In support of Pakistan-India trade

Published: March 7, 2012

The writer is a defence analyst who retired as an air-vice marshal

For some time now, I have been reiterating the fact that both India and Pakistan are too entrenched in their respective ways of thinking about the other. For any meaningful progress in their relationship they shall have to find some parallel or alternate avenues of engagement; else Kashmir, Siachen and terrorism can only keep them pegged to where the relationship began in 1947 — inimical, speculative and distrustful. Siachen, Mumbai and Kargil only reinforced the older paradigm.

So when Mr Anand Sharma, India’s minister of commerce who recently visited Pakistan and declared that trade has the potential to improve trust and confidence between our two countries to tackle more intractable issues, he had at least one supporter in me hailing his vision. Kudos also to our rather young, but increasingly-maturing foreign minister on saying in her presser how trade indeed shall be freed between the two countries by the end of the year, and how doing so does not in any manner ‘dilute’ our gradually increasing list of core issues (though she may be half right there).

Pakistan has strong reservations about India; and, this perhaps cannot be more understated. But there remains a need for a serious introspection on most issues from Pakistan’s perspective. It must include a genuine cost-benefit analysis that indicates the realism in actualising some of Pakistan’s long-held objectives. It is true that over a given time, issues between nations mutate, morph and take different connotations. The questions on Kashmir must include: Is the issue a greater albatross now around India’s neck, or was it a bigger pain when Pakistan may have had something to do with it in the 1990s? Isn’t Kashmir now big enough to become India’s own problem, than when Pakistan was more involved in it? The Kashmiri leadership is grateful for the default morality that Pakistan’s abstention has given to the issue.

On water, the deficit in intellectual understanding of the issue and in being literate enough on the Indus Water Treaty is ours. India has spent enough capital, time and intellect in educating itself on the various benefits she can muster within the bounds of the treaty. There is an imperative need to develop a ‘water intellect’ in Pakistan before we raise any banner of patriotic fervour with a capacity to inflict further damage to our long-term interests. That way, we can confront some of India’s deviations from the treaty, based on reason and logic and avoid the bluster that can save Pakistan some blushes.

I have just returned from a couple of Track-II meetings between the retired military brass of both India and Pakistan; and, I am greatly encouraged by what I heard and saw. One, the interaction between the two formerly sworn adversaries was greatly civil and respectful. You could tell the professional respect that each showed to the other, quite unlike our usual mix of bureaucrats, academics and others. More likely the latter categories remain unsure of the flex that each of their constituencies can afford even as they discuss the same issues without official encumbrances. And two, the realism that each military man — after having been a practitioner of the art of war and acutely aware of both its efficacies and inadequacies — brings to the discussion makes such an interaction promising and positively motivated.

Some of the agreed resolutions were to begin a military to military interaction between senior training institutions; invitation to each other’s senior retired officers to address the other’s staff colleges and national defence universities, to be followed by interaction between the serving officers of the same institutions. Significant among this was a realisation of the futility of war and its irrelevance to the two neighbours as an arbiter of any meaning in resolving disputes. And with that premise, and acceptance that where possible offensive strike forces be relocated away from each other’s borders — and where that may be difficult because of infrastructure limitations and the heavy-cost involved in such relocation, adjust the force mix away from offensive to a more defensive orientation. This, in itself will make any claims and aspersions on offensive doctrines such as ‘cold start’ irrelevant — keep in mind that the Indians consistently deny any such doctrine, though they concede a move towards making defensive elements more potent with a force mix that may preclude long mobilisation periods. With a willingness to change such force deployments, South Asia may just have turned the corner.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • Maaz Ahmed
    Mar 8, 2012 - 12:18AM

    1) MFN was Pak’s defeat on diplomatic front as India didnt agreed to talk on kashmir despite waiting for years.

    2) With high inflation and lower technological advancement of industry and lack of energy, even a blind man would reject it on the basis of Cost Benifit Analysis.

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  • G. Din
    Mar 8, 2012 - 12:25AM

    “Pakistan has strong reservations about India; “
    Name one country in the world that Pakistan doesn’t have strong reservations about, including your benefactors US and China. So, whose fault is? Of the wider world at large or Pakistan’s?
    “Is the issue (Kashmir) a greater albatross now around India’s neck, or was it a bigger pain when Pakistan may have had something to do with it in the 1990s? “
    We have – quite admirably, I might say- dealt with the issue “when Pakistan may have had something to do with it in the 1990s” as the facts on the ground currently attest to. There hasn’t been an iota of change in the last 65 years. As to whether it is “a greater albatross now around India’s neck”, you need not unduly concern yourselves with it. It is our albatross and our neck. We are perfectly capable of handling it.
    The rest is concerned with the military matters. Indians will believe those assertions you have made only when they hear those made by their own. If you will forgive me but personally I do not believe any of what you have said. You will understand why we view anything spoken by Pakistani generals with some skepticism considering that their own compatriots now realize how they have been led around the garden path themselves and do not show much faith in what their generals say or do, either.

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  • John B
    Mar 8, 2012 - 12:32AM

    Pragmatic analysis but who in PAK side is going to do this. Nearly twelve years Indians have been saying the same thing to PAK, and every time both were nearly there the “elements” within PAK made sure that meeting of minds did not take place.

    What is ironic in all this is that the PAK military establishment sees the solution clearly, whereas the civilian politics of PAK would like to keep the issues alive for their own respective vote banks, even though they also want to extricate PAK from the quagmire. Hopefully, there is merging of minds and actions of both institutions in positive directions.

    What is hoped here would take another fifteen years, and lot of things can go wrong in fragile PAK state of affairs, and the “Others” are not going to be happy when it happens.

    Time to educate “Others” should begin today.

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  • Thomas
    Mar 8, 2012 - 12:47AM

    Great articles. I am glad that there are people in Pakistan who have really good vison for Pakistan and for south asia as a whole. I often wondered when Pakistanis will sit down with the Indians and try sort out their problems by explaing what Pakistan needs and what peril it faces, in a civil manner and ask them what they can do to help. I am sure they will be more than happy to help where ever they can. But the muslim warrior mentality has to stop, no one is impressed!.

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  • Meekal Ahmed
    Mar 8, 2012 - 1:17AM

    Sir,

    If you going to link trade to Kashmir, water and Track II, then it is dead on arrival. It is precisely these “linkages” and “preconditions” that have scuttled free trade for the past six decades.

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  • Shahid
    Mar 8, 2012 - 2:18AM

    We have to change our mind set towards India and Hindus. muslims were the aggressors in India who ruled by force for a thousand years. India is been the only country in the world which accepted Muslims and a number of people got converted to Islam. In fact most of our ancestors were converted from HInduism.Even Allama iqbal and quid-e-azam’s grand father were hindus. in this back ground I fail to understand the prevalent prejudice towards India and Hindus. We Were one country untill sixty some years ago. We need todevelop most cordial and brotherly relations with india shedding all prejudices and bias against them.

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  • rd
    Mar 8, 2012 - 2:21AM

    wow…

    Der Aaye Durust Aaye

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  • Anjaan
    Mar 8, 2012 - 4:33AM

    I think the idea of a reciprocal gesture of MFN to India by Pakistan, and the idea to open trade between the two nations originates from the realization that (1) The status quo will not change in the foreseeable future, despite wishful thinking of many (2) Trade should not remain hostage to the conflict for ever, as it can atleast bring some benefits in terms of financial gains.

    Congratulations to the Pakistanis …… if you are not ashamed of making Indian cinema and television a part of your life, then why shy away from trade …… ?!Recommend

  • Arijit Sharma
    Mar 8, 2012 - 5:19AM

    Indians must never lose focus of the fact that Pakistan’s granting MFN status to India is a tactical move. The ultimate target is Kashmir.

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  • Cynical
    Mar 8, 2012 - 5:35AM

    @Meekal Ahmed
    Very well put.
    Succint and crisp.
    Very few words are needed when there is clarity of vission.

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  • vasan
    Mar 8, 2012 - 6:13AM

    We have waited for 65 years for Pakistan to see sense into the Kashmir issue. Except that pak has been playing with the issue, raking up emotions, increasing violence, indoctrinating its people, shouting from roof tops, initiating wars, restarting settled issues like Indus water, initiating illegal lobbying in foreign countries, spending more that what it can on the offense rather than defense etc. Even now the signs of Pak seeing realities is not there. We will handle our issues on our side and then wait.

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  • Its (still) the Economy Stupid
    Mar 8, 2012 - 6:28AM

    Since economic power has shifted from USSR and USA to China and India. The Pakistani design is to create competition between India and China to its advantage and it has nothing to do with peace or trade. Lets hope I am wrong.

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  • zalim singh
    Mar 8, 2012 - 6:50AM

    good article

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  • krish
    Mar 8, 2012 - 9:11AM

    Shahid,
    Well said. Hope more people express themselves and eliminate this unnecessary animosity.

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  • Nadeem
    Mar 8, 2012 - 9:57AM

    Just like war is too serious a business to be left to the generals, trade is too. Who we trade with, on what terms, and what are the pros and cons of a specific trade policy, these are all questions that should be exclusively addressed by, and decided upon, by civilian representatives of the Pakistani people. But of course we know that in Pakistan this policy is set in the GHQ, which is now worried about the sinking economy (and the associated cut in the rivers of money flowing to the military), and sees trade with India as one way to shore up the coffers, so that the status quo of military supremacy can be maintained.

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  • mind control
    Mar 8, 2012 - 10:05AM

    @Shahzad Chaudhry

    There is an imperative need to develop a ‘water intellect’ in Pakistan before we raise any banner of patriotic fervour with a capacity to inflict further damage to our long-term interests. That way, we can confront some of India’s deviations from the treaty, based on reason and logic and avoid the bluster that can save Pakistan some blushes

    Are you saying that the super patriots of DPC like Hafiz Saeed and Gen Gul who chant ‘Death to India for Stealing Our Waters’ are actually deficient in ‘water intellect’?

    You are brave indeed.

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  • pravin
    Mar 8, 2012 - 10:39AM

    I think Balochistan trouble is the reason behind the change of heart, which we are observing in past few weeks.

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  • gp65
    Mar 8, 2012 - 10:46AM

    @Maaz Ahmed: “MFN was Pak’s defeat on diplomatic front as India didnt agreed to talk on kashmir despite waiting for years.”

    Do you know that the two sides in Kashmir are already trading? Thousands of trucks ply each way daily. So why do you want to keep rest of Pakistan deproved from benefits of trade?

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  • Pankaj
    Mar 8, 2012 - 2:47PM

    Pakistan is now open to DIRECTLY buying goods from India
    .
    But the MAIN point is that Pakistan was still importing goods from India but VIA DUBAI
    and in the process only paying more ie on transport costs as well as to Dubai companies
    .
    Pakistan is only formalising an ALREADY existing practice
    .
    Pakistan’s quantum of imports will remain the same
    .
    Nothing new is happening here

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  • Falcon
    Mar 8, 2012 - 6:53PM

    Well said. I think when people like the author (whom I believe is considered a credible authority in regional strategy) start expressing this issue openly and generals from both sides (who have been at each other’s throat for a better part of their life) are considering peace, this is certainly a welcome development. Now, politicians, media, and civil society need to push through this idea to make this a reality. Bi-lateral trade liberalization is certainly a good start for normalizing relations.

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  • PoorPeace!
    Mar 8, 2012 - 8:18PM

    “The questions on Kashmir must include: Is the issue a greater albatross now around India’s neck, or was it a bigger pain when Pakistan may have had something to do with it in the 1990s? Isn’t Kashmir now big enough to become India’s own problem, than when Pakistan was more involved in it? The Kashmiri leadership is grateful for the default morality that Pakistan’s abstention has given to the issue.”

    Sir,
    Kashmir has never been as peaceful as it has been in last 2-3 years thanks to increased vigilance of Indian Army on LOC and general disillusionment of average Kashmiri Indians about Pakistan. It has nothing to do with any sort of abstention from Pakistan, which continues to train and arm terrorists in POK.
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  • Adnan Khan
    Mar 13, 2012 - 2:23PM

    There will be no trade with india, until Kashmir is addressed and settled, according to the pertinent UN resolutions. india will not get access to any market west of it’s border, as long as it continues it’s illegal occupation of Kashmir. And when US is turned out of this neighborhood by the Mujahideen, Kashmir gets to be on the front burner again.
    .
    Anybody, on the Pakistani side, who throws out such inane proposals (that has been roundly rejected by Pakistani businessmen, who have termed MFN as ‘economic suicide’) should expect to be drummed into the ground.
    .
    Not every soldier is necessarily fit to opine on matters outside his area of interest. Some not even there. I heard Shahzad’s commentary after Abbot raid. As facts have now become clearer, his “expert” testimony at the time was anything but.
    .

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