Trust but verify
Can’t really say how long the bonhomie would last. But a good start has been made by India and Pakistan at Maldives. At the crux of the renewed hope is the most favoured nation (MFN) status Islamabad has belated granted to New Delhi to promote trade between the two neighbours.
Pakistan has acted in self interest in opening its doors to Indian goods, services and investments. The initiative, if pursued logically and honestly will shore up its sagging economy. That alone would have the potential to marginalize war-mongers and give peace a boost in the subcontinent.
A concomitant gain from improved India-Pakistan trade and economic ties could be South Asian’s emergence as an economic union, defusing sharpened nationalist sentiments to prepare ground for the emergence of a South Asian citizenry capable of thinking beyond geographical borders and psychological boundaries.
The civilian Pakistani leadership would have one believe the MFN initiative has the approval and backing of their armed forces. But why this sudden change of heart after a fifteen year gap since India extended Pakistan the privilege? Difficult to say but an intelligent guess could be that the generals in Rawalpindi have begun feeling the fire of public wrath stemming from the progressive meltdown of Pakistan’s donations-based economy.
In that country, the army polishes off huge chunks of money in the name of national defense, the rich and the influential evade taxes and together, these key components of the civil military establishment siphon off foreign aid received in the name of fighting terror and building infrastructure.
No matter what the Pakistani right-wing propagates, voluminous trade with India will earn the government revenue, generate employment and reach people relief by way of commodities at cheaper rates. From the Indian standpoint, it’s presumed the process will expand the constituency for peace and generate within Pakistan some support for granting Indian goods and services access to central Asia via Afghanistan.
Today, all this would seem easier said than done, given the Pak army’s very hostile reaction to India’s presence in Afghanistan. Leave alone letting India engage deeper in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, Pakistan’s military, especially its intelligence arm, the ISI, has spared no effort to even make Indian diplomatic outposts shut shop in the war ravaged country.
As Kabul’s next door neighbour, Pakistan can legitimately claim precedence over other countries for protection of its security interests in Afghanistan the way India expects its concerns front-loaded in Nepal and Sri Lanka. But even by these standards, the Pak Army’s bid to turn Afghanistan into a proxy state by packing its security forces with friendly Taliban and other ISI-backed militia wouldn’t be acceptable to India.
In the light of these contradictions, India that has for long been at the receiving end of the Pak-fuelled terror machine operating out of Afghanistan, needs to approach its ties with Pakistan with a doze of circumspection. Civilian leaders there are mere puppets in the hands of the Army. And the latter hasn’t yet shown any sign of abandoning doctrines that project India as a perennial threat to Pakistan’s unity and integrity undermined actually from fissures within.
Till the final diagnosis, New Delhi must talk to Islamabad without raising popular expectations. It must not trust its interlocutor without adequate verification.