Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao arrived in Islamabad on June 23 for two days of talks with her Pakistani counterpart, Salman Bashir, and if you thought there was any chance of things moving forward this time, Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna whispered from across the border: Don’t expect much. He didn’t have to say it: Pakistan is going through another spasm of instability at home because of al Qaeda and the US even as the two mainstream parties — PPP and PML-N — seen as stakeholders in normalising relations with India are at each other’s throat. They both tried to garrotte each other in Kashmir where pledges were made that are totally incompatible with the normalisation of Pakistan-India relations.
India has the Mumbai terror attack card to play because the public opinion in India is stuck on it and there is more jingoism in the media there than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can handle, despite his helpful peace-seeking remarks. The heat is off Kashmir as far as Pakistan is concerned, even though India is hardly handling the trouble in the Valley any better. The Indian policy of bothering Pakistan in Afghanistan instead is working and Pakistan is taking the bait to further damage its standing at the global level. Being a revisionist state, Pakistan suffers vis-à-vis India if India does nothing. Pakistan says India is creating trouble in Balochistan but can’t procure any proof of this. Some Pakistani officials lump India together with the US and Israel and are blaming the ensemble for attacking the PNS Mehran base in Karachi.
India hides its policy of doing nothing on peace talks by harping on about the 2008 Mumbai attack by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and asking Pakistan to cough up or punish the culprits. Pakistan is famously dragging its feet on the LeT trial in an anti-terrorism court and no longer even pretends that the world is not laughing over its prevarication. Instead, more scandals are surfacing about the Mumbai attack from a trial that has unfolded in the US against those who planned the attack together with LeT. Meanwhile, officers in the Pakistan Army are being apprehended, confirming the global fear that an increasingly unstable Pakistan is being undermined by its ‘rogue’ elements.
Pakistan’s relations with India are bedevilled by other factors too. Pakistan is alone in the region because last time it was dominant in Afghanistan it made the regional states suffer. Now everyone wants it to clean up its jihadi organisations lined up behind al Qaeda; and India is hiding behind this universal demand. Instead of asking the world to help it hunt down and eliminate these terrorist militias, Pakistan is trying to switch its enemies: The US is taking the place of al Qaeda, an organisation which is bad in the eyes of only 11 per cent of Pakistanis according to a recent poll. The media have projected to the hilt this new ‘strategic adjustment’ which favours India by isolating Pakistan.
Yet the Pakistan-India dialogue has been restarted under pressure from American and European diplomacy. Why is the West pursuing Pakistan-India peace? Because getting out of Afghanistan will be more realistic and peaceful if India and Pakistan stopped their confrontation in the region. The realisation that the Afghan crisis is nothing but another manifestation of the Pakistan-India proxy conflict is not new. The problem is that Pakistan is unwilling to abandon its old threat perceptions; and India is too willing to benefit from the fallout of the Mumbai attack and the rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation in Pakistan. The current pantomime is of no use. In India and Pakistan, people are too convinced of their separate morally correct assumptions to support any real change. What is to be done?
The ball is in Pakistan’s court because it can’t live with the current status quo, while India can. Economists on both sides thinks that the two should stop trying to resolve their disputes and take up the project of free trade and an integrated South Asian market allowing cross-border investments and communication arteries. This can be done without giving up Pakistan’s claim on Kashmir. Conditions of peace and cross-border movement will rescue Pakistan from its famine-threatening economic paralysis and encourage a grateful international community to give a helping hand.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2011.
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