THE MOVING FINGER WRITES
Now that Pakistan President Asaf Ali Zardari and his team of officials have come and gone, there is widespread speculation as to whether Indo-Pak relations will take a new turn. Questions are being asked: Can Zardari really make policy for Pakistan? Is he free to do so, even if he wants to? What would be the role of the Pakistan Army leadership in any future talks between Zardari and India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh who has said in so many plain words that for any durable peace between India and Pakistan, the latter must clean out its own stables.
Dr Singh’s expected reciprocal visit to Pakistan is almost conditional. Pakistan must remove the shadow of Hafiz Saeed from falling on any future talks and that, he surely must be knowing, is not likely to happen, considering that Saeed is the Pakistan Army’s front man, who it can hardly afford to betray, notwithstanding the $ 10 million bounty that the US has laid on Saeed’s life. That would mean that the US may some day do an Osama bin Laden on Saeed, no matter what the cost would be. But that would be a self-appointed task for Washington. Zardari himself makes noises about Kashmir being the ‘core’ problem when he should know that it is not acceptable to India. So, then, do we go back to Square One?
We are told that the PM-Zardari talks were “constructive”, that there are chances of Dr Singh visiting Pakistan in November, of a breakthrough over Sir Creek, scaling down of troops presence in Siachen, and of likely re-opening of more traditional trade routes. Should we say: Hurray! To expect any major success in high level talks between the two countries would be unrealistic. As a former Pakistani diplomat Karamatullah K Ghori noted, following the Zardari visit the legacy of mistrust between the two countries demands that “the healing process ought to be slow, deliberate and well-calibrated” and “there is little room in it for quick fixes and spectacular feats”. Another diplomat, India’s Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai has also made a similar point, saying that both Dr Singh and Mr Zardari feel “that they need to move forward step-by-step”.
According to Ambassador Ghori, “the sentiment to normalise relations with India and put them on a healthy process has been gaining momentum in Pakistan” – surely, a healthy development. In India, the Supreme Court has granted bail to an 80-year old Pakistani scientist convicted of murder in 1992 and sentenced to a life term of imprisonment and has been released on Zardari’s plea. At the same time, Pakistan’s High Commissioner in Delhi, Sahid Malik is reported to have said that his country and India are working towards “a liberalised visa regime for businessmen that may see the two countries issuing one-year, multi-entry and non-reporting visas to businessmen of either country. That is sensible. The Kashmir issue can wait. Trade and development cannot.
Presently official trade between India and Pakistan is around $ 2.7 billion – most of it exports from India to Pakistan, and it is a pittance, considering India’s total merchandise trade is worth a walloping $ 700 billion. Much of the trade between the two countries is illegal and is routed through Dubai and consists of items such as medicines and pharmaceuticals, clothes, tyres, cigarettes and dry fruits. A recent CII report puts potential India-Pakistan trade at $25 billion, ten times its current values. With the status of a Most Favoured Nation it should be possible for trade between India and Pakistan to multiply not tenfold but a hundred fold, to mutal benefit. And the more the trade, the less the support to terrorism. And even less respect for the Armed Forces which do not figure very much in the news today. As in Myanmar, so it will be in Pakistan in due course, the Army’s irrelevance which presently is in its weakest position in decades. And this trend will follow as night follows the day.
What is interesting to note is that even China, for whatever reason, is voicing its “happiness” over the alleged improvement of relations between India and Pakistan “through dialogue and cooperation”. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told the media in Beijing that “both India and Pakistan are major countries in South Asia playing an important role for peace and stability in the region”. Seven decades is a long time for Indo-Pakistan relations to wallow in the mud. It has benefitted neither. The Pakistan Army’s ISI has done all that it can to destabilise India with “a thousand cuts”. India has not only survived, but it is marching forward to become the third largest economic power in the world, next only to the US and China. What has Pakistan gained? A bloodied nose, that’s what. And internal dissension and growing terrorism that is hard to contain. And Zardari is only too well aware of it. And Indians visiting Pakistan are reporting changes within Pakistani society that are revelatory.
According to Kuldip Nayar who is a regular visitor to Pakistan, when he went there this year he writes: “I have never seen before the surge of friendship (towards India) which exists today in Pakistan”. He quotes “many leading people” (un-named, though) as saying: “We have wasted last 65 years in animosity. Let us not waste any more time”. According to him “trade with India is awaited with abated breath”. Is all this so much hype? When he was having lunch with Zardari, Dr Singh is supposed to have asked the former to pray for better ties with India. Indeed, that is supposedly what Zardari did at Ajmer Sharif.
Reports from Pakistan indicate that Zardari’s visit to India has found “large-scale” appreciation in the country, with many maintaining that the visit was more than just a private pilgrimage. Note was taken of the fact that just prior to his departure to India, Zardari received Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. So, are things moving for the better? God alone knows. One might as well keep one’s fingers crossed. Dr Singh is supposed to have told Prime Minister Gilani last month that he would visit Pakistan if there was “something to celebrate”. Between April and November, it is going to be a long, long wait. And anything can happen.