Building dependency to secure boundaries - Hindustan Times
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Building dependency to secure boundaries

Oct 31, 2023 10:19 PM IST

This time, economic realities may force the Pakistani army to climb on board for progress on the “small” issues that may deliver survival for its people.

Two news developments have captured the attention of the media. One, the Israel-Palestinian war, and two, the homecoming of Nawaz Sharif and the crowds his party rallies are attracting. For India, both these events are significant and interrelated. The first is a lesson in how not to conduct a counterterrorism “war”, and the other is a possible opening into how to end it. The latter means breaking barriers in thought, word, and deed. A difficult, but not an impossible task.

A smoke plume rising during Israeli bombardment.(AFP) PREMIUM
A smoke plume rising during Israeli bombardment.(AFP)

Ironically, India and Pakistan have few disputes other than Kashmir. The Siachen dispute was nearly solved, and Sir Creek is far from intractable. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government backed dialogue with Pakistan. So did the Narendra Modi government initially. Both visited Pakistan, Vajpayee as part of a formal visit, while the other dropped in on Nawaz Sharif’s birthday on December 25. Both overtures failed – the Kargil war ended Vajpayee’s initiative while the Pulwama terrorist attack defeated Modi’s outreach. The political leadership in Islamabad has also received flak for proposing peace with Delhi. President Asif Ali Zardari, for instance, came under instant suspicion for his suggestion that the ISI chief visit Delhi to build bridges. Nawaz Sharif’s desire to attend Modi’s swearing-in, and his acceptance of a back channel through industrialist Sajjan Jindal, torpedoed his political career.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. In 2021, former army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa suggested that Pakistan “bury the past” and become a strategic “bridge …connecting conduit between the regional economies”. That was too little too late. Pakistan had slid into an economic cataclysm, while India went on to become a $3 trillion economy.

Given the mess in Pakistan, most people feel it is best ignored. But here’s the thing. Israel is now in its fourth “war” against Gaza, indicating that bombing cities to smithereens only leads to worse terrorism than before. Some may say starving it to death is another option. But Pakistan’s economy will turn around sooner or later; meanwhile, terrorists always learn from each other. What might be more viable, and profitable, is to erode its motivation, by forging bonds bottom up. Given that the Pakistani officials are like a stuck record on Kashmir, and even Delhi has limited political leeway, it is best if governments enable people to focus on actual problems, rather than on issues laden with historical and political baggage.

To begin with, make a checklist of what people need to stay alive. Here’s one. Both countries are hit hard by the climate crisis. Recently, Pakistan was hit by the worst floods in its history, while Himachal Pradesh broke a 100-year record in rainfall. Drought in agrarian areas led to runaway food inflation in Pakistan, whereas India suffered a three-fold rise in prices.

The G20 summary on climate can form the basis for a region-wide shift in reversing land degradation, preserving biodiversity, climate resilient agriculture, and sustainable heating and cooling initiatives among others. India and Pakistan also have strong local customs and traditions in terms of sustainability: Prime Minister Modi’s initiative to make a tribal woman a brand ambassador for millets is one such instance.

A local innovation, the Sarhad Rural Support Programme in Pakistan, harnessed glacier melt-off for micro-dams and gave electricity to 365,000 people. The critical aspect is to set up a fund for such activities.

Then there is the reality that Lahore is the most polluted city in the world, closely followed by Delhi. Stubble burning is one common issue. For the farmer, mulch is a cheap option given the continuous rise in the use of fertilisers to compensate for increased soil alkalinity.

For India, this means a continuous rise in the subsidy bill (by 50,000 crore) and more dependence on China. Then, there is the deleterious impact on health, reflected in the large market for “organic” foods. The G20 lists the dangers of overuse of pesticides and restoring soil health. Both could work together to harness business houses (for instance, the paper industry) with the incentive of a massive market. Meanwhile, the Indian market for electric vehicles is one of the fastest growing in the world. A manufacturing expansion into Pakistan will drastically reduce air pollution.

In sum, this is not about emergency food imports from India as envisaged (and shot down) recently, but of shoring up Pakistan’s output, using Indian technology and experiences through a healthy discourse among farming, dairy, and business communities with the active encouragement of the governments. Huge goodwill could be generated by providing power to the “other” Kashmir, from the contested Kishanganga project, while environmental groups could compare notes on the serious issue of water pollutants. The list is endless, with the limitation that all such initiatives require borders to remain closed, at least for now.

This time, economic realities may force the Pakistani army to climb on board for progress on the “small” issues that may deliver survival for its people. As for Nawaz Sharif, at 73, he needs to leave a legacy to his daughter. On the Indian side, a possible prestigious peace prize. After all, this is no less than a revolutionary way of ending terror and breaking barriers.

Tara Kartha is a distinguished fellow at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal

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