Indo-Pak relations

Post-Peshawar terror attack, many Pakistani commentators have claimed that both civilian and army leadership are on the same page as the long-maintained distinction between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban has been wiped out. Under the new counterterrorism National Action Plan, Pakistan has announced to ban around a dozen terror outfits, including notorious Haqqani network and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. These terror outfits have long been referred to as ‘strategic assets’ of the Pakistan Army to be used in asymmetric warfare against India.

Long-time Pakistan observers would doubtless raise some important questions regarding the timing and intention of this decision. Is ban meant for an international audience? Is this too little too late? Will Pakistan revert to its terrorism ‘business as usual’ once the public outrage over Peshawar attack fades? Going by past record of Pakistan government, banning an organization can be considered a rhetorical exercise as it has meant little except change in the name of the outfit. Moreover, some recent disturbing moves by Pakistani suggest that there is little possibility for such a ‘paradigm shift’ or ‘genuine change’ any time in the near future.

Proactive approach

If this ‘business as usual’ continues, how would India respond? Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has doubtless left an indelible imprint on Indian diplomacy with his proactive approach. As far as his Pakistan policy is concerned, it has combined friendly gestures with an unyielding response to boundary provocations. For example, a section of Pakistanis who cautiously welcomed Modi’s elevation as the Prime Minister of India specifically due to his development-minded image and economic vision were not disappointed when he had invited all South Asian leaders to his swearing-in-ceremony in May last year. Through his public utterances, he has carefully attempted to convey an image of a leader who would not disturb the economic cart by engaging in conflict. And recently, Modi asked Indian educational institutions to pray for the innocent victims of the Peshawar terror attack with a two-minute silence.

But there is other side of the coin as well. His mortars-for-bullet response to Pakistan’s ceasefire violations has severe strategic limitations. India’s attempts to punish Pakistan for its suicidal policy of exporting terrorism can be extremely dangerous for regional peace. Moreover, Pakistan Army strongly feels that any major armed conflagration would invite outside intervention led by the US. Thus the real test for Indian leadership has been to find non-confrontational options, if Pakistan remains intractably unwilling to settlement of territorial dispute through direct bilateral negotiations. But India’s frustration to find a way to force Pakistan to end its support for Jihadi terrorism is not something that Pakistan can permanently rejoice at. An aggressive, assertive and dismissive India under Modi would be an entity that Pakistan is not accustomed to deal with.

Equally importantly, Pakistan is no longer the ‘master of events’ as it assumed that it would always remain. Pakistan’s strategy of asymmetric warfare has seriously challenged its very existence. The Jihadi terror outfits have taken on a life of their own. Terrorists have come to comprise one of the three main centres of gravity within Pakistan; the army and the government being the other two. These non-state actors, long backed by the security establishment, have started acting against the interests of Pakistan, attacking security personnel and their families, assassinating officials, and launching attacks on India that could trigger a regional conflict. If Pakistan does not show a greater sense of urgency to act against its former ‘strategic assets’, then prospects for normalization of relations between India and Pakistan would continue to remain bleak, and at the same time it would perpetuate Pakistan’s aloofness from South Asia.

Struggling economy

The economic situation in Pakistan is not better. Accordingly to a just-published report by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) of the United Nations, South Asian economies are expected to grow by 5.4% in 2015, whereas Pakistan’s economy is expected to fall. Pakistan holds the same status within South Asian economy as the latter holds within the global economy: the least-integrated regional economic unit. There has been very little economic growth and development in Pakistan. The financial capital-Karachi-is also faced with severe security challenges. Pakistan’s economy would struggle to grow if it remains confined to its borders.

Modi government has reasonably made it clear that progress in the bilateral trade with Pakistan can not take place till Pakistan grants most favoured nation (MFN) status to India. MFN is now known as Non-discriminatory Market Access (NDMA), as the term Most-Favoured Nation (MFN) became very controversial in Pakistan. The NDMA is expected to provide India the same benefits as need to be allowed under the MFN as per the WTO framework. India had accorded MFN status to Pakistan way back in 1996 during the World Trade Organization’s Uruguay Round but the latter has yet to reciprocate.

From economic point of view, India can simply afford to ignore Pakistan. There can be no denying the fact that India’s South Asian neighbours need India not only as a supplier of cheaper goods and services but also as a biggest consumer of them. Applying this logic, India does not need Pakistan. Those who believe that SAARC’s goal towards a common economic union is being held hostage on account of Indo-Pak hostility, are strongly advocating alternative mechanism to the SAARC. Pakistan’s self-imposed economic alienation coupled with its inexplicable aversion to enhance economic cooperation has already been institutionalized with an existing sub-regional bloc named South Asia Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) of which Pakistan is not a member. Another alternative is a group that is already in existence, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral and Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). The BIMSTEC has within its fold five of the eight SAARC countries and two countries of the ASEAN. If restructured and reactivated, the BIMSTEC can play a positive role in South Asia’s economic integration with the ASEAN. Modi has already hinted that regional integration would occur through SAARC or outside it.

In the current atmosphere of bitterness and distrust, there is no mechanism in place where trade facilitation between the two countries could be discussed. The Nawaz government showed eagerness to boost trade ties with the newly elected Modi government, but the negative signal from the Pakistan Army has sabotaged the whole process, which has the potential to transform the nature of Indo-Pak relations. It is practically impossible for Pakistani rulers to shield trust-building initiatives from domestic spoilers.

Pakistan’s only hope of reviving the economic growth is China-led ‘Silk Route’ project which involves a broad connectivity platform both by road and sea for the movement of goods and products by reviving the ancient Silk Road between China and Europe via Afghanistan and Central Asia, besides linking Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar (BCIM) Corridor as well as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor through the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is making serious efforts to reach into Gulf and Central Asian republics through Pakistan by investing in a rail-road link between Kashgar and Gwadar Port. China has also invited India in the ambitious Silk Route project for greater economic benefits.

Building trust

Learning from India-China model of economic cooperation, Pakistan needs to normalize its relations with India primarily for two purposes. First, liberalizing bilateral trade and investment would give a boost to its stagnating economy: it is expected that trade normalization would triple the volume of Pakistani exports to India immediately, and imports from India would substitute expensive machinery imports from Europe and West. Second, it would manifold increase the chances of its success against the Jihadist forces.

Pakistan Army must realize that unrelenting terrorism is not good for the Pakistani State and its people. It is time for Pakistan Army to realize that the costs of supporting terrorism outweigh its benefits and if it does not effect a course correction, which is fundamental and not just tactical; the State could potentially lose control of whatever territory remains under its control.

Building and sustaining trust depends upon a united government and strong leadership sufficiently in control of a country’s national security policy. Overcoming the psychology of mutual fear and distrust also requires a dramatic conciliatory move. Prime Minister Modi undoubtedly enjoys that position in India. He certainly has the imagination and vision to rise to this challenge.

2015 presents a unique opportunity for Pakistan to rewrite its relationship with India which is marred by trust deficit, miscalculation and self-destructive antagonism. But this would require much more than mere words. It would require Pakistan’s security establishment to produce a much-needed paradigm shift in its strategic thinking and view India not as an implacable adversary but as an attractive destination for trade an investment.

A positive gesture from Pakistan Army, where its commitment to root out all forms of terrorism is clearly reflected in its actions on the ground, would bring about a decisive breakthrough and embolden Modi to doubly promote conciliation between India and Pakistan. After all, Modi, who is committed to the logic of free flow of goods, people and ideas, is conscious of the fundamental reality that India needs a politically stable and economically dynamic Pakistan who is at peace with itself internally and at peace with its immediate neighbours.  

(The author is Associate Professor at Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Sardar Patel University of Police, Security and Criminal Justice, Rajasthan)