India-Pakistan ‘mango diplomacy’ isn’t fruitful

(First published by BBC in July 2015.)

In a South Asian tradition, Pakistani leaders send mangoes to their Indian counterparts every year. The fabled ‘mango diplomacy’, however, does not really help lower tensions between the two neighbours, writes Shivam Vij.

On the occasion of Eid last week, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reportedly sent a box of mangoes to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.

But relations were not sweetened as a result.

The festival gift came even as India and Pakistan exchanged fire in the disputed Kashmir region, in which at least five civilians on both sides were killed.

“Sharif resorts to ‘mango diplomacy’ amid cross-border shelling,” read a newspaper headline.

“Mangoes were delivered to Mr Modi through official channels even as Pakistan was accusing us of flying a drone into its airspace,” the Hindustan Times quoted an Indian official as saying on condition of anonymity.

Mr Sharif sent 10kg of mangoes to Mr Modi, 15kg to Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and 10kg each to former Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh.

However, “mango diplomacy” is not working: it didn’t reduce cross-border tensions, and on Monday, India blamed Pakistan for an attack on a bus and police stationin Gurudaspur in the northern Punjab state. Ten people, including a senior Indian policeman, were killed in the attack.

And earlier this month, tensions on the border meant that Pakistani soldiers refused to accept sweets on the occasion of Eid from their Indian counterparts.

Annual ritual

The exchange of sweets between the two countries on festivals is as much a tradition as mango diplomacy – with one difference.

Pakistan sends mangoes to New Delhi every year, regardless of the security environment between the two countries, but India does not reciprocate with mangoes.

A spokesperson for India’s foreign ministry refused to explain why India does not reciprocate Pakistan’s mango diplomacy, or give any details of mangoes received by Indian leaders.

Sources in Pakistan, the world’s fifth largest producer of mangoes, say that it is an annual ritual for Pakistan to send boxes of mangoes to heads of various countries, not just India.

Mango farmers in South Asia often send boxes of their produce to important people in their area, an act of sharing as much as showing off.

Pakistan, clearly proud of its mangoes, seems to be replicating the tradition of mango orchard owners at a nation-state scale.

Sources in Pakistan say the country sent a mix of various local varieties, such as Sindhri, Langda and Chaunsa, which are also found in India.

They also include a famous variety called Anwar Ratol.

Few people know that Anwar Ratol, too, hails from India. It takes its name from the village of Ratol, two hours east of Delhi.

Known as the king of fruits, mangoes originated in the Indian subcontinent, as indicated by its scientific name, Magnifera Indica. It is the national fruit of both India and Pakistan.

While India grows over 1,200 varieties of mangoes, Pakistan grows a third of that number.

India is the world’s largest producer of mangoes, growing nearly eight times the quantity of mangoes that Pakistan does. But it is the quality that is a matter of intense dispute between Indians and Pakistanis.

“It would be a good idea for India to send mangoes to Pakistan’s leaders too,” says former diplomat and Congress party leader Mani Shankar Aiyar.

He immediately had second thoughts.

“Having served in the (now defunct) Indian consulate in Karachi, I can tell you that Indian mangoes would have a hard time matching theirs, unless we move in early with the Alphonsos,” Aiyar said, referring to a particularly sweet variety of mangoes found in Maharashtra.

Many Indians proud of their mangoes would disagree with Mr Aiyar, who added that such measures were mere tokenism, fruitless because they do not come along with substantive talks and negotiations.

Pakistani political commentator Ayesha Siddiqa agrees with him.

“Mangoes and cricket, these are old tactics used to re-starting India-Pakistan talks. India and Pakistan seem to have nothing new to say to each other,” she says.

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