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June 19, 2012

Wait, watch, verify… and then trust

The quest to improve bilateral ties with Pakistan shouldn’t blind India to the ground realities

India and Pakistan are moving closer to improving ties at a time when Pakistan’s relations with the United States continue to sour. Analysts have long predicted that the tenuous relationship between the US and Pakistan would unravel sooner than later.  Indeed, Pakistan’s linking of a US apology over the deaths of Pakistani troops in Salala last November to the resumption of on-land NATO supply routes has put it in a position where it can neither back down, for domestic political reasons, nor continue to overtly impede the US, given its economic condition.  With there being no end in sight to this steady deterioration of ties with the US, Pakistan perhaps realises that it is not in a position where it can proactively challenge both the US and India in its neighbourhood.

The pursuit of warmer relations with India may thus be to serve short-term objectives in Pakistan, and not necessarily be the change-of-heart that many writers in sub continental media hope it is. It should be all the more concerning given popular narratives now emanating from New Delhi which favour some sort of Indian compromise so that both India and Pakistan can ‘move forward’. It is imperative that New Delhi observes and then judges Pakistan based on its actions before making any commitments that might ultimately compromise its own security.

For example, commentaries on the warming of relations between India and Pakistan have focused on trade. Writers and Track-II participants alike have opined that it is through trade that Pakistan and India can achieve peace.  Many consider the granting of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India as a major step towards normalising relations. Still others have proposed that India-China ties ought to be a model for India-Pakistan ties, where border disputes don’t preclude the pursuit of bilateral engagement on issues such as trade. But these arguments are largely misguided.

It is important to put the issue of trade and MFN status into proper context. Pakistan’s economy today is in peril; its growth rates have stagnated and inflation is soaring.  Its debt-to-GDP ratio is above 60 percent, necessitating its repeated requests for emergency financial assistance from the IMF and others.  According to a SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry study, India-Pakistan trade in 2008-2009 stood at $2.2 billion. The study projected that the potential for bilateral formal trade stood at $12 billion, but this is contingent on a number of factors not easily achievable given the realities of politics in the subcontinent.

Moreover, trade with Pakistan is of little strategic importance to India because Pakistan doesn’t produce commodities of critical value to India.  It is in fact Pakistan, not India, that will largely be the beneficiary of a liberalised trading regime between the two countries, as cheaper imports from India will drive commodity prices down and grant Pakistani traders access to a larger market.  Liberalising trade with India therefore, is perhaps more a reflection of Pakistan’s constraints rather than any shift in position on contentious bilateral issues.

Photo: Conorwithonen

Next, on issues such as Siachen, caution is called for before committing to idealistic and unilateral concessions when none are warranted.  It is unlikely, despite utterances from leaders such as Nawaz Sharif, that Pakistan will agree to unilateral concessions on the issue.  Moreover, Pakistan’s continued refusal to authenticate the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) should be further warning of its intentions and should give pause to the urge to surrender a strategic advantage obtained through the sacrifices of our soldiers. Given Pakistan’s previous track record in that troubled region, India can ill-afford withdrawal, even if possible, without authentication.  Moreover, Gen Kayani’s own subsequent statements on Siachen effectively put to rest any question of Pakistan withdrawing from Siachen.

So what has Pakistan really done to encourage India to move forward on key security related issues?  Hafiz Saeed, the architect of the 26/11 massacres in Mumbai, still roams free in Pakistan.  Apparently, no amount of evidence provided by either India or the U.S. is sufficient to convict him. While infiltration into J&K has decreased year over year, it still continues to be used as an instrument of policy against India.  As recently as May 10, 2012 five infiltrators were killed while trying to make their way into J&K via the Uri sector.  Further, terrorist training camps continue to exist in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

This is not to ignore domestic political constraints in Pakistan which inhibit the country’s capacity to shift its positions on contentious issues.  The ability of the civilian government or army to operationalise agreements with India is admittedly questionable. Zardari government remains hugely unpopular and wields little political clout on foreign policy and security-related issues. Mr. Zardari’s return from the summit in Chicago, empty-handed, will no doubt, lead to his further isolation from policy and decision making. Even General Kayani finds himself in a very precarious position, having presided over the very public shaming of Pakistan on three occasions in 2011– the release of Raymond Davis from captivity, the unimpeded journey of U.S. Special Forces from Jalalabad to Abbottabad and the death of Bin Laden, and the Salala incident. He can thus ill-afford to appear to have compromised yet again.

However, if Pakistan is indeed committed to improving ties with India, it must also recognise, as the weaker of the two powers, and one that already operates with decided strategic and economic disadvantages, that negotiations and final settlements on territory must largely favour India. The idea that India shows magnanimity towards Pakistan merely because it is larger is misplaced logic and a relic of a bygone era. Ultimately, the benefits of improved India-Pakistan ties are skewed more towards the weaker power, Pakistan, than towards India. It is in Pakistan’s interests, more than it is in India’s to improve bilateral ties. Improvement of bilateral ties would require compromise and compromises are for Pakistan to make, at least for now.  The Pakistani leadership must measurably demonstrate that it has gotten over its India psychosis. The need of the hour in India is to wait, verify, and then, perhaps trust.


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