India-Pakistan relations on slippery slope

CPEC is being perceived as a strategic encirclement of India by China in collusion with Pakistan

Talat Masood June 16, 2015
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

There is a strong perception in Pakistan that India’s present confrontational policy has been motivated by several internal and external factors. New Delhi appears to be deeply concerned by the agreement on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It feels that this agreement will further strengthen strategic and economic ties between the two countries, and provide China with easy access to the Gulf of Oman and increase its footprint in South Asia, the Middle East and Central Asia. The corridor is also being perceived as a strategic encirclement of India by China in collusion with Pakistan. Notwithstanding this, Beijing has repeatedly assured India and the international community that it is essentially an economic project.

New Delhi is also disturbed by the significant improvement in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations. It is making efforts at subverting them by sowing doubts in the minds of the Afghans through its lobbies, even though strengthening of Afghanistan-Pakistan relations does not imply that it is at the expense of any other country.

The BJP is allergic to Pakistan raising the issue of Kashmir at international and bilateral forums. This is an anathema to the party. One fails to comprehend why India thinks that Pakistan will abandon its political support for the Kashmir cause. If, however, India engages with Pakistan at the formal level, a way out can be found eventually.

There is genuine grievance in India regarding Pakistan’s failure to proceed against the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage with Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and other accomplices roaming about freely. Pakistan needs to address the matter seriously.

It is believed that the Modi government, having failed to show results on the economic front, is trying to deflect attention from its domestic challenges by adopting a confrontational policy towards Pakistan. Based on the reputation that Narendra Modi had built in Gujarat, the Indian people were hoping that he would bring about a qualitative change in their lives by improving India’s economy. There is no doubt that there has been progress in certain areas but expectations have fallen short in the economic sector. The Delhi elections were an indication of the people’s disappointment with the BJP. A more realistic check of the people’s mood would be the forthcoming elections in Bihar and other states.

The BJP’s current policy seems to be to keep Pakistan embroiled in such a way that its economy is adversely affected and it is unable to sustain the strategic parity that has existed over the years. It wants to draw Pakistan into an arms race at a time when its economy is entering a stabilisation phase and is poised to move into the growth paradigm. By keeping up the war hysteria, India is discouraging foreign and local investments and creating conditions wherein Pakistan is forced to spend more on defence.

Modi’s intention, apparently, is not to engage Pakistan in a major military conflict, as that will go against Indian interests of fast-tracking economic development in India. But what if the Lashkar-e-Taiba or India’s own extremist elements, taking advantage of the current hiatus, launch a terrorist attack anywhere in India or in Indian-held Kashmir? This will trigger a situation that could in all probability get out of control. In case India responds by invoking the Cold Start doctrine and launches a limited attack on Muridke or any of the locations of the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), Pakistan will not sit idle. It will respond by launching a similar attack on Indian soil. In a worst-case scenario, the situation could escalate where Pakistan employs its tactical nuclear weapons. Apparently, other options for India in the event of a terrorist attack could include a naval blockade or a punitive air strike. All these are likely to result in stepping on the escalatory ladder with similar consequences. The most alarming aspect is that the two countries could unwittingly become hostage to militant and radical forces if they close all avenues of dialogue.

The international community will remain sceptical of Pakistan’s sincerity in engaging India unless we come out clean and abandon support for the JuD.

One is aware that the BJP government has no interest, at least as of now, in developing even trade and commercial relations with Pakistan. This perhaps, fits in with its policy of snubbing Pakistan. Besides, in the overall volume of foreign trade, the trade between India and Pakistan is inconsequential, as currently at the official level it constitutes a very small fraction of India’s global trade. Modi’s charm offensive at the global level and in Saarc countries, however, can be grounded if belligerence towards Pakistan were to get out of control. A hostile neighbourhood and a volatile border is not an ideal scenario for promotion of trade with other countries.

The establishment in Pakistan exercises overriding influence over foreign policy and is equally opposed to trade with India and has been the prime obstacle to granting it the MFN status. In essence, both countries perceive that political objectives trump any possibility of expansion of commercial or economic relations. Clearly, this is a short-sighted policy. The current level of trade between the two countries is not a true indicator of the potential that exists for its future growth. It is widely believed that trade opens up new channels of communication. Lobbies develop that contribute in bringing even inimical neighbours to shed their past. We have the classic example of the European Union. The recent model of China-India relations may be more apt. Economic and commercial relations between India and China are developing at a rapid pace despite an undercurrent of distrust, strategic rivalry and a running border dispute. The trade volume in 2014 crossed $71 billion and is on the rise. This is staggering considering that in 1977 it was only $1 billion. I am not overlooking the fact that the power equation and nature of the dispute between India and Pakistan is vastly different when compared with the one that exists between China and India. Yet the possibility and potential is there and has to be exploited to mutual benefit. Regrettably, in our region, countries look at neighbours with great suspicion. India is fearful of China to the point of paranoia; Pakistan views India as hegemonic and Afghanistan finds Pakistan domineering. This is preventing the region from exploiting its potential.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 17th,  2015.

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Yasin | 6 years ago | Reply @meshuga You are awesome. Your rejoinder @rex minor takes the cake.
Bewildered | 6 years ago | Reply @Raj - USA: "Pakistan brought in talibans to use against India and lost Swat, Waziristan etc. Now it is bringing in China to use against India and USA and shall lose Baluchistan." Last time I checked Swat and Waziristan are still part of Pakistan and the Indian TTP stooges have been made to flee to the cave holes in Afghanistan. Now Baluchistan, well, no harm in day dreaming. You couldn't take back Azad Kashmir and GB adjoining Indian territory in the last 68 years, and you talk about Baluchistan which is a disconnected territory. And I know you'd like to bring in East Pakistan and 1971, so congratulations on creating another Muslim country, though it has more to do with our own follies and its remote geographic location than anything else.
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