Tuesday April 23, 2024

Indian expectations

There was a visible excitement in India when Nawaz Sharif emerged as the next prime ministerial cand

By Ahmed Quraishi
June 05, 2013
There was a visible excitement in India when Nawaz Sharif emerged as the next prime ministerial candidate in Pakistan. Opinion pieces began appearing in the Indian media by journalists and businessmen gleefully recalling their recent meetings with Mr Sharif. India-leaning commentators outside India published articles reminding Sharif of his earlier statements promising better relations.
It is good when a Pakistani politician helps raise hope in India for peace with Pakistan. That’s more than we can say about our experience with the Indian ruling elite over the decades.
All of this looks promising. But where it becomes worrying is when you read between the lines. Most of this excitement in India is centred on the idea that Sharif, ousted by the military in 1999, will return to power to take revenge against the Pakistani military. Some of this Indian expectation is based on interviews that Sharif granted to Indian journalists where he appeared to be pandering to this Indian wish.
Of course Sharif is a consummate politician. He tickled the Indian sensibilities just enough to create a frenzy. He may have not given any overt anti-military statement so far but he did leave something on the table for the Indians to feast on.
The idea that peace with India rests on Pakistani actions is misleading and inaccurate. India is the largest country in our strategic neighbourhood of south, central and west Asia. India could have easily chosen to show magnanimity and resolve the festering dispute of Kashmir six decades ago to the satisfaction of both sides. It can do this now if it chooses.
Instead, India launched a policy of encircling Pakistan as early as 1950, using Afghan soil to create and use proxy groups. India invaded Pakistan without provocation in 1971, thereby taking a border dispute over Kashmir to a new level of enmity. I won’t even mention who introduced nuclear weapons in the region, and whose military formations dot the entire length of our border while claiming to be focused on deterring China.
India is hoping that Pakistani politicians will give it unilateral trade concessions in exchange for good press and praise as peacemakers. This will not happen. President Zardari tried to do it and partially succeeded but this won’t last. Instead of harbouring dreams about unwarranted Pakistani unilateral concessions, the Indian elite will do well to opt for fair play.
If more trade is not mutually beneficial, it will stay at the current levels, which are satisfactory and hurt no one. More trade doesn’t mean that expensive Indian bananas swamp the Pakistani market at the expense of unsubsidised Pakistani fruits as is happening now. More trade should also mean more Pakistani goods going to India after the removal of India’s complex nontariff barriers.
What is more disturbing than Indian attempts to get unwarranted Pakistani concessions is the new wave of anti-Pakistanism that India’s ruling elite is fostering for some months now. The public beating of Zargham Raza, the first secretary at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, and his driver at a market is the latest example. Over several months, Pakistani poets, artists, sportspersons and other visitors have been at the receiving end of various forms of Indian hate and hostility.
This sharply contrasts with the Pakistani record. No Indian visitors have ever been assaulted, harassed or mistreated in Pakistan, publicly or privately, for as long as anyone can remember. Pakistani generosity to Indian visitors is poles apart from the pettiness shown to our citizens in India.
Recently, India’s government notified Pakistan that it won’t guarantee the safety of Pakistanis visiting a famous Muslim Sufi shrine. Indian terrorists who burnt alive up to fifty Pakistani peace visitors aboard a ‘peace train’ near New Delhi in 2007 are yet to be punished.
India should not pin hopes on a fight between Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan military that it could exploit to extract undue concessions from our government. New Delhi should opt for fair play, solve problems and stop fostering a folk myth that the events of 1947 will somehow be undone. They won’t.