Difficult equation

Updated October 09, 2018


The writer is author of Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: US Crisis Management in South Asia (Stanford University Press, 2018).
The writer is author of Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: US Crisis Management in South Asia (Stanford University Press, 2018).

ANOTHER opportunity to talk has been squandered. In the wake of India’s decision to pull out of foreign minister-level talks at the UNGA, I was struck by the unanimity of views among Pakistani analysts trying to decode India’s move. Virtually all of them linked it to next year’s Indian elections.

In a recent conversation on India-Pakistan issues, I found a group of Pakistani opinion-makers challenging this conventional wisdom. They argued that India is approaching the relationship with Pakistan with a longer time horizon in mind. They pointed out that in Pakistan-India policy fora, they have noticed a shift in the body language of Indian interlocutors. It is far more confident, if not arrogant, and fixated on the country’s upward trajectory. There are regular references to the growing economic and military differential between India and Pakistan and to comparisons with Nepal and Bangladesh when Pakistan is referenced. The mindset doesn’t reflect an India that feels a need to compromise with Pakistan anymore.

While I do not subscribe to this presentation of facts, I accept the bottom line about India’s focus on the growing power imbalance in the region. I have previously explained what the longer game may be premised on: if India can continue growing economically and diverting significant resources to defence while forcing Pakistan to remain wedded to a paradigm that prizes hard security over economic well-being, in a decade or two, the power differential will be so large that the only negotiation possible would be on the stronger party’s terms.

Ties with India must be rejigged.

They argued that India gains by ignoring Pakistan while blaming Pakistan every time the Kashmir issue goes south. New Delhi agrees to talks every now and then to present itself as the magnanimous big brother but then backtracks by pointing to some incident or the other regarding Kashmir. This is seen as hubris that must be responded to by staying steadfast.

Using their very logic, India’s approach must be construed as one that is designed to force Pakistan to dig in, in turn allowing India to further cement its narrative in the world. When I pointed this out, I was told that India is delusional if it feels it can widen the gap with Pakistan — the conversation quickly shifted to poverty, deprivation, and communal problems in India as reasons why India’s rise is artificial.

Smart policy must be predicated on improving oneself, not on hoping for the opponent’s failure. But in this case, does the view hold up against evidence? There is no denying that India has myriad internal problems that aren’t easily fixable. It’s also true that under the current government there, societal intolerance has come to the fore and an objective analyst cannot but worry about the consequences of the callous way in which New Delhi is handling it. And yet, in country after country, the neo-liberal economic model has proven to have unlimited patience with the plight of the downtrodden as the macroeconomic picture is fixed to register the country on the map of global powerhouses. The model is sustainable.

Pakistan must proactively figure out how it can rejig the deteriorating equation vis-à-vis India. I have been highlighting two aspects of this overhaul.

First, Pakistan needs to continue offering India dialogue and be prepared for serious negotiations on all issues regardless of India’s responses. Precisely because India wants to remain on the good side of the global narrative, it will sooner or later have to acquiesce to talking — which would be good for Pakistan-India relations — or its constant refusal will automatically begin to project Pakistan in a more positive light.

Second, Pakistan needs to reorient its thinking from geo-security to geo-economics. About the only way to develop a genuine Indian stake in Pakistan’s stability while gaining economically is to position Pakistan as a regional trade and transit hub. CPEC is the perfect start. Adding on east-west connectivity by allowing India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia (ideally in return for its acceptance of CPEC) and championing fast tracking of already-agreed upon energy projects that flow from Central Asia to India will offer Pakistan significant transit fees and local economic benefits, remove India’s opposition to CPEC, and force genuine economic interdependence. The outcome will also align with the US interest in offering Afghanistan greater economic opportunity and incidentally, China’s ultimate goal of doing the same.

Admittedly, this is easier said than done — and unpopular. But even initiating a serious internal debate on this vision will force a rethink of our own dated take on geo-strategy, begin shifting the global view of Pakistan as the impediment to regional integration in South Asia, and prompt India to question the utility of its policy of seeking to isolate Pakistan globally.

The writer is author of Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: US Crisis Management in South Asia (Stanford University Press, 2018).


Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2018