Pakistan-India: A narrow bandwidth of relations
Pakistan and India relations continue to gyrate in a narrow bandwidth. On January 1, the two countries exchanged lists of their respective nuclear installations and of the prisoners held by each other in the context of binding obligations. Besides these developments, there is nothing else to show in terms of conducting bilateral relations.
The reason for this state of affairs is simple. India has decided not to engage with Pakistan and this policy of nonengagement demonstrates a certain arrogance. India considers itself an emerging pole in a multipolar world. It is engaged with the United States in the China containment policy in the Indo-Pacific. As a member of the G20, it will host its next meeting. It considers itself a rising power — to be the third-largest economy in the world next to the US and China in a few years.
Theoretically, South Asia is its playing field. Dominance in the region is its birthright. So, it can be indifferent to the region, as it postures for great power status. The only country that has withstood this notion is Pakistan, which for over 75 years has tried to match India, including in the nuclear arms race. However, over the last almost eight months, Pakistan has seen political instability and economic collapse. The specter of terrorism has risen. These developments have had a direct impact on Pakistan’s strategic relevance.
Even the usual people-to-people contacts and artistic/cultural engagements are being restricted by India. Recently, a Pakistani movie, “Maula Jatt”, which had been cleared for screening by the Indian censor board, has not been allowed to show. This stalling of people-to-people and cultural contacts has also to do with the nature of India’s Hindutva-influenced policies.
As Pakistan’s internal crisis deepens, its external vulnerabilities rise. The country is being buffeted by an unending crisis and the specter of an economic collapse has created a serious situation. The country will have to accede to the stringent conditionalities of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to be able to avoid a default. This means no latitude for acting in terms of its strategic imperatives or asserting sovereignty and independence. The sad part is that this crisis is self-created.
Under the circumstances, there is no hope for a bilateral initiative to resume normal contact with India. Even the usual people-to-people contacts and artistic/cultural engagements are being restricted by India. Recently, a Pakistani movie, “Maula Jatt”, which had been cleared for screening by the Indian censor board, has not been allowed to show. This stalling of people-to-people and cultural contacts has also to do with the nature of India’s Hindutva-influenced policies.
India, despite its great power syndrome, is also in the throes of an internal political struggle which is being played out in a large manner by its policies against non-Hindus and against the sizable Muslim and Christian minorities. As India nears its general elections next year, there will be a surge of anti-Pakistan propaganda. Pakistan is a convenient point to win elections in India. Prime Minister Modi may also dare Pakistan into a misadventure to win votes.
In short, prospects of peace and security in the region do not look good as the Pakistani meltdown needs to be arrested. This will take time — probably another year or two. The agenda of unresolved issues between Pakistan and India is long and the inability of both sides to communicate normally is missing. Between close neighbors, unrelenting hostility cannot be sustained. Either through diplomacy or the use of force the issues need to be settled, but it seems that the region is moving toward the latter.
Yet, peace and prosperity are the common requirements of both Pakistan and India. Matters cannot be sorted out by just rhetorical statements against each other. Sadly, there are not enough statesman-like leaders available on both sides, and playing to the public gallery, or just getting by the election’s requirements by cursing each other is no policy.
Pakistan and India need to get serious about each other and, in the first instance, need to set up modalities for normal diplomatic discourse.
- Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and as High Commissioner of Pakistan to India.