OVER A COFFEE : Redefining Pak-India relations — Dr Haider Shah
Despite many apprehensions and media-led hullabaloo the prime ministers of India and Pakistan held a high profile meeting in New York. As widely predicted no fireworks or breakthroughs resulted from the meeting whose importance lay in its symbolic value. The meeting was helpful in setting the tone for Paki-India relations after formation of new government in New Delhi next year.
Quoting the example of Serbia sometime back I advocated the need for redefining our relations with the international community in general and our neighbours in particular. Serbia’s past is much more bloodstained than ours, but in order to join the European Union (EU) and improve economically, the Serbian government, backed by its civil society, made a conscious decision of projecting a new image to the international community. Making a break with the jingoist past, the national heroes of the past were handed over to the UN war crimes court for trial. Nations — much bigger and stronger than us — made paradigmatic shifts in the past as well.
Look at the UK, France and Germany, the three biggest powers of Europe. One of the wars between UK and France is named 100-Year War because the hostilities between the two countries continued for almost a century. Germany conquered the whole of France in 1940 in less than six weeks. Germany and UK bombed each other vehemently in the World War II. India and Pakistan have never seen the scale of destruction the peoples of these countries experienced in various European wars. Lessons were, however, learnt and after Germany was destroyed as a military power in 1945 the European powers redefined their relationship and today they are almost approaching the status of a federal state in the form of EU.
If we don’t like Western countries’ examples, we have an Asian example at hand as well. Japan, a military superpower in 1930s, also redefined its relationship with their arch foes in the changed realities of post World War II era.
National doctrines or ideologies are not cast in stone. Ideologies are for people and not the other way round. This Darwinian principle of evolution is equally true in the realm of international affairs. When the external environment changes we have to adapt in order to survive. Unfortunately, hawks in Pakistan fail to understand that living beyond means not only destroys personal lives but it is also a destructive force at national level as well. As a part of our national mythology we assume that as Pakistan is India-fixated so is India and her military build-up is in competition with Pakistan. The reality is that China and India have historically been the regional powers of trade for European merchants for thousands of years. Today, both countries are 1.3 billion in population and are tipped as the future top two economic giants of the world. In this historical war of supremacy between two great regional powers other countries are either helpers or nuisance. If we just cast a glance at the GDP figures of India and Pakistan we find that Indian GDP is almost nine times bigger than ours. And with a steady growth rate that ranges from five to eight percent, while we are struggling around three percent, the wide gap between economic muscles is further widening. We need to wake up to the fact that we are not a rival but a nuisance to India in the region. If we keep this imagined rivalry status to cricket alone, we will do ourselves a great favour.
Smaller states in Europe have synced their economies with those of major powers of Europe. We have so far failed to recognise the importance of this lesson and have not integrated our economies with the economies of the region. The trade between China and India is much healthier than our trade volume with either of the two heavyweights. While the state of affairs is very dismal the only ray of hope is the right discourse of our prime minister. He recently aired his concern over poor trade figures with both China and India. His narrative is less about browbeating neighbours and more about boosting economic relations. In the past, when we were unable to gain recognition in the field of economic performance, we tried to compensate that by nursing terrorist outfits and earning nuisance value in foreign affairs. Both India and China, to a varying extent, have been complaining about this.
We are at a crossroad and choices are in front of us. We can continue playing the discourse on terrorism like a 20-20 match and feign ignorance about links of Pakistan with terrorist networks. Yes, Osama bin Laden was just holidaying in Abbottabad. Ajmal Kasab and other assailants were not brainwashed and trained in Pakistan. Employing offensive defence, we can utilise the services of the likes of Sheikh Rashids, Hamid Guls and Zaid Hamids to enjoy the state of blissful denial. But has this strategy worked so far? We have hardly impressed anyone in the world despite emotional outbursts of our hawks. And as a consequence, the Frankenstein’s monsters created to frighten others are now roaming our own streets and are holding the state to ransom.
We need a complete disconnect with the past. Just as European nations and Japan did in 1940s and Serbia has done recently. Redefining our relationship with India, we should consider terrorism as a joint problem and should make trade the defining feature of our new relationship.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org