Ties with Pakistan

M.L. Sondhi

The Hindustan Times, January 16, 1999

The beginning of the peace process in West Asia was initiated through a historic journey by President Sadat of Egypt to Jerusalem, where Prime Minister Menachem Begin of the ruling Likud Party and the people of Israel warmly greeted the visitor, overcoming their doubts and fears.  Sadapt greeted Begin with the words: “No more war.  Let us make peace.”  Earlier in Cairo, he had said to the Egyptian Parliament “I am willing to go to the ends of the earth for peace.  Israel will be astonished to hear me say now, before you, that I am prepared to go to their own house, to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) to talk to them.”

There are a good many lacunae in India-Pakistan relations which need to be filled expeditiously, since the nuclear capabilities of both countries compel them to imagine a new kind of political relationship.  Sadat’s ‘peace journey’ is of crucial relevance for the challenges we confront in New Delhi-Islamabad relations.  We cannot afford the indefinite continuance of the present mode of suspicion, conflict and covert confrontation which only promises a bleak future for both countries.

A Vajpayee visit to Islamabad with an address to the Pakistan Parliament could constitute a commitment to overarching values of stability and security, and provide a linkage to public opinion in both countries enabling the charting of a peaceful course for the next century.  Admittedly there are not many forces working at present for a coherent political expression of common interests and priorities between India and Pakistan; yet once the symbiosis between regional economic development and the peace process is grasped, the potential for self-transformation in South Asia will prevail over national sensitivities.  Instead of a tug-of-war, Vajpayee and Sharif can move towards convergence and complementarily.

Mr. Jaswant Singh has rightly emphasised that the main task of Indian foreign policy is the building up of economic and energy security.  There are at least four good reasons for emphasising the reciprocal influence between economic strength and foreign policy projections.  First, India’s destiny as a major player in the world arena is directly related to the realities of economic power.  The spiral of mistrust and hostility with Pakistan should not impede the deeper understanding of substantive questions relating to the world political economy.  We have embarked on radical changes in our macro economic policy, and an India-Pakistan détente is a crucial element in extricating policy from the issues of the cold war days.

Second, peace in the region is vital for investment and increased business growth.  Economic and informational resources can only be fully utilised through entrepreneurial leadership which flourishes in a network of norms and institutions focusing on international cooperation.  Priorities have shifted from ideology to market-oriented incentives, and support for coordinated region-wide measures is also growing the world over.  Third, in spite of conflict in domestic politics, widely agreed guidelines can be established for inspiring investor confidence and developing the momentum for the economic reform process on a regional basis.  India and Pakistan can profit from new cooperative ventures if they can work on decision-making procedures which are delinked from outdated bureaucratic structures.  Fourth, both countries can utilise the consensual knowledge that is available for mutually profitable economic development and give this a high priority on the policy agenda, while trying to patiently eradicate inherited “enemy” images and perceptions.

The challenge now is to establish a process by which India and Pakistan can maximise their economic strengths and achieve joint gains through collaborative arrangements.  Mutual losses should be eliminated or minimised by reconstructing bargaining situations.  A fundamental criticism of the old approaches to Indo-Pak questions is that there has always been a search for quick-fix solutions which have invariably failed to activate synergetic effects.  It is necessary to conceptualise cooperative conflict-management first of all by establishing a process which ensures a continuous dialogue, in which political interactions are controlled and guided by wise decisions. 

Both countries must now do a good deal of thinking to create awareness of “process issues”.  Fruitful innovations can overcome domestic constraints on regional cooperation by “using each substantive problem as an occasion for improving the ongoing process”.

The contextual factor of the overt nuclearisation of the two countries can unfold broader patterns of cooperation if linkages are forged which focus attention on options for the future, particularly in the area of science and technology.  There is the example of the Marshall Plan and the Coal and Steel Community which introduced a new collective rationality in Western Europe after World War II.  Without devaluing the importance of traditional diplomacy, I suggest the need to focus exclusively for some time on scientific and technological exchanges which can initiate a new South Asian “regime” for regulating international transactions.  The Pugwash Conference, sponsored by Cyrus Eaton and Bertrand Russell, became a highway for peace, cooperation and understanding between the scientific elites of the US and the USSR.  A prestigious forum which encourages cooperative behaviour between Indian and Pakistani scientists and technologists will enable them to recognise new interests and contribute to consensual knowledge in the subcontinent.

The new approach for 1999 should focus on exploratory techniques in problem-solving and conflict-management on the basis of wide consultation at both official and non-official levels.  Instead of a minimalist programme which is often suggested for India-Pakistan confidence-building.  I suggest a maximalist programme which will deal with “multiple realities through continuous negotiation”.  The context which is being advocated is not idealistic or visionary: the essential bridge will be provided by the many common technology-cum-business elements relating to agriculture, agro-food industries, bio-diversity and new wealth-generating cooperative enterprises – telecom, space-related scientific and technological ventures, electric power and common solar energy projects.

This is not to deny that short-term calculations of national interest on both sides will continue to generate self-help strategies productive of divergent expectations.  There are a number of ways, however, in which India and Pakistan can take advantage of technological forecasting and secure mutual gains on the basis of long-term calculations of power and interest.  The economic and monetary union towards which Europe had progressed has come about by subordinating self-help strategies to goals and constraints consistent with Europe’s long-term future.  

The nuclear status of India and Pakistan compels both of them to remove the causes of belligerency.  Decision-making procedures are of two types, those which focus on substantive solutions and those which focus on the process by which the solutions can be reached.  Bureaucratic routines which have deflected substantive solutions can only be side-stepped by dramatic political moves.

It is in the interest of both leaders, Vajpayee and Sharif, that they should take advantage of the underlying social and economic forces in the subcontinent to reap joint political gains and avoid political losses by developing a process-model for India-Pakistan diplomacy.

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