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Touqir Hussain

PRIME Minister Narendra Modi has been re-elected. So what next for Pakistan-India relations? Will the neighbours start talking again? Certainly. But will their dialogue amount to anything? I am afraid not. The irony is that whether or not India and Pakistan are talking their relationship changes little, as if it has been inoculated against friendship since infancy. 

The shadow of history has darkened the two countries’ view of each other. The burden of the past continues to oppress the present making the relationship resistant to change. What makes change still harder are their foreign policies, resting on conflicting identities and national purposes and moving in colliding orbits. Each has remained an indelible fixture of the other’s domestic politics, compromising the will to change.

Modi’s hard line on Pakistan is not exceptional. This has been the default position of most Indian leaders. The difference is Modi’s perceptions are beating to the rhythm of global sentiments towards Pakistan especially in the West that have turned negative. Modi’s negativity towards Pakistan is an asset in his relations with the US on which his foreign policy pivots. And at home he has played up the militancy issue to harden the existing public attitudes towards Pakistan, from which he derives political mileage and support for his brutal repression in India-held Kashmir. 

History’s shadow has darkened the two states’ view of each other
Relationships change when countries have a compulsion and incentive to seek change. Between India and Pakistan, one or the other stimulus has always been missing. When either sought better ties the other was not ready. That is how the 1999 bus diplomacy and 2001 Agra summit failed, and the Manmohan Singh-Pervez Musharraf back channel lost its way. On rare occasions when both sides were inclined to look for change, like Modi and Nawaz Sharif, non-state actors struck.

Given its economic challenges, Pakistan has stronger compulsions to seek better relations but like India wants the normalisation to be free of cost. Neither is ready to give the critical concessions the other demands. They have not only magnified each other as a threat but also exaggerated their own capability to deal with it. India feels that by virtue of its size and military and economic power it is intrinsically qualified to seek hegemony in the region. Pakistan rejects such a normalisation — particularly a normalisation minus Kashmir. That is why the relationship cannot improve as it lacks consensus on the terms of engagement. 

Meanwhile, Modi feels the benefits of alienating Pakistan exceed those of conciliation. But the policy has run its course. Frustrated that despite its power and influence, India cannot manage Pakistan, he decided on military action after Pulwama. But it did not quite work because of Pakistan’s successful response. The military option has the risk of escalation or becoming a regular pattern thus losing its effectiveness.

That leaves dialogue as the only option. But the problem is, it is one thing to have a dialogue and quite another to institute a dialogue process that would require an understanding on fundamental issues. And understanding is hard to come by, especially as the relationship is no longer just about Pakistan and India. India’s Pakistan policy is an adjunct to its China policy and a footnote in its relationship with Washington. And India is a subset of Washington’s China policy and relations with Pakistan.

No meaningful change is expected from India unless some or all of the following happen: there is progress in Pakistan’s fight against militant organisations; Modi’s repression in Kashmir fails; Afghanistan stabilises along with visible improvement in Pakistan’s economy; and US-China relations head for a dangerous escalation forcing India to reassess its ties with Washington. These are big ifs for the future. Meanwhile normalisation of Pakistan-India ties will remain subordinate to Modi’s global and regional ambitions, his Kashmir policy, and domestic politics. A resumed dialogue may achieve little more than some improvement in atmospherics, and a partial resumption of people-to-people contact, and progress on Kartarpur, all vulnerable to the next incident. 

Ultimately, for durable peace and prosperity to come to South Asia what is required is the emergence of strong leaders in Pakistan and India and a paradigm shift in domestic politics, national policies and the mindset of the people, possibly led by the next generation. Only a different Pakistan and India can be friends one day. 

Steve Cohen in Shooting for a Century fears India Pakistan rivalry could possibly last for a ‘century’, in cricket terminology. A forbidding thought indeed.

The writer, a former ambassador, is adjunct faculty Georgetown and Syracuse University.


YOU must be pretty desperate to claim that a major oil discovery was around the corner when the experts all said such an announcement was premature. Old cynics like me have heard such claims many times: past leaders have proclaimed such a breakthrough, only to backtrack soon afterwards. But never did anybody before Imran Khan pin our economic recovery on the success of an oil strike. So when Kekra-1 — as the offshore oil well was dubbed — failed to find anything, there was a deathly silence from the government. Around $100 million had been sunk into the venture and it is doubtful whether by foreign oil companies will drill there anytime soon.

We have waited for manna from heaven in the form of an oil bonanza.

 For decades, Pakistanis have dreamt of a major oil strike that would transform their country into a kind of subcontinental Dubai. While we do have a few productive oil pockets, these are modest compared to those found in other parts of the region. And we have been fortunate in our large gas fields that have saved us billions of dollars in energy imports. However, our profligate use of this precious resource has resulted in turning us into net importers.

The point here is that, instead of getting on with fixing the economy through increased productivity and revenue collection, we have waited for manna from heaven in the form of an oil bonanza. And to fix our rotten system of governance, we wait for a messiah to rescue us from the hole earlier leaders had dug. Imran Khan is only the latest Saladin Ayyubi, the legendary Kurd general who defeated the Crusaders nearly 1,000 years ago. His promises to cleanse the
land of corruption and usher in a new Pakistan ring hollow as the economy continues on its death spiral.

It is not so much that he has failed to deliver, as the fact that he has handed most of the important portfolios to individuals with dubious credentials. The price of power has been high for the once-idealistic Khan, but one he was glad to pay to satisfy his ambitions. Sadly, he has turned out to be unprepared for the responsibilities of high office. But spare a thought for those who put him in power. In their calculus, Khan, with his international image of socialite and ageing playboy, would be able to deflect criticism of our alleged support for jihadist groups. But when FATF, the terrorism financing watchdog, threatened to place us on its crippling black list, it became clear that our prime minister’s reputation didn’t cut any ice with Washington’s power brokers. The worsening economic scenario, and the delayed appeal to the IMF for yet another bailout, also exposed Khan’s ignorance of fiscal realities. All these factors have, according to reports circulating in Islamabad, driven a wedge between the military and political leadership.

I can understand the cause of Khan’s frustration: having made numerous promises to attract voters over his long campaign to become prime minister, he now finds that he has no money to do very much. After interest on billions in past loans has been paid, and our huge defence budget is allocated, all that’s left is the money to pay administrative costs. Khan discovered early on that selling the buffaloes and official cars in the prime minister’s residence wasn’t enough to finance the foundations of naya Pakistan. So there’s less talk now of converting state buildings into universities, museums, hotels and galleries. Meanwhile, retailers, real estate agents, stockbrokers and car salesmen all report a sharp drop in business activity. Not that I have much sympathy for them, but we do need an active market to sustain employment and keep money flowing. Lower profitability means a drop in tax collection which is already very low.

Egypt’s middle class and the poor are still reeling from the effects of the $12 billion loan taken from the IMF to support its collapsing economy in 2016. As subsidies on a wide range of food and consumer goods were slashed or withdrawn, poverty levels have increased. One of the Fund’s conditions was that the budget deficit had to be brought down. As Akbar Zaidi argued so persuasively here in a recent column, you can’t blame the IMF for tough conditions. Like all banks, it wants to ensure that it gets its money back, and in most cases, this means restructuring the economy of the borrowing country. After all, the IMF hasn’t put a gun to our head and demanded that we approach it for a loan. Thus far, the rich have ducked paying their due taxes, and the well-connected have run all kinds of scams to milk the exchequer. Whether Khan’s team will be able to muster up the resolve and the motivation to upset their own class remains to be seen. But I’m not putting any money on such a transformation.

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RE: PAKISTAN'S VISION 2025 - by globalvision2000administrator - 05-25-2019, 01:14 PM

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