Friday, October 10, 2008




    Pakistan President, Asif Zardari, must love to set the cat among the right-wing, Islamist pigeons in his country. After wounding them by proclaiming that the world was a safer place because of George W Bush's leadership, he has now gone ahead and rubbed salt in those wounds by saying that "India has never been a threat to Pakistan" and using the word 'terrorists' to describe the so-called 'freedom-fighters' in Kashmir. Despite the subsequent clarification issued by his spin-doctors, and discounting for the proclivity of South Asian politicians' to either use words and phrases in complete disregard to their connotations, or say things they don't mean, the fact remains that Mr Zardari's comments are a part of a continuum in the paradigm shift he appears to be trying to effect in Pakistan's relations with India. The question is whether he can actually deliver on his vision. Equally important, is India even aware of the 'mission impossible' that Mr Zardari has embarked upon? And if it is, then how far is India willing to go in the search for peace with Pakistan?

    Even if it is only in the context of trade between the two countries that Mr Zardari does not see India as a threat, this in itself is a big step forward in the way the Pakistani leadership perceives India. Until now the right-wing business lobby inside Pakistan has demanded a protectionist trade policy vis-a-vis India by voicing the fear that Indian trade and industry will swamp Pakistan and drive indigenous industry out of business. And if the economic argument didn't sell, there was always the bogey of Kashmir that came handy to stall any progress on opening trade and investment relations with India. 'No trade with India until the solution of Kashmir' was the clarion call of the right-wing politicians who were funded liberally by the local businessmen and industrialists. But with Pakistan staring at an economic meltdown, the economic reality is sinking in. Under these circumstances, opening the doors to Indian investment, trade, travel and tourism will certainly serve as a shot in the arm for Pakistan's ailing economy.

    At one level, Mr Zardari's remarks to the Wall Street Journal need to be seen as an expression of his supreme confidence in the ability of Pakistani businessmen to compete with India and benefit from cooperation and competition with Indian businesses. At another level, it is an acceptance of the need to change the traditional policy of settling disputes with India. In other words, Mr Zardari is refuting the old strategy of cutting one's nose to spite the face of the adversary. In its place he is favouring a policy that seeks to develop vested interests in peace on both sides of the Radcliffe line. Instead of bad-mouthing India and adopting a needlessly hawkish line to win brownie points from the hardliners, Mr Zardari is trying to carve a peace constituency that will help to make difficult decisions more palatable for the governments and peoples of India and Pakistan.

    President Zardari is quite right in his assessment that a large part of Pakistan's economic, security, and social problems can be sorted out if relations with India normalise. Not only will this reduce the now almost unaffordable defence expenditure that Pakistan is incurring to maintain a strategic parity with India, it will also allow the Pakistani security forces to concentrate on the real threat to Pakistan's existence as a modern nation state, i.e. the internal threat. At the same time, trade with India will allow Pakistani industry to import capital goods and raw materials at much more competitive rates that they do from any other country. Pakistan will also be able to exploit the Indian market which will allow Pakistani industry the economies of scale. Opening up travel and tourism will see a flood of Indians, many of whom will come on nostalgic trips, some will come for pilgrimage, and others will come as tourists. And if Indians, who are seen as 'enemies of Pakistan' in rest of the world don't feel threatened travelling to Pakistan, the signals this will send to the rest of the world will be extremely beneficial for Pakistan. What is more, the benefit to Pakistan's economy from the money that Indians will spend on staying and shopping will give a fillip to the local economy.

    Therefore, President Zardari's remarks and his approach towards India more than anything else designed to promote Pakistan's national interest. But expectedly enough, in the sort of psychotic, reactive mindset that prevails inside Pakistan his interview with the Wall Street Journal has been deliberately and self-servingly misread and misinterpreted by the hardliners and right-wingers inside Pakistan.

    Be that as it may, it is extremely important that India too reciprocates the desire for normal relations that Mr Zardari is expressing so daringly. For India to continue to voice doubts on Mr Zardari's ability to deliver or doubt his control over the Pakistani military-bureaucratic establishment is not only silly, it is also counter-productive. If India expects to deal with Mr Zardari only after he has proved that he is in command, then it is making a big mistake. If anything, by dealing with Mr Zardari India will help him consolidate rather than the other way round. India must understand that there will be influential sections within Pakistan which remain unreconstructed as far as relations with India are concerned. They will continue to sponsor trouble in India. While India will expect Asif Zardari to rein in this element, at the same time India must work overtime with Mr Zardari to create a situation that isolates and pushes the hardliners to the fringe.

This does not mean that either India or Pakistan have to resile from their national positions on sovereign disputes like Kashmir. It only means that despite these disputes neither side will be bloody minded about them and will continue to cooperate and normalise their bilateral relations. Sovereign disputes exist even among friendly countries. The US and Europe have clashed many times on issues of trade. China and US continue to trade and prosper despite strategic differences and territorial issues like Taiwan. The UK and Ireland have a problem on Northern Ireland, but this didn't stop them from developing normal and friendly relations. France and US had a major disagreement on the Iraq war and passions ran so high that the Americans renamed French Fries as 'freedom fries', but the political leadership of the two countries didn't give in to baser instincts and break off their ties.

The trick is to create a situation in which interests of countries are better served in their working together and friendly relations outweigh any benefit of hostility in relationship. When such a relationship develops, disputes are settled through negotiations and dialogue and in a spirit of give and take and by accommodation of each others' interest. Mr Zardari's overtures to India need to be seen in this light. He has taken the position that Pakistan's enlightened self-interest is served by friendly relations with India rather than a debilitating and destabilising hostile relationship. It is now incumbent upon India to reach out and help Mr Zardari in this venture.


    <1200 Words>                    10th October, 2008



Blogger Pooja Shali said...

There you go again, Mr.President!!
Asif Ali Zardari seems to be creating one storm after another. As if his extremely vocal appreciation of Sarah Palin's beauty was not enough, there appeared one more explosion from the late Benazir Bhutto's husband. The recent one, however, is more dramatic and exclusive. In an interview to Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal, Zardari confessed to the active presence of militant Islamic groups in J&K (according to him within the Indian occupied border). He elaborated by referring to them as 'terrorists' and continued to say that they are not 'freedom fighters' as Musharraf must have liked.

As the broadcast and print media began to flash these exclusive words, our countrymen were stunned. Coming from a Pakistani President, predecessors of whom have supported the absurd so-called freedom struggle, this was an uncanny moment.

The defence minister of Pakistan (on Times Now) expressed shock at this statement, and tried to cover up the matter stating that the president was misconstrued. So was it really a preposterous blunder by Zardari? Or the leadership of Pakistan has decided to finally withdraw its support to the ongoing terrorism in Kashmir? Or was it just another well planned political move?

The author would like to believe that it’s all three of the above. Pakistan has thought and rethought its stand on Kashmir. The upheaval that their government has supported for decades in Kashmir, which ruined a million lives, has begun to haunt them now in the global arena. While its favourite neighbour is all set to sign a nuclear deal, Pakistan is busy trying to hide its inner turmoil that has also paralysed its borders. Constant references to terrorism in India supported by the ISI, became too much of a burden for its leadership. The inability to counter such claims has also unwrapped Pakistan’s insecure present and uncertain future. Perhaps, it was obvious that Zardari came out to be an authority against terrorism in the valley as opposed to supporting it. Whether or not he meant his words, is a different game altogether.

The Pakistani government weighed too much of its integrity on Kashmir, but failed miserably to convince the world that it was a fair deal. They seemed to have realised the rickety platform on which Pakistan currently stands. Expanding space for Kashmir will only push them into murky waters. For a while it shall be a wise standpoint for Pakistan to depart from their pretentious adoration of the valley and concentrate on its inner advancement.

PPP might try to clarify his stance by distinguishing terrorism and Kashmir Liberation Movement as two separate entities, but the debacle has been witnessed. The smouldering divide between Muslim separatists and Pakistani leadership is unbolted for the world to see.

Going by the current scenario in valley where ‘Yahan chalo’ and ‘Wahan chalo’ movements are in vogue, the isolation of separatists is visible. A Frankenstein they created against non-Muslims in Kashmir has today re-emerged to attack their own side, and certainly with a more monstrous outline.

As for Zardari, if he tries to clarify his words anymore, I too shall have a small advice for him- “Mr.President, the sooner you try and understand the ideology of Pakistani leadership the better it shall be for your throne”.

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Pooja Shali

1:20 AM  

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