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Indo-Pak on the way to ‘Peace’


By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse, August 10, 2012


A string of background interviews with senior civilian and military officials reflects a bit of new thinking within the policy planning apparatus. This indicates a new line of thinking i.e. reach out to India, because, presumably, if relations with India improve that would automatically take care of relations with Afghanistan, where India has big influence. Pakistan is also now adamant on pursuing the pipeline from Iran because of energy needs and is using this as a bargaining chip with the United States for assistance in the Afghan reconciliation.

Does this suggest Pakistan has finally realized that the key to normalizing and stabilizing relations with Kabul and Washington rests with New Delhi? Probably yes, because most officials including the foreign minister appear to believe, and thus peddling the view that finding Peace with neighbours will mean peace within.

They believe that India will remain a challenging relationship for quite some time because both have invested heavily in building hostilities over decades, and confronting them now was how to disarm all those people and lobbies who fuel hostility and militarism.

That is why, after decades of acrimony and relentless mutual pin-pricking both India and Pakistan appear to be moving out of the mutually damaging negative zone that characterized their relations sofar.

Two recent ministerial statements provide a good context for being optimistic on this front. Firstly, the Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna made an unprecedented statements 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 that even global conditions require that both the countries maintain good bilateral relations.”

Only days later, Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, enthused by the positive vibes out of New Delhi, said in an interview: “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.

Khar is hopeful of receiving Mr Krishna in Islamabad in the second week of September, with the probability of prime minister Manmohan Singh also following up on an invitation by President Asif Ali Zardari either late September or a few weeks later.

Premier Singh’s Pakistan visit would underline a huge step forward in the history of bilateral relations since 1988, when Rajiv Gandhi attended the SAARC summit at Islamabad.

The poison that the bloody Mumbai attacks (2008) injected into the bilateral relationship is probably giving way to the need for a pragmatic mutual engagement. Thus far, India had remained rigidly fixated on action against Lashkare Taiba, and practically held the entire relationship hostage to this singular fixation. One hoples that the Indian leadership is meanwhile ready to delink expansion and normalization of relations with Pakistan from its repeated demands for a demonstrable crackdown on Lashkare Taiba.

The readiness on both sides to allow investments on reciprocal basis i.e. removal of ban on Pakistani investments in India and the State Bank decision to allow UBL and HBL open business in India underscore the expanding matrix of confidence building measures.

In all probability the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status for India early this year paved the way for the apparent turnaround in respective views; in granting the MFN status to India, Pakistan essentially signaled its preparedness to view India through a different prism and thus pave 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 sofar. Even China has made inroads into politically adverse countries such as USA and Japan through overwhelming trade.

Regardless of the commercial-financial dividends of the new-found approach of relations via trade, Pakistan most probably 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-Pashtoon Afghan security establishment. It 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 normalize and expand ties with India will help repair fissures that a skewed defense doctrine has created within Pakistan.

As far India, it has apparently realized the futility of linking relations with progress on terrorism cooperation (LeT), and that a state of perennial conflict with a crisis-hit Pakistan neither suits India on its way to the UN Security Council, nor does it allow New Delhi regional economic linkages (such as participation in the Iranian (IP) or Trukmen (TAPI) gas pipeline projects. So opening up to Pakistan automatically opens multiple political and commercial doors on India.

Now, if Pakistan can demonstrate through actions that it is giving up the cold-war era policy of hunting with proxies, there is no reason why India and others distrustful nations should not engage with Islamabad in a more trustful and constructive way.
If Pakistan can successfully convince outsiders that it has abandoned the questionable and outdated security doctrine of strategic depth - that rested on non-state actors as the first line of defense – it more probably paves for a sincere and constructive engagement. It is time to take advantage of the space that the burden of political and economic circumstances has created for both India and Pakistan, and to work for more people-focused policies rather than investing in jingoism at the cost of those half a billion people that live below the poverty line.

The writer is executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies  

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk