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HindustanTimes Sat,20 Dec 2014
The dargah diplo-bus
Chanakya, Hindustan Times
April 14, 2012
First Published: 21:04 IST(14/4/2012)
Last Updated: 21:11 IST(14/4/2012)

Did mine eyes and ears deceive me, or did the Pakistanis seem almost desperate to portray relations with India as being all sunshine and light? Their talking heads on television gushed about how "everyone was on board" the dargah diplomatic bus. How they didn't mind that we would probably swamp them on the trade front. How about Kashmir? What a wonderful wool variety.

It says something about where India is and where Pakistan is going that this makes perfect sense. Set aside President Asif Ali Zardari, he's a good Sindhi businessman who's always preferred bottomlines to the Line of Control. One expects someone like him to visit Indian Sufi shrines, get excited about Manmohan Singh and push for most-favoured-nation status irrespective of what it translates into in Urdu.

Curiouser is that it seems this 'Let's Try to Love India' sentiment is even coming out of the Pakistani military. Still led, I might remind you, by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani who believes his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, conceded too much in the back-channel talks with India and who, foreign diplomats tell me, still "freezes up" whenever the word "India" is mentioned.

What has really happened is that even the most hard-nosed Pakistani policy-maker accepts that his country is spectacularly isolated.  How doth the world despise me? Let me count the ways.

The biggest mistake was to pick a fight, and a big and continuing one, with the US. Abbottabad was the big US pivot away from Pakistan. If you were a Pak-o-phile in Washington, the Navy SEALs put a bullet in your credibility as effectively as they put a few in Osama bin Laden. The higher you go up the US system, the stronger the disbelief that Bin Laden's realtor was not a member of the Pindi Club brigade.

Most governments understood the enormity of Abbottabad. The world's only superpower (still) has just found you were harbouring its Enemy Number One. The response should be to grovel. Pakistanis did the opposite. More bizarrely, they thought they could find alternative backers. The Chinese sent them off with a flea in their ears. Islamabad then went off to Saudi Arabia and got the same response. All this only exacerbated two migraines that had been slowly building up for Islamabad over the past few years. One was Afghanistan. The other, the economy. Kayani's great hope has been, in effect, the reconquest of Afghan-istan. President Barack Obama had been loudly broadcasting his desire to pull US troops out of Afghanistan. Once they were gone, the Pakistani army was confident, Hamid Karzai would last a few months before the Taliban - their Taliban - stepped in. The Great Game would have been won.

By last year it was increasingly evident the US wasn't going to pull out lock, stock and barrel. Yes, it would give up on nation-building - Afghans themselves didn't seem interested. Yes, it would pull out thousands of troops and planes. What would remain, however, would be thousands of drones and commandos and billions in dollars for Karzai. And much of that would target Pakistan. 

Then there's the Pakistani economy. All the GDP growth figures and so on are nice and round. Behind that, the rot has been evident. The private corporate sector is shrinking. The Pakistani elite aren't just sending their capital overseas, they were having it accompanied by their children and family retainers. Government bonds are so toxic that the only buyer they have is, hmm, the government.

Consider the brilliance of what Islamabad did in response. It threw out the International Monet-ary Fund. It picked a fight with the only country prepared to give you billions in aid and not ask too many questions about what you did with it. I could go on.

The only shining star in the gloom of Pakistan's economy has been exports: textiles, cotton, rice and so on. Put all these elements together and suddenly you realise why all the Pakistani talking heads on TV kept saying "everyone is on board" about keeping India smiling. Luxuriate in the irony: a Pakistan in multiple crises sees India as a solution. 

With Afghanistan on the boil, relations with the US on ice and all-weather friends showing a fear of thunder, even a Kayani agrees on keeping at least one of Pakistan's borders quiet. One confidence-building measure, note senior Indian officials, that is paying dividends is that though Pakistan has shifted 150,000 troops to its western border New Delhi has not tried to take advantage, not even symbolically. And if exports are the saving grace of the economy, accessing one of the world's largest markets is a no-brainer. Anyway, refusing normal trade relations hasn't crimped India: all the $ 5 billion trade that goes through Dubai is Pakistan-bound.

Once urged by Nato officials to do something about his Afghanistan policy, Kayani responded, "I am India-centric." Today, all of Pakistan is India-centric but for different reasons. In a world of fickle friendships, Islamabad has discovered the benefits of having an enemy who knows you well.


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