Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pakistan giving India MFN status is good for both countries…..

Fifteen years after India gave Pakistan the MFN (Most Favored Nation) status, Pakistan reciprocated the courtesy yesterday. This follows India’s help in getting Pakistan a temporary place on the UN Security Council. Now, many in India will have many complaints about why India should support Pakistan in the UN and why we should have extended the MFN status to them earlier than they did it to us. But the fact is that for all countries in South Asia, it’s important that peace prevail now and in the future. All countries in this region are in deep economic and social trouble and being jingoistic won’t help anyone. It may be late in coming…..but it’s a move that should be welcomed by us in India.

There is no doubt in my mind that Pakistan is a sworn enemy of India. It is also best friends with China – which sees India as its key competitor for supremacy in the region and the world. The combination of Pakistan and China can prove extremely distracting for India. Already, we’ve seen in the papers yesterday that India is going to induct another 1 lac soldiers in the army specifically to counter the Chinese threat in the North East. This – alongwith the accompanying investments in equipment and other associated infrastructure – will reportedly cost India Rs 65,000 crores per annum. I am not saying that this is a wrong thing for India to do, but I certainly do wish that this had not been necessary. India cannot afford to spend so much on defence – and if peace could prevail, then all these funds could be deployed for development purposes.

Many Indian hawks would say that India gave too much rope to Pakistan over Kashmir immediately after independence. Well, the history of Pakistan and Kashmir is complicated and I don’t intend to talk about that in this post. But attacking Pakistan and re-capturing Kashmir then was perhaps not going to be as easy as it appears now. India was hardly in a strong military (or economic) position; nor was Pakistan all alone in its fight (it had the support of the Western world – especially Britain). The Kashmir problem is the biggest bugbear in the relationship between Pakistan and India. The other major problem is of course the one of terrorism originating from Pakistani soil –  though again many would agree that that is nothing but an extension of the Kashmir problem. Resolving the Kashmir problem is not easy – and I am not one to recommend a soft policy on this. But I am surely a supporter of anything that eases tensions…..and which reduces the conflict.

One can choose to fight Pakistan or one can choose to be pragmatic and ease off tensions without having to show any brawn. Showing brawn is usually the option that insecure cowards choose. In a heated environment, it takes courage to desist from taking decisions based on emotions. Once the heat has worn off, a pragmatic decision gives high dividends. The fact that India has not had a major war with either Pakistan or China since 1971 (Kargil aside) has helped India focus on economic growth and handling its socio-economic problems. The more neighbors focus on trade, the more invested they become in the monetary gains that their relationship provides and the more pressure their people put on their governments to keep relationships on an even keel. If there were no trade, there would be no disincentive to attacking each other. In the short run, it may appear as if we are being soft on Pakistan (and on terror by extension), but in reality, we are being pragmatic.

I am sure many people who have become aware for the first time that India had extended the MFN status to Pakistan some fifteen years back will again accuse India of having been soft toward Pakistan. Again, my only point is that large countries are expected to be generous towards their smaller neighbors. Just like an older sibling often gives the right of way to a younger one, older, bigger and more mature countries often give the right of way to their smaller neighbours. Also, India has never been comfortable pursuing an international strategy based on aggression and has preferred to main at least decent relations with everyone concerned. It was this same attitude that led Nehru to formulate the Non Aligned Movement strategy – an attempt to remain friendly with both the US and the USSR during the cold war era.

To be sure, Pakistan is not being friendly towards India because of a change of heart. It’s under severe international criticism for being the center of terrorism and being an untrustworthy partner of the US. Its reputation is in tatters, as is its economy. It needs to show some positive moves towards India so as to deflect criticism from itself. Given a chance, Pakistan will still be happier attacking India’s interest. Honestly, we shouldn’t be concerned about this – what we should be concerned about is ensuring our country’s protection against terrorism originating from that country…..

The real truth is that the hawks in India will find complaints with India engaging Pakistan in economic activities and in diplomacy. At such times, one can only hope that sane counsel prevails on both sides – that and that alone can help diffuse a problem that is 64 years old now. Jingoism will help no one…..

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