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Stuck in the hood

A band of terrorists attack a Sri Lankan sports team in a city in Pakistan and, as a consequence, the second season of the fledgling domestic Indian cricket league is now in question.

india Updated: Mar 04, 2009 22:01 IST

A band of terrorists attack a Sri Lankan sports team in a city in Pakistan and, as a consequence, the second season of the fledgling domestic Indian cricket league is now in question. This chain of causality is a metaphor on how India’s future is inextricably intertwined with that of Pakistan’s.

Lahore is the site of a bloody incident to which India was not party, yet the most serious commercial fallout has been on this side of the border. Many Indians look at the slow motion surrender of the Pakistani state to Islamic extremists and believe it will force Islamabad to give up on its 60-year war-by-various means against India. This is reasonable. Since the
mid-1990s, successive Pakistani leaders have scaled back their territorial and political demands against India.

Unfortunately, it is equally true India will only be a short-term beneficiary if the Pakistani State’s decline into impotency goes beyond a certain point. The Lahore attack’s ripple effect inside India brought home a simple truth: by dint of a border too long to seal, India’s fortunes cannot be separated from those of Pakistan’s. Not all terrorist groups based in Pakistan want to overthrow Islamabad. All of them, however, see India as an enemy. Thus a weakening Islamabad will inevitably lead to greater non-State terrorism aimed at India. But against this form of terror, military might and coercive diplomacy will be empty instruments.

The umbilical cord exists even on the economic level. Income differential triggers migration from poor to rich nations. If India becomes too much wealthier than Pakistan, the latter’s people will swarm across the border. In any case, nothing can undermine India’s sovereign risk more than a chaotic nuclear-armed Pakistan. India needs to carefully balance policy. It must press for a final settlement of its outstanding disputes with Pakistan and have no qualms in using the latter’s problems to press home at the negotiating table. On the other hand, India must also think beyond the curve and recognise that such a settlement can only be precursor to a broader engagement designed to help stabilise a country too close, too big and too dangerous to fail.