafsanjani, visited India and met Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, he would be greeted with a namaskar rather than a handshake. Conservative Iranians do not want to be touched by a woman. For that matter, Gandhi herself was a shade embarrassed when she was embraced by Yasser Arafat in an over-enthusiastic greeting.

Dialogue on hold

The Ottawa Dialogue is a back-channel diplomatic exercise for retired Indian and Pakistani military officials and diplomats and is funded by the USA, UK and Canada. Usually, there are some 20 participants from each side and they debate defence issues from conventional CBMs to the Siachen dispute. The Ottawa Dialogue has held conferences in a number of cities. The most recent meeting was scheduled for New Delhi, but there is a hitch. Former air chief S P Tyagi heads the India chapter and is being investigated in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal. As a consequence, the Ottawa Dialogue has been temporarily put on hold.

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