Pakistan’s economy is in a bad shape and its private sector is trying to convince the army that it must support trade with India. This may give peace a chance. Ayesha Siddiqa writes.india Updated: Nov 21, 2011 23:36 IST
The India-Pakistan peace process seems to be going on track, though at a slow pace. But speed is really not an issue as long as the process is sustainable and goes uninterrupted. The important question at this stage is whether the process is sustainable.
Since the mid-1990s, this is the beginning of the third round of peace overtures: the first started by Atal Bihari Vajpayee-Nawaz Sharif in 1999 and the second by Vajpayee-Pervez Musharraf in 2004. In both cases, the Pakistani army and its non-State allies interrupted the process. So, there is always the apprehension that a process might get interrupted because it doesn’t get approval from Rawalpindi. This also gives Indian analysts to conclude that peace will come about only if it has the Pakistan military’s backing. Such a perception, though correct, doesn’t appreciate the fact that it’s the civilian stakeholders in Pakistan who have consistently built the tempo for the military to currently accept the fact that relations with India will have to be improved.
Benazir Bhutto, for instance, must be appreciated for indirectly and subtly challenging her own father’s policy of waging ‘a thousand years war with India’ when she held out a hand of friendship towards former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Later, Sharif played an equally important role in setting one basic principle that Pakistan and India could talk to each other on several issues without trying to solve the sticky points first. The Musharraf peace overture or the recent talks are a continuum of the older processes. There are Indians, like the Congress’s Mani Shankar Aiyar, who believe that Musharraf’s peace overtures were the best moment in peace talks, which could have come to fruition had it not been for the general’s problematic domestic politics. The fact is that Pakistan’s former army chief could not successfully sell his peace plan to his generals. Many sources are of the view that General Ashfaq Kayani and his team immediately disassociated themselves from Musharraf’s peace process the minute they got an opportunity to do so.
However, the same Kayani seems to be supporting the current peace talks mainly because of other reasons that are of a geo-political and economic nature. The country’s private sector seems to have worked hard on trying to convince the general and his team that Pakistan will benefit from developing trade ties, as it’s crucial for the much-needed financial injection. Trade with India or trade in general is seen by many as reducing dependency on the US with whom Islamabad seems to be caught in a political contestation over the issue of the Taliban and the future of Afghanistan. The political government has also been smart in keeping the army in the loop. Reportedly, every time western diplomats tried to convince the civilian president Asif Zardari to strengthen trade with India, he would ask them to talk to General Kayani instead. With months of efforts by the private sector, the civilian government could finally convince the army chief to review his disapproval for direct trade between the two countries.
Not to forget the peculiar geo-political conditions in the country’s north where the army is confronted with a hostile Afghan-American combine, which can’t be resisted without some kind of economic independence. Therefore, the confidence expressed by the Pakistani and Indian prime ministers regarding the Pakistani army backing the process is understandable. Many analysts believe that the opening up of trade could establish the Sino-Indian or Sino-American peace process model in South Asia as well. This means enhancing trade without compromising on political interests. This means that while Pakistan will not give up its stance on Kashmir or the water issue, it will keep strengthening economic ties with the traditional rival. Eventually, both States will build sufficient stakes in each other to be able to solve the sticky political issues as well.
This sounds almost perfect as long as the two countries manage to solve the terrorism problem. While Islamabad has complaints against Delhi’s involvement in Balochistan, the Indian government is wary of the numerous jihadi outfits that operate in Pakistan and have struck inside India in the past. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in fact, has agreed to visit Pakistan on a condition — Islamabad must do something to punish the culprits of 26/11. Although Islamabad doesn’t show any inclination to eliminate the jihadi groups, it seems to be in a position to rein them in, at least temporarily. There have been no attacks after Mumbai. Also, though Lashkar-e-Taiba has threatened nationwide protests against granting the most-favoured nation (MFN) status to India, it hasn’t culminated in anything serious. The jihadi machine is like a bull in a china shop.
Perhaps, the Indian government could begin to use the same tactics as the Chinese: talk to the jihadis and offer them monetary incentives to divert their attention from violence. After all, if these groups could be stopped temporarily, they could be stopped permanently as well. Meanwhile, we must all hope that the process this time is sustainable.
Ayesha Siddiqa is an Islamabad-based writer and is the author of Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy. The views expressed by the author are personal.