The current deadlock in India Pakistan relations is
fraught with grave dangers of catastrophic conflict. Yet it is also pregnant
with new possibilities of peace. This is indicated by two qualitatively
new changes in Pakistan's official position articulated by President Musharraf:
(i) Making a break from the past, President Musharraf has offered unconditional
talks with India. (ii) The offer to cooperate with India in together combating
terrorism in the two countries. By contrast, only recently when the armies
of the two countries were confronting each other along the border, threats
of nuclear war were being exchanged. As I have argued in last week's article,
the danger is all too real in a situation where: (1) India continues to
accuse Pakistan of "cross border terrorism" and Pakistan claims
that the militancy in Kashmir is a "freedom struggle". (2) Given
the imbalance in conventional military forces, in case the existing tensions
erupt into a conventional war, the nuclear threshold could be reached
very quickly. Clearly therefore the current knife-edge of a no war no
peace situation is unsustainable. If the two countries do not take bold
and imaginative steps for a lasting peace, there is a high probability
of slipping off the knife-edge into mutual annihilation. In this article
we will briefly indicate the stakes for peace and the specific steps for
mutually assured development, (as opposed to mutually assured destruction),
that can be taken.
Let us start with the strategic dimension of the political
economy facing the two countries. India's economic strength lies in the
fact that having established a heavy industrial base during the Nehru
period in the 1950s, its economy during the 1990s has been launched on
a high growth trajectory. With a domestic technological change capability,
international competitiveness in selected cutting edge sectors like software
and electronics, it has developed an export capability, high levels of
foreign investment and huge foreign exchange reserves. Yet, one third
of its population still lives in poverty. To sustain its GDP growth and
overcome poverty, India will need to establish: (i) An efficient infrastructure
for the supply of oil, gas and electricity and (ii) Markets for its manufactured
exports in South Asia and abroad. These key requirements for sustaining
its impressive GDP growth mean that India's economic interests are best
served by making peace with Pakistan so that South Asia can quickly move
into SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area), and at the same time secure
economically feasible oil and gas pipe lines and rail and road transportation
routes from Central Asia through Pakistan.
Peace and economic cooperation with Pakistan is necessary
for India not only to secure its strategic economic interests but also
to maintain its secular democratic polity. A high growth, open economy
framework for India today is inseparable from a liberal democratic political
structure, as it was for Europe and the U.S. in the nineteenth century.
Therefore the growing social forces of Hindu nationalism, intolerant of
its minorities will undermine India's secular democratic structure as
much as its economic endeavour. Continued tension between India and Pakistan,
will only fuel extremist religious forces in both countries, to the detriment
of their economy and polity.
Pakistan by contrast has an economy growing far below
its potential, has stagnating exports, a fragile exchange rate, a major
poverty problem, and incipient social forces of religious extremism that
can grow rapidly if poverty persists and tension with India continues.
Peace with India will mean a substantially improved environment for domestic
and foreign investment. Those Pakistani industries that can achieve international
competitiveness, will grow rapidly within the large regional market of
SAFTA. At the same time the capital costs of investment in Pakistan will
be reduced as cheaper capital and intermediate goods from India (compared
to imports from Europe and the U.S.) become available, thereby accelerating
GDP growth. The real incomes of Pakistan's middle and low-income groups
will also increase as they get cheaper consumer goods from India. Electricity
costs for Pakistani consumers will fall as Pakistan's thermal power plants
achieve better capacity utilization through export of electricity across
the border to India.
Thus through peace, both India and Pakistan can reap
economic benefits for their people, and secure their respective democratic
structures against the forces of religious extremism. The national security
of both countries is threatened not by the neighbour across the border
but internal social forces of violence, intolerance and poverty. A new
structure of peace would reduce for their respective nations the danger
of mutually assured destruction through war, and also provide them economic
and political stability. Thus national security in both countries will
be enhanced, by providing increased security of life and livelihood to
their respective nations.
What are the steps to building a new structure of
peace and development between the two neighbours who are currently locked
in the syndrome of war and economic attrition? They are five initiatives:
(1) Since there is contention between India and Pakistan on the issue
of cross border terrorism, indirect talks through shuttle diplomacy could
be initiated under the auspices of the U.S. The purpose would be in the
first instance to establish a mutually verifiable regime of preventing
cross border incursions of armed militants in both India and Pakistan.
(2) A return to normalcy in diplomatic relations between the two countries.
(3) Immediate opening up of trade relations between the two countries
on the basis of granting MFN status according to the terms of the World
Trade Organization Agreement. (4) To give an immediate multi billion dollar
boost to the tourist industries of the two countries, visa requirements
should be eased, road, rail and air transport should be opened up and
group tours for holiday makers should be encouraged in both countries.
(5) A structured dialogue between the two countries should be initiated
to resolve all outstanding issues including Kashmir.
Mutual demonizing, fear and egotism have characterized
India Pakistan relations in the past. Leaders in the two countries have
been held hostage by their extremist political lobbies and narrow-minded
bureaucracies. We need to open our minds and hearts to provide a better
future for our people. It is time to recognize that the current no war,
no peace situation is unsustainable. We can either live together in peace,
or perish together in war.