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Can India learn from Japan?

By Imtiaz Gul

The Friday Times, Nov 11, 2011

Major capitals anxiously watch as Islamabad and New Delhi tread the delicate path of normalisation. The vibes right now look good and all those concerned about the two "nuclear-armed" south Asian neighbours hope the bilateral dialogue will turn into an uninterruptible process. The optimism flows from the fact that neither of the countries is dispensable. This is at least the sense one gathers even in Tokyo, where government officials and academia keep reminding visitors from South Asia to learn from the examples of Japan-Korea ; initially two uneven partners but now beneficiaries of a market economy, wherein the smaller nation ie Korea has unparalleled access to the Japanese markets.

The anxiety over the uneasy Indo-Pak relations, and the desire to see them smooth out their frictions, also found expression during secretary of state Hilary Clinton's October 21 visit to Islamabad during which she welcomed the pace of progress that Pakistan and India are making toward normalising their trade relations. She also applauded the implementation of the Transit Trade Agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan that also allows for export of Afghan goods to India. 

Here in Tokyo, meetings with serving and retired foreign ministry officials in Tokyo suggest that they consider an improvement in the Indo-Pakistan matrix as crucial for regional peace and stability. Ministry of foreign affairs officials in Tokyo believe Pakistan "has to think of ways of improving relations with India." It, they insist, is a must to prevent Pakistan from sliding further into political and economic disarray."

Most of these officials, however, place the greater onus of responsibility also on India; the Indian economy is leap-frogging, far ahead of many other Asian countries. Its stakes in a peaceful relationship are very high and that is why it is in the interest of New Delhi also to smoothen its ties with Islamabad. 

"Given the high economic stakes, India cannot afford a military stand-off with either of its neighbours," said one of the Japanese ambassadors serving in the region. 

The ambassador pointed to the Japan-Korea model of political and business relations to argue that India being in a much stronger and comfortable position, shall have to demonstrate magnanimity.

"South Koreans always complained about Japanese companies. They were rarely happy with us till we began compromising," argued one of the senior most officials responsible for southwest Asia. "The moment we started treating them as equal partners, Koreans were changed altogether," said the official, pointing out that Seoul today was almost equal to Japan in credibility, economic contribution and its role in global politics.

He explained that the unusual development of Korea-Japan relations came about only because of the conditions Japan created for the Korean companies. This of course was in the interest of Japan as well. And that is the Korean automobile giant, Hundai, for instance is acquiring Toyota - a brand synonymous to Japan world over. Samsung is taking over Sony - the pride of Japan. That is how several Korean companies have simply surpassed many Japanese firms and industries. 

"Respect for the Korean companies in Japan today is as much as that for the traditional Japanese multi-nationals and that is why Korean officials and business houses now speak at par with Japanese," an official pointed out to peddle the argument that India most probably shall have to initiate some major confidence building measures (CBMs) to raise the level of comfort in Islamabad. Tokyo also welcomes the Pakistani decision to accord most favoured nation (MFN) status to India. It will improve the Indian trust in Pakistan and probably prompt it to be more magnanimous than it has been until now.

Based on their experience with South Korea and other ASEAN nations, Japanese officials believe that the affluent and stronger partner has to offer greater sacrifice to create a neighbourhood for political stability and economic and commercial progress.

India, say officials, must realise that as a much bigger country, it cannot remain indifferent to global demands of improving relations with its neighbours. Japan is ready to mediate but only the two countries want this. The United States, say officials, has sofar tried it, with some degree of success. But if more countries join this effort there is no reason why they cannot influence the Indo-Pakistan relationship.

India needs to fix its relations with all the neighbours surrounding it if it wants to be accepted as a regional power, Japanese academia and officials maintain. They, however, believe that for winning the confidence of the international community and of India, Pakistan, too, shall have to demonstrate its seriousness and prove its commitment to the cause of peace and counter-terrorism. Its military and civilian leadership shall have to think out-of-the-box as to how to massage the Indian ego without compromising on the fundamentals. 

As far Pakistan, say Japanese well-wishers, it shall have to come clean on its relations - whatever the nature - with groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba, or even publicly little acknowledged involvement with the Haqqani Network. Most officials and academia in Tokyo wonder why Islamabad cannot clearly pronounce its compulsions as far as the Haqqani Network or Lashkar-e-Taiba are concerned. Without a clearly defined rationale for reliance on, or some business relationship with, non-state actors, Islamabad should not hope to evoke sympathy or empathy for its policy. Also, the entire Pakistani leadership still appears vague about what constitutes national interest. Pakistan, under the current domestic circumstances and external pressures, shall have to act straight. It needs greater pragmatism and a clear vision to chart a path of peaceful coexistence and economic development - a pre-requisite for socio-political stability. It is time to move to a security framework that relies on the economic strengths of the country rather than on private militias. 

Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and is currently a Fellow of International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk