Pak­istan needs bet­ter ties with In­dia

The Asian Age - - Oped - Ir­fan Hu­sain

The child­ish tit- for- tat ex­change of tweets be­tween the for­eign min­is­ters of Pak­istan and In­dia shows just how far diplo­macy be­tween the two coun­tries has sunk.

There was a time when even en­e­mies ob­served a de­gree of deco­rum in their ex­changes. Now, in the age of Twit­ter, cheap cracks pass for care­fully con­sid­ered cor­re­spon­dence. When Pak­istan’s for­eign min­is­ter, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, tri­umphantly tweeted that Im­ran Khan had “bowled a goo­gly” by open­ing the Kar­tarpur cor­ri­dor for Sikh pil­grims, he seemed to be un­aware that Khan was a fast bowler who prob­a­bly never bowled a goo­gly in his life.

Sushma Swaraj, his In­dian coun­ter­part, chose to re­spond with an acer­bic tweet of her own that be­trayed a sin­gu­lar lack of wit. In ef­fect, she ruled out the pos­si­bil­ity that this small step might lead to im­proved re­la­tions be­tween the two neigh­bours. This has poured cold wa­ter on Pak­istan’s Prime Min­is­ter’s vow to “take two steps” if In­dia takes one step to­wards peace. He now seems re­signed to wait­ing for the In­dian elec­tions due next year be­fore re­sum­ing his quest.

How­ever, the long im­passe is not about which politi­cian and party wins in 2019: There is a broad con­sen­sus in In­dia about the pre- con­di­tions for peace. At­tacks by mil­i­tants, al­leged to have been launched from Pak­istan, have weak­ened the peace move­ment in In­dia, while strength­en­ing the hawks. The savage at­tack in Mum­bai in 2008 al­legedly by the Lashkar- e- Taiba that took 166 lives gal­vanised In­dia. The fact that the sus­pects be­hind this car­nage have still not been sen­tenced in a Pak­istani court af­ter a decade is a con­stant ob­sta­cle in our bid for bet­ter ties.

Given In­dia’s rapid mil­i­tary and eco­nomic rise, it has lit­tle in­cen­tive to re­cip­ro­cate our spo­radic peace moves. And when­ever the sub­ject comes up, In­di­ans re­spond by re­mind­ing us of the fate of the Va­j­payee visit to La­hore that was fol­lowed im­me­di­ately by Mushar­raf’s mis­ad­ven­ture in Kargil. In the eyes of the world, Pak­istan is the prickly ag­gres­sor in South Asia.

In Pak­istan’s neigh­bour’s es­ti­ma­tion, Pak­istan has more to gain by a res­o­lu­tion of its prob­lems than In­dia does. Pak­istan’s econ­omy is in the dol­drums, and is barely ca­pa­ble of sup­port­ing

On Pak­istan’s side, the com­pul­sion for bet­ter ties is ur­gent, not just for eco­nomic rea­sons, but to re­duce the bur­den of its de­fence spend­ing. Year af­ter year, the gap grows wider as In­dia im­ports and man­u­fac­tures a vast ar­ray of mod­ern weapons. Pak­istan’s huge de­fence forces. Trade with In­dia would pro­vide a boost to Pak­istan’s fi­nances. This is prob­a­bly the rea­son the es­tab­lish­ment is sup­port­ive of this govern­ment’s ef­fort to nor­malise ties. This is a far cry from its at­ti­tude to­wards Nawaz Sharif’s at­tempts to boost trade with In­dia. Be­fore as­cend­ing to his present po­si­tion, Im­ran Khan, among oth­ers, was harsh in his crit­i­cism of Sharif for his bid to nor­malise re­la­tions.

On Pak­istan’s side, the com­pul­sion for bet­ter ties is ur­gent, not just for eco­nomic rea­sons, but to re­duce the bur­den of its de­fence spend­ing. Year af­ter year, the gap be­tween Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties grows wider as In­dia im­ports and man­u­fac­tures a vast ar­ray of mod­ern weapons. The S400 anti- air­craft and anti- mis­sile sys­tem from Rus­sia is the lat­est cut­ting edge ad­di­tion to In­dia’s arse­nal. At a cost of over $ 5 bil­lion, this is some­thing Pak­istan can­not af­ford.

Kash­mir re­mains the stum­bling block in the way to nor­mal ties. For seven decades, In­dia and Pak­istan have been un­able to sort out this thorny is­sue, and both have painted them­selves into their re­spec­tive cor­ners from which there seems to be no es­cape. Pak­istan and In­dia have gone to war over the Val­ley and ought to have learned that there is sim­ply no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion to the prob­lem. Diplo­macy, too, has failed to re­solve the is­sue.

To­day, more than ever, Pak­istan is iso­lated as it has tried to gar­ner sup­port from friends. Even China rec­om­mends bi­lat­eral talks to sort out the mat­ter. Time af­ter time, Pak­istan has looked to the UN to im­ple­ment its res­o­lu­tions to hold a plebiscite, but no mem­ber of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil wants to of­fend In­dia by ques­tion­ing its claim to sovereignty.

The truth is that the world is sick of the Kash­mir is­sue. While we in Pak­istan might re­sent this in­jus­tice, we should re­mem­ber that the world is not a fair place.

So if there is no mil­i­tary or diplomatic so­lu­tion, what re­mains? How does Pak­istan break this decades- long log­jam? Pak­istan could try to take uni­lat­eral steps that might con­vince the In­dian pub­lic and politi­cians of our sin­cer­ity in want­ing peace. These could start with lift­ing re­stric­tions on visas, and then pro­ceed to open­ing Pak­istan’s bor­ders to In­dian trucks car­ry­ing goods to Afghanistan and beyond.

The Soviet Union col­lapsed largely due to its ef­fort to match Amer­i­can de­fence spend­ing. Surely there’s a les­son here for Pak­istan. Given the im­bal­ance in the power equa­tion in our re­gion, and Pak­istan’s need to boost its econ­omy, Pak­istan has lit­tle to lose by be­ing proac­tive. The al­ter­na­tive is to slide fur­ther into ir­rel­e­vance as Pak­istan’s neigh­bour marches on.

By ar­range­ment with Dawn

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