Islamabad: When US Secretary of State
Hillary Rodham Clinton offered Pakistan help last week in exporting mangoes to the US in a bid to dampen anti-American
sentiment, it marked the latest chapter in the fruit`s curious
history of diplomacy and intrigue.
Clinton`s offer came three years after the Bush
administration opened up the US market to Indian mangoes in
exchange for allowing Harley-Davidson to sell its famed
motorcycles in India -- a deal that generated goodwill as the
two countries finalized a civilian nuclear agreement.
Washington`s mango-powered diplomacy this time around
is part of a broader USD 7.5 billion aid effort that is meant
to improve the image of the US in Pakistan, a move officials
hope will provide the Pakistani government with greater room
to cooperate on turning around the war in Afghanistan.
"I have personally vouched for Pakistani mangoes,
which are delicious, and I`m looking forward to seeing
Americans be able to enjoy those in the coming months,"
Clinton said during her visit to Islamabad last week.
The prominence of mangoes in South Asian diplomacy
should come as no surprise since scientists believe the sweet
and fleshy orange fruit originated in the region before
Buddhist monks and Persian traders introduced the plant to
other areas of the world.
Pakistan and India recognise the mango as their
national fruit, and summer in both countries is defined by the
sights and sounds of vendors hawking piles of soft,
sweet-smelling mangoes or pureeing them to create refreshing
drinks that cut through the scorching heat.
Officials from both countries have exchanged crates of
mangoes over the years in an attempt to soften tensions
between the nuclear-armed rivals that have fought three wars
since the partition of British India created the two nations a
little over 60 years ago.
Former Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq may have begun
the tradition when he swapped mangoes in the early 1980s with
the Indian prime minister at the time, Indira Gandhi. The
exchange took place several years before ul-Haq was killed in
a plane crash that conspiracy theorists blame on a crate of
mangoes placed on board moments before takeoff that was
supposedly sprayed with a poisonous gas that killed the pilots
and other passengers.
But like almost everything else, mangoes have also
been a source of tension between Pakistan and India since the
two countries view each other as competitors in the export
market. Indians and Pakistanis argue over who grows the best
mangoes -- a debate that resembles the tussle between Lebanon
and Israel over who can claim the mashed chickpea dish hummus
as their own.