LOOK EAST, YOUNG PAKISTAN
Rising anti-us sentiment is forcing Pakistan to establish better relations with India
THE ESTABLISHMENT, INCLUDING THE POWERFUL PAKISTAN ARMY, SEES BETTER TIES WITH INDIA AS THE NEED OFTHE HOUR.
In September, after over 500 persons died from a dengue fever outbreak in Lahore, the Pakistan Medical Association ( PMA) did something unusual. The body that represents over 10,000 doctors formally requested security agencies to investigate whether Pakistan was under biological attack from the United States. “We are investigating the PMA’S claim,” said a senior federal Interior Ministry official.
Tensions between the US and Pakistan have been on the boil this year. The US accuses Pakistan of sheltering the Haqqani terrorist network responsible for a string of attacks on western forces in Afghanistan. Amidst this acrimony, rumours and conspiracy theories have taken root on the streets of Pakistan. One popular theory: deep cover commandos are already inside the country waiting for a signal from the US administration to snatch away Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. This theory has gained credence after the May 1 US raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden.
Pakistan’s peace overtures towards arch-enemy India must be seen in the backdrop of this rising anti-us sentiment. The establishment, including the powerful Pakistan Army, sees better ties with India as the need of the hour. An Indian army helicopter that strayed into Pakistani airspace in October was sent back in just four hours.
Mounting domestic opinion too calls for Pakistan to jettison the US and mend fences with its neighbours. Rising political star, Pakistan Tehreeki-insaf’s Imran Khan recently called the USA, not India, enemy No. 1.
“An uncertain relationship with the USA has compelled us to establish a smooth relationship with India,” says a senior Pakistan foreign ministry official. He said awarding India the status of Most Favoured Nation ( MFN) was an example. Senior officials in the PPPled ruling coalition Government attribute the overtures to realpolitik. “It is because of the changing geopolitical and geo-strategic environment of South Asia and the approaching 2014 troop withdrawal of Us-led NATO forces from Afghanistan,” says an official. Publicly too, the anti-india rhetoric is being toned down. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar spoke of building a new relationship and cooperation and a new foundation.
“Times have changed. The world is coming closer,” Pakistan’s Commerce Secretary Zafar Mahmood said after arriving in New Delhi on November 14 for talks with his Indian counterpart including the announcement of a 2012 deadline for MFN status for India. At the recently concluded SAARC summit in the Maldives, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ‘a man of peace’.
Indian analysts are, however, more circumspect. Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik may have called for 26/11 terrorist Ajmal Kasab to be hanged, but is silent about the Lashkar-e-toiba chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. “Pakistan has no intention of discarding terrorism as an instrument of state policy against India. Even with the US, Pakistan still plays games, continuing to shield its own militant proxies despite mounting American pressure,” says Brahma Chellaney of the New Delhibased Centre for Policy Analysis. Clearly, a domestic political paralysis is one of the key issues which has forced India’s leadership to reciprocate peace overtures.
PAKISTANIS BURN A US FLAG IN KARACHI