A fork in the road!

Situation in S Asian region in general and Pakistan-India relations in particular are on a downward slide

Khalid Saleem April 01, 2019
The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan and ex-Assistant Secretary General of OIC

Asia — the biggest continent on Earth — continues in a state of re-evolution. The eventual result of this metamorphosis is bound to have a profound impact on the shape of things to come on our planet. Events are moving with breathtaking rapidity in this vast continent that encompasses not only the two most populous countries on the planet and some of its most vibrant economies, but also the bulk of the world’s Muslim population. It is also the repository of some of the most coveted of the natural resources on Earth.

No wonder then that the situation in our region is gaining increasing attention of the rest of the world. The situation in neighbouring Afghanistan has continued to cadge headlines, thanks to the sordid aftermath of the ‘war on terror’. Over the recent past, the situation in the South Asian region in general and Pakistan-India relations in particular are on a downward slide.

The upcoming elections in India will have a profound bearing on the shape of things to come. The long-lasting stand-off, due mainly to the unsettled contentious bilateral disputes, has further aggravated due to the religious intolerance being exhibited regrettably by the Indian regime.

South Asia has exhibited all signs of being an ill-starred region over the past several decades. The rather belated agreement to set up Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) raised some hopes but the organisation did not live up to its promise.

Not only has the organisation been a singular failure in efforts to add an economic dimension of note to the regional ties, its record in regional planning and problem solving has been pathetic. What has made matters worse has been the fact that India, making no secret of its ‘Big Brother’ attitude, made evident its intention of dealing with each of its neighbours individually and on its own terms. The spirit of Saarc has, as a result, been stifled to a great extent!

Despite the surfeit of platitudes and the ostensible efforts of all and sundry, Pakistan-India relations remain stuck in a groove. In fact, things are evidently getting worse. The basic problem is that most unsettled issues between the two countries do not relate to territorial claims alone. Territorial issues can be frozen — much as China-India issues have been — but matters become more complicated when denial of the fundamental rights of people, vital economic matters like apportionment of water and the ownership of natural resources, as well as environmental issues, are inextricably linked with them.

The two sides should recognise the urgency of settling the contentious issues sooner rather than later. India has shown little inclination so far to engage in meaningful negotiations. Nor does it agree to adopt other means of settling disputes as laid down in the Charter of the United Nations and as recognised in the Simla Agreement.

It needs hardly be over-emphasised that India-Pakistan dialogue of the future must be meaningful and result-oriented. Talking just for the sake of talking — as has been happening in the past — is not going to help. The practice of pointing accusing fingers at each other, efforts aimed at garnering brownie points and/or stepping on each others’ toes — as has been the practice thus far — need to be shunned.

Pakistan has embarked on an ambitious economic programme connected with the projected China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. For this to yield positive results, it is imperative to have peace both within the country and on the frontiers.

This will be the assaying time for Pakistan in dealing with its neighbours, as well as those who profess to be its friends. Needless to add, it will also provide a welcome opportunity for the powers-that-be in Pakistan to separate the grain from the chaff. Pakistan faces a fork in the road. A circumspect decision at this juncture will be of crucial importance!

Published in The Express Tribune, April 1st, 2019.

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