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India-Pakistan equation

Published Sep 10, 2012 03:04am


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AMIDST the constant inflow of disturbing news from the Af-Pak theatre, we have one positive to point to: the thaw in India-Pakistan relations.

Ever since India re-engaged in dialogue over two years ago, significant headway has been made on various issues — principally trade and investment. The weekend visit by the Indian foreign minister has given the latest boost to efforts at rapprochement.

To be sure, it is entirely premature to be talking about normalisation of India-Pakistan ties. We have only begun the journey and there is no guarantee that we’ll come out on top at the other end. But there are certain variables which make the present as good a time as ever to make this happen.

First, the growing power differential between Pakistan and India creates a genuine desire to move forward on the part of the traditionally revisionist power: Pakistan. Islamabad’s growing internal weakness and limited diplomatic options (courtesy largely the soured relations with the US) imply that it is fairly desperate to cool off on the eastern front. The discussion in the corridors of power in Islamabad, and even Rawalpindi to some extent, has categorically shifted from ‘we should’ to ‘we have no option’. And thus, what we are witnessing is a Pakistan that has come around to India’s longstanding demand of moving along on economic ties while other issues are dealt with at their own pace.

This is different from the early Composite Dialogue days when Pakistan’s economy was doing fairly well and in an odd way, Musharraf’s team believed it was India that had realised after the 2001-02 crisis that it had no option but to find a middle ground on Kashmir. The discussion then was much more on an even keel and Kashmir remained at the centre even as much else was discussed.

Second, unparalleled in recent times, Pakistan seems to be seeking a genuine re-pivot of its foreign policy priorities. The past three years have seen a visible effort to intensify regional diplomacy and reach out to India, Iran, the Central Asian republics and even Russia. While none of this can substitute the importance of a healthy Pakistan-US relationship, it does imply that the move to open up to India is grounded in a deeper shift in orientation. Islamabad can therefore be expected to persist with the process even as it gets little in return in the initial phases.

Third, it’s energy, stupid! No matter which way you cut it, Pakistan and India will continue to face acute energy shortages and neither can make do without bilateral cooperation on this front. Never before has the imperative for Pakistan to offer its location as a transit hub been more critical for the region. And given that the issue of energy is so near and dear to the heart of an average Pakistani (and soon enough will be to an Indian’s), this will be a relatively compelling sell.

Finally, there is better PR around the thaw than there was earlier. Musharraf’s process had greater focus on getting Kashmiri leaders to agree to his formula but much less in terms of getting Pakistani political parties and the masses on board. Because the current effort is spearheaded by political governments on both sides and still has the blessings of the Pakistani military, there is naturally more permanence attached to it.

So far, the government has done fairly well in emphasising the wisdom in opening up trade and investment without allowing this to be seen as something where Pakistan has had to accept India’s longstanding demand without getting much as quid pro quo.

Various developments have helped: even though the business community is divided, those who favour opening up of trade are being given more airtime than the naysayers. The fact that the direction of trade already is and will continue to be skewed heavily in India’s favour in the short to medium term is being overshadowed by various gravity model predictions and public pronouncements highlighting Pakistan’s potential gains.

There is a lot of chatter about regional connectivity in South Asia and the potential for Pakistan as a transit state — transit to and from India included of course. The military leadership’s de facto support is reflected by its complete silence over the trade issue coupled with some positive general statements on the need for peace with India from the very top. New Delhi has been very careful not to say anything on Kashmir that would allow detractors in Pakistan to blame the government for giving up on the issue.

As for India, it is sitting pretty in a lot of ways and thus the compulsions are not nearly as strong.

The reasons for optimism here are not the clichés we hear with some frequency: that India realises that it can’t reach the global stage till it resolves its disputes with Pakistan; that the Indian state wants to help Pakistan stabilise; or that India hurts due to Pakistan-linked terrorism and thus has no option but to engage. None of these hold beyond a point.

The real pull for Indian involvement is simple: after years, the dice has rolled unequivocally in India’s favour. Economic ties are leading the way and New Delhi has believed all along that if trade ties expand, issues like Kashmir will find the back burner sooner or later.

Moreover, the last decade has shown lack of Indian military or diplomatic resource to compel Pakistan to clamp down on terrorism and so its best chance is to allow the liberal interdependence theory — economic interaction leading to peace — to work its magic. In the interim, it realises that more Mumbais may come but it will absorb that cost as long as the process seems to be led by economics rather than outstanding political disputes.

To be sure, none of this implies that normalisation awaits us. Much can go wrong. But there are reasons to believe that the current effort has a better chance of success; both sides are more likely to overlook parallel distractions than they would have in the past.

The writer is South Asia adviser at the US Institute of Peace, Washington, D.C.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (30) Closed

raj Sep 12, 2012 08:15am
India never compare itself to China or any other country. India always admits China is much bigger economy & powerful (in terms of defense) than India. It is Pakistan who is in delusion and always think they can match with India. This is the reason we have 4 war till date. Pakistan always compare itself with India and seek parity in everything. Whenever India induct any new missile or arsenal, Pakistan start accusing India of Arms race in the subcontinent. We Indian never sought parity with China in this regard and admitted the supremacy of China in defense capability. It is now Pakistan turn to accept the superiority of India.
Akil Akhtar Sep 10, 2012 11:43pm
I think India has a better record of backtracking so it will be them first as usual.
sam Sep 10, 2012 10:29pm
Let us have a no attack from Pakistan for next 10 years. Then India should talk about friendship. Repeated betrayals and attacks on India will not help.
FreedomSpeech Sep 10, 2012 09:54pm
India and Pakistan relations can improve only when people will treat religion as a person's private affair, and stop talking about it in the political agenda. Once this happens, we will realize that we are the same people. I am hopeful that this would happen sooner than later ..... Because..... Money and quality of life is the new religion....!!
(Dr.) B.N. Anand Sep 10, 2012 07:15pm
Though well written and well elaborated, the author somehow gives an impression that Pakistan is being forced by circumstances to take effective steps to cool off at eastern border by being more proactive in reaching out to some understanding with India. That indeed puts everyone here to wonder that if this all a srategy or real geniounness in attempts to normalise relations with India. That is why every one here counsels the govt. to be watchful and not rush at the live branch which Pakistan is showing to this country. That is indeed a big dilemma for us to decode. BNA
Satyameva Jayate Sep 10, 2012 11:29pm
Realistic analysis. However, it may be a bit too realistic for a majority of the Pakistanis.
Mustafa Razavi Sep 10, 2012 05:39pm
We both have our religious fanatics but fanaticism is much more main stream in India where their fanatics have been in central government and still control multiple state and city governments. Main stream India suffers from a delusional super-power syndrome that has made all Indian governments follow a hegemonic policy. We must avoid war with India, however as a former ISI chief has said, "you avoid war by deterring war. If you run from the war the war will grab you by the throat". Having said that, let me state that our current "peace process" is a total farce". On Pakistani side, Zardari wants Pakistan to become like Bhutan vis-a-vis India, although foreign policy is very low on his agenda except for some banks in Switzerland. On India's side, I don't see any evidence that there has been any change in India's policy, they seem to believe that the Western support and propaganda would make them something comparable to China. Here is something for them to digest, China won 10 tines more gold medals in 2012 Olympics than India did in all it's 65 year history. For that matter, Iran won more gold medals in 2012 than India did in it's entire 65 year history.
surinder Sep 10, 2012 05:03pm
Why one more Mumbai. Even the one has caused havoc in improving relations between the two countries. The scar is deep and will not heal soon.
Rao Sep 11, 2012 02:09am
How come only Indians are commenting. Is it that no Pakistani is interested in trade & better relations with India?
Dr. D. Prithipaul Sep 10, 2012 05:00pm
The facts of Pakistan being a theocratic and India a Harbi state will always be the unsaid background of any type of relationship between the 2 countries. To dismiss this profoundly qualitative difference by pretending that it does not matter is to believe in real castles built by diplomats in the air.
Normal Bloke Sep 10, 2012 04:46pm
it's not about who comes out on top, it's about living and working together for the good of both countries and its peoples. We can agree to disagree on certain issues, but can we not work through the others to foser better relations. Still after 65 years, the rift the British wanted to leave and did, leaves two good neighbours as two long lost friends. Wake up and come to your working together on trade, sport, communication, energy, so much could be achieved. Reach out your hand India / Pakistan and and you won't be disappointed.
Balaji Sep 10, 2012 03:47pm
Sensible Analysis... Lets Pray this works out for everyone...
Leo Sep 10, 2012 03:06pm
No Pakistani comment on this! Is it because the public in Pakistan doesn't care or any othe reason?
Dave Passi Sep 10, 2012 02:09pm
It is an opportune time for Pakistan to grab the deal while Manmohan is the Prime Minister. Who knows what will happen in India after he is thrown out and Pakistan will have less negotiating power as the gap in strength between two countries will widen further. Let's face it, Pakistan can never catch up with Indian development and will find it hard get peace with a powerful neighbour and China will not come to rescue Pakistan.
Chaman Sep 10, 2012 12:44pm
A welcome change. We can gain more by walking together on the path of progress and prosperity than fighting each other. We are same family living in different homes. God bless both the countries. Hope the disillusioned see the light of the day and give peace and democracy a permanent place in their hearts. God lives only in those hearts that are filled with love and kindness.
pakistan Sep 13, 2012 05:13am
i am in favour of strong india pakistan relationships. Both governments should stop extremist elements causing hatred and discriminations on bases of religion. No government should commit atrocities against any religion. let their people prosper regardless of color, gender, religion. we should stop pointing finger at each other. i strongly condemn any act of terror in either country and if anyone found guilty must be brought to justice. i extend my hand to you brothers in India for peace and love.
nadim(india) Sep 12, 2012 08:37am
HAHAHAHA realy nice written by pakistani for your knowledge win a gold medal not the authority to developed for your kowledge the economy of finland is heighestin europe but that country didnt won a single medal in olympics and it might b possible in next olympics india won that much gold that iran not win in there entire history
Surendran Sep 10, 2012 01:18pm
India and Pakistan can ill afford hostility, its costly and a big drain on limited resources. However, it is best to take baby steps only considering the background and nature of Indo-Pak relations.
aviratam Sep 10, 2012 05:33am
A good analysis.
hegde Sep 10, 2012 08:11am
fact is both India and Pakistan stand to gain by good relations. hope better sense prevails on both sides
prem Sep 10, 2012 08:42am
it is always good to have cordial relation with your neighbour, same is true for nations as well.
Indian Sep 10, 2012 09:13am
More Mumbai must not come sir. It must not come.
Kanu Mistry Sep 10, 2012 10:22am
The relationship must not be based on ?we should? or ?we have no option?. This would not last long. I stead, it should start purely on its merit, be it trade or any other economic aspects. The law of economics will guide and propagate the relationship, not any political thinking.
Sudhir Deodhar Sep 10, 2012 10:55am
i do not know whether the masses in pakistan as well were interested in opening the borders and business with indians... must also be considered what must be cooking in the minds of fundamentalists...
Rao Sep 10, 2012 11:13am
Is this really going to happen? Or will Pakistan back track- again ? Let us wait and see. VLRao
Jagdish Sep 10, 2012 11:34am
One more Mumbai - will derail the entire process for a generation... It will have disasterous consequence for peace in the region
Sudhir Deodhar Sep 10, 2012 11:39am
true, law of economics will guide and propagate the relationship, however, it is will be the political thinking that will decide the fate of law of economics
k. swamy Sep 10, 2012 08:17am
let us pray for it
ahmed Sep 11, 2012 12:05pm
It will be interesting to note that Pakistan claiming to be champion and leader of Islamic world, how many medals did Pakistan win?
P N Eswaran Sep 10, 2012 03:04pm
Good Indo-Pak relation is good for India and a must for Pakistan's existence.