Pakistan-India friendship

31 Dec 2018

  • The way forward
    Recently, a positive development has taken place at the diplomatic level between Pakistan and India due to the establishment of the Kartarpur Corridor.The question then arises: why has this very positive development only taken place just now? If we look back at history, Benazir Bhutto made a lot of progress at the diplomatic level with Rajiv Gandhi. But sadly, during that period, the government of the PPP was forced to face many problems due to this. Ms Bhutto was even accused of being a security risk. Imran Khan, however, has full support from the establishment. This is the reason that the current government has been successful in undertaking such major steps. But it is not just that. What are the other hidden reasons behind these kinds of actions? Let us analyse them.
    There is a need to understand that just when right-wing parties come into power, the chances of improving relations with respect to such diplomatic matters increase.The reason for this is that their strategy attracts relatively less criticism because, at the end of the day, they are critics themselves. For instance, in comparison with the PPP, the PML-N was considered more conservative while the PPP was considered a progressive party. But when the PML-N came into power,Vajpayee visited Pakistan and Pakistan-India relations improved considerably. On the other hand, compared to the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party was considered anti-Pakistan. However, it was the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Prime Minister Vajpayee who visited Pakistan and brought about a lot of improvement in the links between Pakistan and India.
    It is a fact that Pakistan is currently going through its worst economic times. Keeping the context of Pakistan’s economic situation in view, a change in the diplomatic policy of Pakistan towards India is understandable. Right now, Pakistan needs trade. Pakistan’s manufacturing industry is currently on the verge of disaster. Due to its failure in constructing dams, Pakistan is generating expensive electricity through the use of oil and imported natural gas. Because of this expensive electricity, the manufacturing industry cannot manufacture products that are able to compete with the prices in the international market.
    The only solution for Pakistan’s economic development lies in the trade and service sectors, including tourism and financial services. Regional trade is very important to make any trade sector successful. Relations with Afghanistan and India are at their worst in history.In such a situation, promoting trade is difficult.Perhaps considering all of these facts, the Pakistani government has decided to bring about a big change in its foreign policy.
    Trade and international investment will only be able to take place when the security situation in Pakistan improves. In order to improve the law and order situation in Pakistan, Pakistan’s relations with its neighbouring countries need to be improved as does its relationship with the law and order in those neighboring countries — especially with Afghanistan.Pakistan is highly concerned about Indian activity in Afghanistan which is why Pakistan has not been able to distance itself from the internal affairs of Afghanistan.If relations between Pakistan and India were to improve, a joint strategy between India and Pakistan could lead to peace in Afghanistan. With the establishment of peace, the Afghan government, including the US with it, and the region as a whole could benefit. In light of this, any change in Pakistan’s foreign policy has huge implications which could benefit the entire region. The TAPI gas pipeline will pass through Afghanistan to reach Pakistan and also has to reach India.This will be possible only when bilateral relations between India and Pakistan have improved and they are able to adopt a joint strategy against terrorism so that peace can be achieved.
    In response to our growing proximity with Sikhs, India could try to increase its relations with the disillusioned Balochs or the people of Baltistan
    Sometime ago, when I had the opportunity to interview world-renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky, he clearly stated that reason behind Russia’s defeat and collapse in the Cold War against the US was the arms race. According to Chomsky, the US had much more economic resources than Russia which allowed it to remain firm in the arms race while Russia disintegrated. Similarly, if we carry out a comparative review of the economic power of India and Pakistan, the Indian economy is much more powerful than the Pakistani economy, making it very difficult for Pakistan to continue on in the regional arms race.
    The Indian government is well aware of the internal economic situation of Pakistan. This is why it has adopted dilatory tactics in response to the message of friendship extended by Pakistan. There are a few other possible reasons for India’s indifference as well. For instance, its elections are coming up and it does not want to lose the anti-Pakistan vote by responding positively to the friendship message sent by the current government of Pakistan.
    Along with this, another aspect worth considering is that in India, Pakistan’s soft stance taken towards a particular religious group (i.e. the Sikhs) has not been positively received. The Indian establishment’s ideology is that if Pakistan wants to improve relations with India then it should take steps towards engaging with all Indians, not just with the Indians that belong to a particular religion or social group. There is a historical reason for this. There was a Sikh freedom movement which started in India and Pakistan was accused of helping the Sikhs. Later, a Sikh bodyguard of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi assassinated her for attacking the Sikhs’ sacred Golden Temple. Keeping this history in view, Pakistan should be very careful and thoughtful while planning out its foreign policy. Otherwise, in response to our growing proximity with Sikhs, India could try to increase its relations with the disillusioned Baloch or the people of Baltistan. That would definitely be a worrying development for Pakistan.
    Nevertheless, this whole foreign policy change and the steps taken by Imran Khan can be considered as positive overall — if they do not limit their foreign policy only to the Indian Punjab but spread it across all of India.If the visa requirement is waived for Kartarpur, then why can the visa requirement not be ended for the other Indians as well? The Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said that if France and Germany could introduce a free-trade zone after killing millions of each other’s people in World War II, then why can we not do so?
    If this were to be done, many opportunities for trade between Pakistan and India would arise.The biggest advantage would be a decrease in the arms race in the region which would enable both Pakistan and India to reduce their defense budgets and to spend that money on the welfare of their people.

Published in “Pakistan Today” on 31-Dec-2018

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