Encouraged by a conversation with Prime Minister Gilani on the sidelines of a conference in Sharm el Sheikh, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has expressed an interest in talking to Pakistan.
Arguing that engagement between the two countries is the best way to move forward, Singh stated, “I believe there’s a large constituency for peace in both countries. I believe it’s as much Pakistan’s interest as it is ours.” Recognising the strong domestic opposition to reopening a dialogue with Pakistan that has been suspended since the Mumbai attacks, Singh hastened to add that India must protect itself by bolstering its maritime, anti-terrorism and policing capabilities. He also called upon Pakistan to bring the people who masterminded the Mumbai attacks to justice and to prevent future attacks.
On a positive note, Singh credited Pakistan with having gone further than ever before in dealing with terrorism. He is obviously putting his political capital on the line by asking his compatriots to accept a new opening towards Pakistan based largely on faith.
He cannot guarantee that another attack linked to Pakistan will not occur nor can he assure an apprehensive Indian population that Pakistan’s shadowy intelligence agencies are serious about cracking down on the zealots who are out to kill and burn the “infidels”.
As a Cambridge-educated economist and former academic, Dr Singh knows that improvement of ties between the two countries will bring with it increased trade, travel and development opportunities. Peace with Pakistan may well be the best way for him to cement his political legacy.
Should Pakistan take Singh’s hand of friendship? The obvious answer, yes, does not seem to sit well with some analysts in Pakistan.
A typical example is a newspaper column which argued that talks with India are a façade and should be called off. The columnist suggested that India was only interested in discussing one topic with Pakistan: terrorism. His recommendation: Pakistan should focus on resolving its internal problems and fighting terrorism, on asserting diplomatic, political and moral support for the Kashmiris and on exposing India’s role in fomenting insurrection in Balochistan.
New Delhi’s announcement that India had launched the first of five nuclear submarines only served to fuel the fires of jingoism in Pakistan. The INS Arihant, part of a multi-billion dollar project, will undergo sea trials before being formally inducted into service in 2015. Once that happens, India will have acquired a nuclear triad, an unfortunate trapping of great power status.
A prominent Pakistani analyst noted that Pakistan was left with no alternative but to seek ways to maintain a strategic balance with its nemesis. Lost on him was the fate of the Soviet Union when it pursued strategic parity with the United States, a country with a much bigger economy. Not only did the USSR go bankrupt, it ceased to be a country.
If the cry of the hawks is heard once again in Islamabad, Pakistan will find itself on the road to ruin. There is widespread consensus among economists that if current trends continue, India along with China and the United States will be one of the world’s three largest economies by the year 2025.
Surely no one in Islamabad would pitch a plan for maintaining a strategic balance with China or the US. So why do some people think that it can do so with India?
It is useful to re-imagine ties with India by seeing how other countries with deep-rooted differences are managing their relations. Three examples are noteworthy.
Beijing and Taipei have serious differences but they have never gone to war. Indeed, Taiwanese businessmen have been making significant investments in China for a while now. Political ties between the two countries are softening, as manifested by the recent exchange of congratulatory messages between their leaders.
The US and China are often called long-term rivals. There is no question that their cultures and politics are very different. Even then, President Obama recently hosted a high-level Chinese delegation to Washington. Earlier, the US secretaries of energy and commerce were in Beijing to deepen ties. Trade and investment relations between the two countries are extensive and war between them is highly unlikely.
Finally, the two leading states of the Cold War, Russia and the US, are seeking common ground. President Obama was in Moscow recently to discuss the resolution of outstanding issues. For Pakistan, trying to pursue a strategic balance with India is as myopic as was its policy of pursuing strategic depth to counter an Indian invasion by supporting the Taliban in Kabul. The menace of Talibanism now threatens the body politic of Pakistan. A bigger blowback would be hard to imagine.
The problem is that some Pakistani leaders continue to live in dread of India. Only recently, retired Gen Pervez Musharraf was expounding on the wonders of the invasion of Kargil, saying it brought Indian leaders to the talking table.
Such thinking which glorifies a botched military operation is misguided, effete and dangerous. All it serves to do is threaten the subcontinent with Armageddon.
The leaders of the two countries should talk and not just on the sidelines of other meetings such as those in Egypt and Russia. When Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif met in Lahore in 1999, the opportunities for peace and economic cooperation looked really good.
Kargil shattered that momentum. The Agra summit in 2001 did not go anywhere because Musharraf scuttled it by walking out. Peace will require a longterm view. It cannot be achieved overnight. Nor can it be achieved under the shadow of the gun.
But it will come closer the more frequently the leaders of the two countries engage in dialogue. With persistence, the dialogue will become purposeful and conclusive. By calling Kashmir the core problem the Pakistanis have put themselves in a box. And by calling terrorism the central problem, the Indians may be putting themselves in a box. It is time for the leaders of both countries to seek a new beginning. They need to do something that their predecessors have not been able to do: sign a no-war pact.
That would alleviate Pakistan’s fears about an Indian invasion which since 1971 has been a strong part of the national memory. And it would stop Pakistan from venturing down the slippery slope of seeking strategic parity with India.
Ahmad Faruqui is the author of Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan.
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