After decades of relentless mutual pin-pricking, India and Pakistan appear to be moving out of the mutually damaging negative zone that have characterised their relations so far. A gradual change is possibly in the air, discernible from the Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna’s statements in late July: “Friendship between the two countries has become inevitable … the acrimonious debate and slanging match between Pakistan and India will not help either country and even global conditions require that both countries maintain good bilateral relations”.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar is also enthused by the positive vibes coming out of New Delhi. “We are encouraged by these statements and hope to continue the new regional policy that will ensure smoothening of relations and economic development through trade,” she said in an interview.
The two ministers are likely to meet when Mr Krishna visits Islamabad in the second week of September, with the possibility of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also following up on an invitation by our president. If premier Singh’s visit materialises, it would be a huge step forward in the history of bilateral relations since 1988, when Rajiv Gandhi attended the SAARC summit in Islamabad. Thus far, India had remained rigidly fixated on action against the Lashkar-e-Taiba and practically held the entire relationship hostage to this singular fixation. The readiness on both sides to allow investments on reciprocal basis — i.e., removal of the ban on Pakistani investments in India and the State Bank’s decision to allow some banks to open business in India — underscore the expanding matrix of confidence-building measures.
In all probability, the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status for India this year paved the way for the apparent turnaround in respective views; Pakistan essentially signalled its preparedness to view India through a different prism and thus pave the way for a relationship that promises greater dividends than a policy that has only eaten into the vitals of the country itself. That means buying into the relations-via-the trade-route approach that New Delhi has been insisting upon.
Regardless of the commercial-financial dividends of the newfound approach of relations via trade, Pakistan expects that rubbing off frictions with India will eventually ease off tensions with Kabul and Washington, too. India has considerable clout with the predominantly non-Pashtun Afghan security establishment and also serves as the prism through which the US looks at Pakistan. The security establishment also seems convinced that under the present volatile security and adverse economic conditions, a vigorous dialogue aimed at reducing disagreements to normalise and expand ties with India will help repair fissures that a skewed defence doctrine has created within Pakistan. India, on the other hand, has realised the futility of linking relations with every single incident of terrorism. Opening up to Pakistan automatically opens multiple political and commercial doors for India.
If Pakistan can convince in a demonstrable way that it is giving up the Cold War era policy of hunting with proxies, there is no reason why India and other distrustful nations should not engage with Islamabad in a more trustful and constructive way. Pakistan needs to convince outsiders that it no longer pursues or believes in the questionable and outdated security doctrine of strategic depth. The burden of political and economic circumstances has created space to depart from the India-centric policies to a pragmatic, people-focused security doctrine.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2012.