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June 20, 2019

The only way forward


June 20, 2019

What is the likely outcome of any offer by Pakistan of a resumption of the Pak-India dialogue? The answer this largely depends on where you are positioned in India. Indian hawks would rather spurn Islamabad’s offers to New Delhi to get back to the negotiating table. Such hawks would rather argue – swankily – that India is ahead of Pakistan in nearly all indicators and that India’s soft power has the world's trust. The hawks would instead rather have Indian PM Narendra Modi, fresh from beating the once mighty Congress black and blue, go the whole hog in sorting out Pakistan.

On this side of the border, the main opposition to offering a dialogue to New Delhi resides in ‘ground realities’. Why curry favour with the Indians when they are not inclined to play ball with us? The fact that Narendra Modi, whose recent electioneering resonated with anti-Pakistan sentiments, has been voted to power with an even heavier mandate, makes any hope for a Pak-India détente a rather distant possibility. Modi’s howling electoral triumph is conclusive evidence that the Indians by and large are averse to mending relations with Pakistan. Hence, on both political and popular levels in India, the cards are stacked against a thaw between the two nations.

Such arguments may contain some correct premises. Take, for instance, the key economic indicators, where India mostly leads. Being the world’s second largest market and one of the fastest growing economies, India whets the appetite of pragmatic world leaders and profit-driven multinational enterprises eyeing to enhance their share of the enormous pie. Added to this is the country’s soft power – yoga, Bollywood, etc.

But do such glowing credentials give India carte blanche in dealing with its neighbours? The question can be answered either way. For real-politik, power creates its own values and thus international relations are all about leading smaller or weaker nations by the nose. However, for liberalism, since the international political order is based on sovereign equality of states and peaceful dispute resolution, every state is bound to respect its neighbours. India thus can’t turn down Pakistan’s invitation for peace and at the same time claim to be an exponent of liberal values.

There’s a flip side to India’s other powers as well. It is home to arguably the largest number of both poor and illiterate people in the world. The country’s Gini Coefficient, which measures inequality of wealth distribution in an economy, is 0.51 – one of the highest among the major economies. Remember that on the Gini Coefficient countries are assigned a value between zero, which means perfect equality, and one, which signifies perfect inequality of wealth or income distribution. India’s Gini Coefficient score shows that the benefits of economic growth have been highly skewed in favour of the people at the top of the economic heap. Driven by poverty and illiteracy, an enormous section of Indian society remains mired in superstitions and continues to be ripped off by the soft power of spiritual cons. Farmers commit suicide in the face of bad crops and girls can’t marry as their parents are unable to arrange a suitable dowry for them. Not surprisingly, the country is ranked rather poorly at 130 out of 189 nations on the UNDP’s Human Development Index. These hard facts should be enough to bring swaggering Indians down a peg.

Regardless of what Modi and his victory signify, New Delhi needs to be constantly reminded that the two nations – instead of fighting each other – need to wage war against poverty, illiteracy and backwardness. Durable peace in the region is possible only by addressing and resolving the core issues and not pushing them under the carpet.

The Pak-India composite dialogue, which kicked off in 2004, was an attempt to sort out the outstanding issues between the two countries. The process, however, come to a standstill in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which India set down to ‘non-state actors’ from Pakistan. Since then terrorism has come to occupy the centre-stage in Pak-India relations. The current downturn in the bilateral relations was kicked off by the attack on an air force base at Pathankot in the Indian state of Punjab in January 2016, which New Delhi, again, attributed to non-state actors from Pakistan. The growing unrest in Indian-held Kashmir, racked up by the strong-arm tactics employed by the Indian regime, remains a problem for New Delhi. India looks down upon the Kashmir uprising as militancy fueled by Pakistan; for Islamabad, the Kashmiris are only baying for exercising their right to self-determination.

When the Uri base, located in the disputed territory of Kashmir came under attack in September 2016, the incident was instantly pinned on Pakistan by New Delhi. And in Pakistan the trial of Indian national Kulbhushan Jhadav by a military tribunal in Pakistan for espionage and sabotage further soured bilateral relations. In recent months, New Delhi whipped up war hysteria in the wake of the February 14, 2019 incident in Pulwama located in Indian-held Kashmir.

Over the last several years, it is only Islamabad that has gone out of the way to address some of the issues and questions that dodge the Pak-India relationship. First, the government of General Pervez Musharraf (1999-2008) indicated its willingness to consider an ‘out-of-the-box’ solution for Kashmir. On the second occasion, Pakistan decided to normalize trade with India. As part of the overture, the positive list for imports from India was replaced with a negative list comprising about 1,200 goods out of more than 6000 importable products. The move was bold for two reasons. One, it marked a significant deviation from Islamabad’s strategic argument for restricted trade with India, which made normalization of commercial ties with the eastern neighbour contingent upon settlement of the core Kashmir problem. Two, the trade balance has heavily been in favour of India – and understandably so due to the country’s better economic indicators. By agreeing to open imports from India, Pakistan risked running an even greater trade deficit.

Though in each case, the goal could not be achieved, the important thing was that Pakistan showed the flexibility to tone down its stated position. Recently, Islamabad did the right thing by releasing captured Indian pilot Abhinandan. Regrettably, New Delhi is yet to come out with such flexibility despite being better placed to do so. Instead, India revoked Pakistan’s most favoured nation (MFN) status hot on the heels of the Pulwama incident. Not only that, New Delhi’s tantrums give the impression that it wants to be sued for peace on bended knees. Nothing can be as fatal for bilateral ties as such an impression. All said and done, peace through dialogue is the only desirable way forward in Pak-India relations.

The writer is an Islamabad-based columnist.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @hussainhzaidi

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