Big Armies, Poor People
India and Pakistan need to focus on building bridges by expanding mutual trade and tourism, stop using subversive tactics to undermine each other’s security and engage in dialogue.
Ever since Pakistan came into being in 1947 it has been locked in a conflict with India over the
By Lt. Gen. (R) Talat Masood disputed territory of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). The two countries have fought three wars two specifically on J&K and one related to the secession of East Pakistan. In addition, they have engaged in serious confrontations and
skirmishes that could have escalated into full-fledged wars had it not been for foreign persuasion or pressures. They have also failed to engage in any sustained comprehensive meaningful dialogue in recent years.
The two countries are now at a stage where India insists that it would talk to Pakistan only on terrorism and Pakistan responds by insisting that its highest priority is engaging with India on Kashmir but is willing to talk on other subjects including terrorism. This has resulted in a lock jam since 2014, not realizing that meeting is fundamental for setting the tone and direction for future engagement. Modi’s policy of adopting a tough and a belligerent attitude to browbeat Pakistan in submission has not worked in the past and will not succeed in the future. Serious engagement would only be possible if there are policy and attitudinal changes in leaders of both countries.
With tensions on the rise, the LoC remained highly volatile for nearly six months resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. However, since the new COAS assumed office, the LoC has been relatively peaceful. It is also a coincidence that General Bipin Rawat, the new army chief has recently assumed command in India. Perhaps Modi’s government is assessing the impact of the change in command and conveying a message. It would surely be in the interest of both countries that the LoC and working boundary remains quiet. The very aim of renaming the erstwhile Cease Fire Line, as Line of Control was the expectation that it would be peaceful and act as a recognized boundary until a final settlement of J&K takes place.
A more fundamental question is what has this high state of tension between India and Pakistan achieved? Modi’s policy of browbeating Pakistan into some form of submission was a non-starter. He has pursued this policy primarily to deflect attention from the unrest and uprising in Kashmir. Besides, Modi feels that by demonstrating a tough stance against Pakistan, it will boost the party’s image before elections in Uttar Pradesh, which is the largest state in India with a population equivalent to that of Pakistan. With tensions running high, the chances of moving toward some form of understanding on Kashmir or other issues has become even more hardened and remote. Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar and other militant leaders get greater prominence and it becomes more difficult for the government to rein them in. But despite these contradictions, it is in Pakistan’s vital interest to control these groups. Similarly, the presence of Afghan related militants like Haqqani network are an anathema to the Indians and the Western countries. It is time we took a hard look at tolerating them, as it serves no useful purpose in siding with these forces.
What is sometimes lost sight of is that animosity between India and Pakistan has affected their international reputation and in some ways increased dependence on major powers. This is even more applicable to Pakistan as it is relatively a smaller power and has a tainted image.
India’s highly hostile posture toward the CPEC and its constant efforts to sabotage it by employing RAW agents has further vitiated the atmosphere. If New Delhi is under any false pretensions that this would prevent implementation of the project, it is sadly mistaken. In fact, it gives reason for greater resolve to execute the project and brings Pakistan and China closer. More importantly, China-Pakistan cooperation should not prevent India and Pakistan to develop functional and mutually helpful relations. Pakistan has been a victim of pursuing the zero sum game that has cost it heavily in the past. It would be to its great advantage to broaden the options.
The United States has been cultivating a strong strategic partnership with India with the primary purpose of countering China. Whereas, it is not certain if India would go to the extent of challenging China as it has thriving economic and commercial interests tied up with it. With such clear examples of how countries maximize their options even under challenging circumstances, there is no reason why India and Pakistan should not engage in trade, tourism and cultural activities. In this way, neither country would be giving in on their principled stand or political position on major issues. And at least they would remain engaged and minimize political accusations and diatribe. But which side will have the courage to suggest such a move where patriotism is measured by the hatred and venom one pours against the other. The suggestion being made by some that Pakistan and China should get even closer and form an alliance to oppose US-India partnership. This is Cold War logic and it would be highly unwise to adopt it. Knowing that the Chinese pursue a pragmatic approach to international relations, it will also not be acceptable to them.
Moreover, we tend to overlook that China‘s meteoric rise in the last few decades is largely attributable to its phenomenal economic progress and political cohesion. The US and Chinese economies over the years have become interdependent and China’s bilateral trade with India currently is $65 billion and is likely to keep growing. Despite differences over strategic issues with India, China pursues the policy of peaceful coexistence and remains engaged with it, hoping “their rise can be mutually supportive”. Similarly, India and Pakistan should focus on building bridges by expanding mutual trade and tourism, stop using subversive tactics to undermine each other’s security and engage in dialogue. Once a certain level of confidence and stability in relations is achieved, they could start talking seriously about Kashmir and other major issues. We have to remind ourselves that both countries field the world’s largest and highly professional standing armies and are nuclear powers but are also amongst the poorest. They continue to expand their military arsenals and are less concerned about the well being of their teeming poor millions. How long will this continue?
Animosity between India and Pakistan has affected their international reputation and in some ways increased dependence on major powers.