Pakistan must acquire interests and instincts of a reviving economy
Pakistan’s relationship with India has remained among one of the most contentious in the world. If for nothing, both are especially influential at containing each other, at least. For hawks across the borders, their mutual enmity and distrust of each other form the most important and even the sole support. But hawks are not the only beneficiary: there is in fact a tremendous level of military buildup that amounts to billions of dollars annually which relies on their mutual enmity. It is therefore hardly surprising that peace across the border is not an entity to be cherished universally.
A violent partition, three wars, long years of enmity, the paranoia of a life under constant rivalry – all this have left deep imprints upon India’s and Pakistan’s practice and outlook as nation-states. On one hand they have acquired habits of deception, secrecy and obliqueness, while on the other they have developed tendency to affect turmoil in situations of relative calm, an inclination to show their hand even in modest moment.
Since their birth, it has been the fundamental tenet of their respective foreign policies to ensure a relatively friction-free and peaceful external environment. There is a deep recognition, at least in abstract, that doing so will help both to concentrate their efforts and energies on economic well-being. Thus far, however, the goal remains elusive.
India considers itself the geographic centre of South Asia. On geographic terms maybe it is; but judging on economic parameters, it is far from being a backbone of the regional financial system. It’s been more than a decade that the Chinese-led investments have begun to replace India as the region’s leading trade partner.
India has found itself with a new rival in the form of China. The force of India’s influence in South Asia has been steadily undermined by the effects of the increasing trade activities led and owned by the Chinese.
The decline in the India’s external influence is precipitous: against the developments in the region, India has always considered it legitimate to interact and intervene in internal affairs of its neighbouring countries in a way to influence the outcome to its own favour. But that has changed. Take the case of Sri Lanka: against the recent political turmoil in Sri Lanka, India has refrained from interfering and kept a marked level of restraint.
There are considerable evidences, financial, economic, political, and cultural to suggest that India is no longer economically strong enough to underwrite, much less direct, the present regional economic order and obtain a role as the region’s leading economic power.
Consequently, as part of the impacts of India’s regional decline, it has grown reactionary, aggressive, thin-skinned and clueless.
And it is this fact that we, the Pakistanis, are generally tempted to disregard: that we always see in India an aggressive top dog, a power who is bent upon its offensive instincts and has no regard for values like equality and sovereignty. However, based on the quality of arguments and quantity of evidence it is difficult to establish an unequivocal link on India’s offensive nature.
Currently, India is faced with severe threats and its foreign policy is suffering with severe crises of confidence and reach.
Having serious challenges abroad and facing general election at home, Modi government is tending to choices on the basis of their likely positive impact on the election. Since minimizing these international challenges and ensuring survival of his government is of prime importance, Modi is fashioning narratives and environment in which he looks strong and credible.
Drastically contaminating all this environment is the recent attack on a convoy of Central Reserve Police Force in Indian-Occupied Kashmir, killing at least 40 personnel. As expected India has accused Pakistan for the attack. As it’s only a matter of weeks that the general election will be held in India, therefore, the attack, deadliest in decades, carries significant repercussions.
Modi-led government has shown little sign of restraint and rationality. Being guided by a mix of guile and expediency and to garner maximum political support, it has threatened to break stone after stone out of the already-crumbling foundation of Pakistan-India relations.
So, for the foreseeable future Pakistan is destined to be seen as a foe. Hatred against the country is and will continue to be woven deeply into the identity and culture of India.
As India is militarily superior and also because the language of hard power is deeply inscribed on the psyche of India’s nationalist politicians, she might feel comfortable on the terrain of hard power.
But if history is any guide, the employment of hard diplomacy, from Sri Lanka to Bhutan and Nepal, has never truly benefitted India.
Hatred cannot be a national property and therefore, mustn’t be preserved in the psyche of people. Therefore, it is advisable that in situations of crisis and turmoil Indian politicians and policy-makers must refrain themselves from responding opportunistically, no matter how much intensified-vested-interests there might be.
The atmosphere is polarized, so much so that it has complicated even the reality of the Kashmir dispute: what was originally a dispute based on territory is being ratcheted up into something much deeper, destructive struggle that seeks to destroy history, economy, culture, and national identity.
The moment shall pass. But what’s important for Pakistan is that it must continue to reaffirm its commitment to the development of region-based connectivity infrastructure.
Both India and Pakistan must remember that pursuing a zero-sum relationship and embarking on needless military confrontations represent strategic and intellectual degradation. Notwithstanding the rising level of unemployment and mass deprivations that both countries have been experiencing more or less since their birth, such an approach has consistently burdened them to entangle themselves in growing levels of military spending. The strategy is diametrically opposed to what they need now.
Imran Khan has promised to reforming the country and strengthening its deteriorating institutions. He has spoken in terms of attaching overriding importance to economic development. If it is the context, it must also strictly be adhered to improving relationship with India.
Here it is important to underline one of the major problems with our strategic thinking: it is extraordinarily short-term. If there is any underlining strategic article of faith, if we call it so, it is essentially characterized by short-term, myopic, vacillating reactions. Nothing is unanimous, uncontested.
We are living in an era better described as ‘contested modernity’. In this era of multiple and often competing values, in the changing circumstances, Pakistan will have a substantial say only if it develops its economy. How we handle our internal mess matters most. We must, therefore, acquire interests and instincts of a reviving economy.
As the world is becoming more and more multilateral and alliance systems experiencing greater fluidity, ever since the end of the Cold War, Pakistan is placed in an enviable position to facilitate great power cooperation and play a role conducive to great power peace. Led by China, as the power balance in the region changes, it inaugurates a golden age in Pakistan’s regional position. To what extent Pakistan succeeds on capitalizing on it will largely depend on the level of Pakistan’s economic prowess.
In the current state of affairs, both India and Pakistan have much more to lose from poor foreign policy performance. Therefore, it is fundamental that both Pakistan and India adjust their domestic imperatives to the dictates of international political economy. Whether India does it or not, Pakistan surely has more incentive to tailor its internal behavior towards facilitating greater cross-border economic, cultural and trade activities.
In its relation with India, Pakistan must exercise a marked level of relative restraint – a restraint that seeks to touch on an important dimension of the Medina State’s mentality, namely a willingness to be patient (Sabr), to operate according to timescales which are generally alien to the world’s political mind. The case of Treaty of Hudaibya is an important example in this regard. We must also remember that in the State of Medina the use of hard diplomacy was generally interpreted as a sign of weakness and indecency rather than strength and morality.