By Dr Rashid Ahmad Khan
October 07, 2011
According to media reports, Pakistan is contemplating granting the Most Favoured Nation status to India — a move that is being described as “dramatic”.
Is this row with the US pushing Pakistan towards reconciliation with India? Is it just a coincidence or a calculated move on the part of Pakistan to drop certain pre-conditions for forward movement on some of the thorniest differences with India, like bilateral trade? Whatever the reality, the fact however remains that escalating tensions on Pakistan’s western border due to deteriorating relations with the US have led to positive developments in Pakistan-India relations in recent months. The most recent, and undoubtedly the most significant, was Pakistan’s Commerce Minister Amin Fahim’s journey to New Delhi and his successful talks with Indian counterpart Anand Sharma, resulting in the decision by the two countries to expand bilateral trade and allowing India to use the Wagah land trade route.
According to media reports, Pakistan is contemplating granting the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India — a move that is being described as “dramatic and a break with the past”. Pakistan had, in the past, resisted granting MFN status to India on political grounds, linking it with some tangible progress on the Kashmir dispute. But, during the New Delhi talks, Pakistan decided to put aside Kashmir and remove the principal obstacle in the way of promoting regional trade in South Asia. This is a step that even Musharraf could not take during his nine long years of rule.
India has reciprocated by dropping its opposition to the grant of trade concessions to Pakistan under the European Union’s preferential tariff system, but trade is not the only area in which Pakistan and India have recently shown an unusual spirit of accommodation and mutual understanding. The resumption of the peace process that stalled following the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, without preconditions, was the first move that took many observers in the region and outside by surprise. India refused to revive the composite dialogue process, which had completed four rounds by May 2008 and insisted that it was ready to hold talks with Pakistan only on a one item agenda — the issue of terrorism. Pakistan, which had initially urged India to resume the composite dialogue and peace process without any preconditions, also suddenly changed its position and declared that it would not hold talks with India for the sake of talks only but on the assurance that talks would be fruitful and result oriented.
The Thimphu spirit emerging out of a meeting between Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart, Dr Manmohan Singh, however, changed the scenario, paving the way for the recommencement of Pakistan-India talks in 2011. The foreign ministers of the two countries announced a decision to that effect on February 10, 2011. This was the time when the controversy over the arrest of Raymond Davis for murdering two Pakistanis in Lahore had led to a serious row between Pakistan and the US.
Although resumed talks between Pakistan and India did not achieve any significant breakthrough on contentious issues, it was clear that the two countries were approaching the issue of peace and normalisation in the region with a positive and constructive outlook. This was indicated in the comments made by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and her Indian counterpart, S M Krishna, following their meeting in New Delhi in July 2011. “This is indeed a new era of bilateral cooperation between the two countries,” Khar told the Indian media whilst standing next to Krishna. One of the positive outcomes of the talks was the decision to relax some of the trade and travel restrictions across the Line of Control (LoC) dividing the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Commenting on the Pakistan-India talks marked by a new sense of keenness and openness of mind, South Asian watchers commented that they were being influenced by uncertainty in Afghanistan with a looming US troop withdrawal.
That Pakistan and India are indeed intent on opening a new chapter in their relations is evident from yet another dramatic and unprecedented development — Indian permission to allow former AJK Prime Minister Barrister Sultan Mahmood to visit IHK. Although Barrister Mahmood, prior to his visit, had asserted that this would only be a private visit and that he did not intend to meet any political leaders in IHK, he did have a one-to-one meeting with IHK Prime Minister Omar Abdullah during the wedding ceremony of a prominent businessman’s son that he had come to attend. The two leaders are believed to have discussed various issues relating to the situation in the state on either side of the LoC. Barrister Mahmood is reported to have met a number of other mainstream Indian and Kashmiri politicians present at the wedding ceremony.
Barrister Mahmood was the first ever high profile politician from the other side of the LoC to visit the part of Kashmir under Indian control since 1947. It may be noted that a similar request by Sheikh Rashid, a former information minister of Pakistan and close associate of former president Pervez Musharraf, had been turned down by India. The permission for Barrister Mahmood to visit IHK was seen as a positive sign of improvement. “By granting a visa to me, India has initiated a new chapter to strengthen confidence building measures between the two neighbouring countries,” Barrister Mahmood told a news agency, adding that he would like to turn his private visit into an opportunity to strengthen ties between India and Pakistan so as to amicably settle the Kashmir dispute.
Realising that it cannot afford hostility simultaneously on its western and eastern borders, Pakistan’s move for an improved relationship with India is understandable. But, in Pakistan, there is an influential lobby, including religious political parties like Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) that holds that instead of accepting US hegemony to counter the security threat from India, it is better to improve relations with the latter to avoid being a surrogate to the former. In India, as well, there are certain circles that are of the opinion that if Pakistan and India join hands, they can keep the region free of the influence of extra-regional powers. A widening row between Pakistan and the US, therefore, may come as a blessing in disguise for peace and reconciliation between the two archrivals, Pakistan and India.
The writer is a professor of International Relations at Sargodha University.
Source: The Daily Times, Lahore