Few would disagree with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s notion that countries with vested trade and economic interests in each other seldom go to war. In support of his argument, Khan has been referring to the classical case of Germany and France – two countries which had waged wars of attrition for ages, now living in complete peace since WWII as the economies of the two complement each other with joint ventures set up along and inside their borders. We heard him talking about it while inaugurating the Kartarpur corridor and also the other day while sharing a joint press conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran.
The preface spelled out above is based on the assumption that each time the PM referred to Germany and Japan while discussing his notion he had actually meant Germany and France.
And we also like to assume that Khan’s purpose of referring to the European example on the two occasions – both fittingly suitable – was to actually build a case for interlocking the economies of South Asian countries to liberate them from living under war clouds perpetually and use the resources released from war budgets to lift millions of South Asians out of their abject poverty.
But we seem to have already missed the bus. Things perhaps would have been a little different had we immediately reciprocated the Indian decision to grant Pakistan the most favoured nation status way back in 1996. Now in February this year after Pulwama, New Delhi has withdrawn Pakistan’s MFN status. India is currently in a foul mood, mirroring our mood back in the 1960s. In those days, our slogan was ‘Crush India’. Now the Hindutva India wants to crush Pakistan. In those days and up until 2014-15, our declared policy was: no trade with India until New Delhi offered us the occupied part of Kashmir on a platter. Today India’s declared policy is to completely isolate Pakistan economically and force it to renounce jihadist militancy. We were wrong then; India is wrong today.
Similarly, our relations with Afghanistan have gone from bad to worse, in the meanwhile. The main reason being our continued refusal to allow Kabul and New Delhi to trade with each other through land route via Pakistan.
Here is how we acted when it was the right time and ripe moment to join hands with the regional countries to set up a regional trade link of formidable depth and influence: A preliminary agreement for the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline was signed in 1995. In 1999, India also joined in. The US had publicly started backing the project by 2001. In 2009, India withdrew from the project over security issues.
While trying to find the reasons why the project could not be launched during the period when the US was openly supporting it, one came across a number of anecdotal explanations, including the one that alleged that it was Pakistan itself that had kept dragging its feet. Again, the reason quoted for Pakistan’s reluctance was extremely ridiculous. In our supreme ‘national interest’, we had decided to deny our ‘enemy number one’ the gas its economy had badly needed, even if it meant: 1) foregoing the $600 million annual fee India would be paying us for the transport of gas through Pakistan; 2) giving up the control we would have on the tap, with a turn of which Islamabad could cut off the supply in retaliation for any future hostile act by New Delhi against Pakistan’s strategic interests; and 3) doing without much-needed gas while our own domestic reserves were depleting fast. Foregoing all this just to stop the Indian economy from taking off! The Indian economy still took off while ours on the other hand has nosedived meanwhile, thanks to an acute shortage of energy.
One cannot vouch for the veracity of this anecdote. But one had witnessed the keenness of Iran to see if Pakistan had included the gas pipeline project in the agenda for the Agra summit held in July 2001. The then Iranian ambassador to Pakistan was seen anxiously trying to find out if General Musharraf was taking his petroleum minister to India. He did not and the subject was not even broached at the failed summit.
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