India And Pak’s Perennial Problem

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Rational thinking is ignored. Sensible policies remain a foolish hope. This is Pakistan’s perennial problem. 

The most important country for Pakistan is India. How? It is an adversary with which we have very poor relations. We see each other as major threats. We cannot even sustain a dialogue. We have a far warmer, more trustworthy and strategic relationship with China. We have a less warm but equally important relationship with the United States.

So how is India so important? We have 80 per cent of our population in proximity with it. Indian forces are deployed against us. A dangerous neighbour is more important than a friendly one. If Pakistan is to develop it will need a peaceful neighbourhood. Our relations with India determine our input in Afghanistan.

To improve relations with India shall we have to accept its hegemony? Abandon our support for the people of Kashmir? Or downgrade our relations with China? Certainly not! But we shall need to implement rational and realistic India and Kashmir policies, while deepening our relations with China and improving mutual understanding with the US.

We need to transform Pakistan from a state of chaos and dysfunction to a modern and participatory development state governed by law and accountable and effective institutions. Policies and priorities that are inconsistent with this transformation will be self-defeating.

Those inclined towards confrontation with India, no matter what the social and diplomatic costs, are no friends of the people. A security state will ultimately minimise security and maximise risk. Only a functioning and inclusive state can maximise Pakistan’s options, raise its international standing and ensure its views are taken seriously in the main capitals of the world.

The Prime Minister talks about prioritising relations with India. But he is yet to develop credibility for his stance. Of course, we can blame India. It is not interested in any serious dialogue on Kashmir except on the basis of the territorial status quo. The US has no interest in pressing India for a compromise settlement with Pakistan. According to an American analyst, “The US sees Pakistan through an Af-Pak prism while it sees India through an Asia-Pacific prism. It does not see anything through an Indo-Pak prism”.

We were within touching distance of an interim agreement with India on Kashmir during the 2004-7 back-channel talks. The Mumbai bombings of 2008 intervened. Can and should these talks be revived? There are a variety of views. Some regard them as a national betrayal. Others consider them as the only way forward towards a just and mutually acceptable settlement.

We need to develop a realistic public consensus on what our strategies on Kashmir and policies towards India should be. They should be part of a national vision that includes space for initiatives towards India even when they seem premature and unlikely to be immediately reciprocated. Indian obduracy and Pakistani impatience will, however, need to be moderated for mutual trust to develop and longer-term and broad-spectrum progress to become feasible.

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