By Khaled Ahmed
May 12, 2018
A British think tank has noted that Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, “invited the Indian military attaché and his team in Pakistan to the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad; and then General Bajwa said two weeks later that the Pakistan military wanted peace and dialogue with India”.
There is no doubt about the wisdom — which is another name for strategic flexibility — of seeking peace with neighbours. An economically pressured Pakistan simply can’t afford to have its fronts heating up east and west while there is instability within. In the eyes of the world, however, Pakistan must take the initiative because the world rightly or wrongly thinks that Pakistan, as a “revisionist” state, has bothered India with covert cross-border attacks. There are no takers for Pakistan’s explication of the disastrous Kargil Operation of 1999.
General Bajwa must retrace other missteps taken at home with those who sought to “normalise” relations with India, starting with the Vajpayee visit in 1999 that ended with a joint Lahore Declaration signed with then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which the then army chief Pervez Musharraf didn’t like too much. Earlier, it was the PPP which sought a policy change with India and suffered for it. On the eve of the 2013 election, Sharif and his party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, declared their intent to seek peace with India and won the election, which meant a popular mandate for the pledged India policy. The army didn’t like that and Sharif as prime minister was soon in trouble.
It is only logical that General Bajwa undoes some of the policies pursued inland before approaching India, if only for the sake of credibility. So far, India has rebuffed his gesture and the world too is unimpressed.
Given this scenario, the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Ajay Bisaria, is doing his duty of focusing on optimism. He was at the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry that had responded positively to Sharif’s call for open trade with India. He knew his government was harassing Pakistani diplomats in New Delhi to highlight its unhappiness over Kashmir. So Bisaria zeroed in on “the traders on both sides of the Indo-Pak border who face visa issues, which is among the reasons why the two sides have failed to actualise the potential of $30-billion trade mark estimated by the World Bank”. He was unhappy that given the potential, the two countries were officially trading only $2.2 billion. Bisaria pointed to 70 years of bilateral conflict that had brought no good to the region.
There is no doubt that Pakistan is under pressure to normalise relations with its neighbours. Going against its martial grain of “Castle Pakistan”, it has allowed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to puncture its territory and has not yet weighed the changes this has the potential to bring about. While it is true that New Delhi has rebuffed China’s offer to join the CPEC, India’s new-found anti-China “adjustment” with a mercurial President Trump may not last.
In Pakistan, however, some analysts have ventured to break from the idea of Castle Pakistan — more accurately “Islam ka Qila” — and are thinking of a new identity. The most recent statement of this new identity was made by a senior journalist M Ziauddin: “Pakistan’s strategic location makes it an ideal country to adopt the warehouse/transhipment economic model. So, in order to make the most of the opportunity offered by CPEC, we need to invite Russia as well to set up its own trade corridor through Pakistan and also let India trade with Afghanistan via Pakistani land, facilitating New Delhi to go beyond to Central Asia and also reach western China while China could access western India through this corridor which would also hopefully open up a trade window to the landlocked India-occupied Kashmir.”
Trade puts an end to war because of the vested interest in mutual prosperity. Nothing destroys borders more effectively than free trade, which Pakistan and India should move to as nuclear powers no longer able to wage war. Maybe the process of “becoming like the enemy you hate” in India will come to an end and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s original instinct of economic advantage will prevail.
Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan.