Nawaz Sharif’s ‘roads’ doctrine

There is a South Asian Free Trade Area in force that makes cross-border investments possible, making war impossible.

Khaled Ahmed August 20, 2011

If a doctrine doesn’t work and the state suffers repeated reversals because of it, it is time to think again and invent a new guideline of state conduct. The problem is: how to supersede the reigning doctrine? Pakistan has an adversarial doctrine about India. Some scholars say it makes India and Pakistan mutually exclusive: if India flourishes, Pakistan goes down; if Pakistan flourishes, India goes down. Why not flourish together, which is the true message of the nuclear weapons the two boast?

The new buzz is that both India and Pakistan can flourish if they allow ‘connectivity’ between the two economies. It is not so new either. At South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) all the good and sane things have been said and signed on; and connectivity is one of them. Therefore it is not surprising that PML-N leader Mr Nawaz Sharif has announced the ‘doctrine of roads’ as the new paradigm of relations. The leader who dares to change fundamental doctrines is a leader indeed.

Addressing a seminar organised by the South Asian Free Media Association (Safma) in Lahore on August 13, he said: India and Pakistan had the same culture, their peoples worshipped the same God — meaning they were not animists — and spoke the same language. He wanted the two states to compete in the realm of economics rather than in armament.

He spoke about roads. He said he had plans to build his motorway up to Kabul via Peshawar as well as to Gwadar and Tashkent, and in 1999 had counted on India to extend it from Lahore to Kolkata, reproducing the ‘connectivity’ established long time ago by the Muslim king in Delhi, Sher Shah Suri. He wanted India and Pakistan to trade rather than prepare for war which damaged the quality of life of the common man by downgrading the region’s economic infrastructure.

Before people start flying into a rage, let us recall that under Saarc the transport ministers of the region have already agreed to three road corridors through Pakistan to Afghanistan via the Wagah Border, a Colombo-Kochi sea link, and a ‘demonstration container train’ from Pakistan to Bangladesh through India and Nepal. There is a South Asian Free Trade Area in force that makes cross-border investments possible, making war impossible.

South Asia’s internal trade is only $4 billion. It has the potential of $80 billion. In August 2008, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at a Saarc summit: “Economic cooperation, connectivity and integration will be the cornerstone of Saarc in the years ahead”. Now Nawaz Sharif has shown statesmanship by announcing his doctrine of roads.

When Mr Singh visits Bangladesh in September, some issues like sharing rivers, sending electricity over the border, settling disputed patches of territory on the 2,500-mile border will be tackled. Roads will be built with $10 billion across Bangladesh to link India with its north-eastern states. After the deal, Bangladesh’s GDP growth rate is expected to go from the current seven per cent to nine per cent. India has already handed over half a billion dollars in a soft loan for the project.

Bangladesh has come round to thinking differently. Not long ago it thought like us when it rejected a Myanmar gas pipeline going through its territory to India. China got it instead. Pakistan waived its ‘Kashmir-first’ doctrine to allow a similar gas pipeline from Iran to go through to India; so there is a precedent to lean on. But this shift from ‘warrior state’ to ‘trading nation’ will need a big leader like Nawaz Sharif to realise.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2011.