SPEAKING FREELY Pakistan forced to rethink India policy
By Deedar Hussain Samejo
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
For some years now, Pakistan has been pursuing a policy of normalization of relations with its eastern neighbor, India. After assuming power in June, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for friendly relations with India. On Friday, he called for a "new beginning towards peace in South Asia" in his address to the United Nations General Assembly.
"We stand ready to re-engage with India in a substantive and purposeful dialog", the prime minister said. In addition, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, despite Thursday's attack on a
police station and army post in Jammu Kashmir, has shown willingness to continue the dialog.
It seems that the incumbent Nawaz Sharif-led government is continuing the policy of the last government in terms of relations with India. The concept that India cannot be a good neighbor is slowly being given up, and "peace will benefit both nations" is the new narrative. Strategic depth, a notorious counter-aggression strategy aimed at the traditional rival, is being gradually replaced. Nuclear deterrence is the new security doctrine.
Since independence in 1947, Pakistan has perceived two opponents. While India was the traditional foe, Russia, which has always been seen through the Indian prism, had remained hostile towards Pakistan.
In the Cold War-era, the Muslim state allied with the United States to protect itself from supposedly joint Russian-Indian hostility. Pakistan feared that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan could expand, and the Soviet Union, along with India, could destroy it. Keeping this in view and being a key ally of the United States, Pakistan helped the United States to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
After the Soviet empire collapsed, Pakistan's military establishment, as well as its civilian leadership, started to perceive India as the sole, bitter enemy in the region. They felt a need to counter Indian hostility and maintain a balance of power in the region. So-called strategic depth, or we may say strategic deterrence, was the idea put forward by military leaders and security experts to achieve that mission. They saw strategic depth as a necessity, rather than an accessory tool to counter the threat.
They sought the help of religious scholars, who had strong hatred for the country's arch rival, to set up militant wings of young seminary students, especially in the tribal areas. The army and intelligence agencies also nurtured the pro-Pakistan Afghan Taliban government, with the intention of exploiting it at the time of need as part of the strategic depth plan.
For more than two decades, ironically, strategic depth has been counter-productive, damaging security situation within the country and Pakistan's image at an international level. The militant groups have became rogue elements and turned their guns against the state, with the aim of taking control of the country and enforcing their brand of Sharia law. The result is bombings, sectarianism, targeted killings and a radicalization of the society. The militants have also declared war against the West to free the Muslim world from the Western domination. Today, Pakistan is labeled as "exporter of terrorism" and seen as "the most dangerous nation" on the globe.
This situation has led to the change in Pakistan's India policy in recent years. National and regional socio-economic, political and security conditions are the additional driving forces triggering the change. As Pakistan increasingly realizes terrorism and militancy are a by-product of strategic depth, as number one threat and does not see India as the biggest enemy, principle of the strategic depth is gradually vanishing.
That Pakistan is militarily weaker than India is another fact reluctantly realized by our leaders. As major issues, such as Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek etc, cannot be resolved by force, dialogue has been given a chance to succeed. India's influence in the region is still a cause of concern though. To counter this threat, Pakistan has adopted a new form of deterrence. Strategic depth is slowly being replaced by the recently announced "full-spectrum deterrence". It can be argued that the latter is much safer than the former in terms of national security and displaying country's international image.
There is growing consensus that internal threats to the country are far more serious than the external. It can definitely survive without sophisticated military assets, proxy combat forces and, of course, without strategic depth. But it cannot sustain itself without stable socio-political conditions, a strong economy and a peaceful and moderate society. In addition, the country needs friendly neighbors, most importantly India, with whom it can nurture strong economic, trade and security relations.
Departure from the policy of strategic depth and the internal security situation have led to an underlying transformation in the conduct of foreign policy towards India. It is increasingly changing from security-oriented to security-cum-economic-oriented.
The last government attempted to grant Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to India and review visa agreements, easing restrictions for travelers over 65, businessmen and children under 12. Unfortunately, looser visa conditions have been put on hold following border tensions.
Bilateral trade between the two countries grew from US$300 million in 2004 to $2.4 billion last year, and is expected to reach $6 billion in the next two years. In the last fiscal year, Pakistan's exports to India increased 28% while India's exports to Pakistan grew 19%. Given the proximity, size and economic power of India, Pakistan has been trying to cozy up to the giant neighbor by promoting economic and trade relations.
Earlier this month, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar assured the International Monetary Fund that his country would grant MFN status to India and "eliminate the negative list on trade with India". In addition, the Nawaz-led government is reportedly considering importing 1,000 mega-watt electricity as part of its short-term strategy to end the crippling energy crisis.
Moreover, people-to-people contacts between the two nations are improving now more than ever. Media, civil society and intelligentsia are working hard to bring the two countries as close as possible. For example, Aman Ki Asha (Hope For Peace), a campaign started by Gang Media Group and Times Of India in January 2010, aims to promote cultural relations and boost peace process between the two neighbors.
Pakistan's recent trend in relations with India is a positive move, but a very slow one. Accelerating the pace of economic and trade engagement is the need of the hour. This would bridge the trust deficit, benefit masses on both sides and help resolve major disputes. The meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of UN General Assembly, on Sunday in New York must not be appraised as a mere handshake ceremony. Despite recent tensions at the Line of Control, the hope is that the meeting will make a difference.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Deedar Hussain Samejo is pursuing a Masters in Political Science at University of Sindh, Jamshoro. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org