Will economic cooperation between India, Pakistan push the dispute over the state ultimately into background?
POINT OF VIEW BY RIYAZ AHMAD
Are we at a pivot point in Indo-Pak relations? Apparently, there are little signs of it. The Indo-Pak dialogue is progressing at its predictable pace, with no signs of breakthrough. But this is no longer the summation of the Indo-Pak truth. The two countries are now engaging at a level they have never done before. Aside from the contentious arena of their long running negotiations over a baggage of lingering issues, the two countries are working to join their economies. Pakistan is offering Most Favoured Nation status to India and India, in turn, will be permitting Foreign Direct Investment from Pakistan. It is the first time in their independent history that firm steps have been initiated towards a deeper economic cooperation. What is significant is the sheer scale of the trading activity that is envisaged, up from 2.7 billion dollars at present to around 6 billion dollars in three years. MFN status will enable India to export 6800 items to Pakistan, up from 2000 at present. And with time and hopefully more confidence the trade will only grow, integrating the two economies.
This is a change that promises to profoundly alter the relations between the two countries, possibly overriding in the long term the historical issues that have divided the two countries since their creation in 1947. The integrated economies will raise stakes for both sides to dredge up the demons of past. But the question is will Kashmir too become passé? The recent signals emerging from both countries which run concomitant with the new trading moves point to this direction. The Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar has indicated that her country’s “decision to normalise trade ties with India reflects a desire to move away from the policies of the past 40 years”.
It is not necessary that the events follow this trajectory. But this is exactly how inter-dependent economies ultimately affect the bilateral relations: pushing the messy political issues to the background. Considering that Indo-China economic ties have become a model for the new Indo-Pak moves, it is not difficult to see what is it that they envisage. Since their 1962 war over border dispute, the two countries have learnt to manage their differences while getting along with a robust economic partnership. And the mutual economic stakes have over the years ensured that the two countries are not hampered by the ill-defined frontiers.
However, Indo-China is not the only viable example of what economic cooperation does to the relations of the bitterly opposed countries. US-China relations can be another model. The history of current intense economic ties between the two countries goes back to nineties when president Bill Clinton despite serious reservations on China’s human rights record kept annually renewing the Most Favoured Nation status to Beijing, until egged on by the influential agricultural interests in the country Clinton was persuaded to make the status permanent in 2000.
This was not the only reason. US was becoming increasingly conscious of China’s growing geo-political profile. “I have said before that we do not want to isolate China, given its growing importance in the global community. China today is a nation of nearly 1.2 billion people, home to one of every five people in the world. By sheer size alone, China has an important impact on the world's economy, environment, and politics,” was how Clinton underlined the importance of China in one of his speeches.
Though there is no comparison with Indo-Pak equation, but the example is enlightening as to how the economy, being the independent variable that it is, can exclusively redraw the relations of the countries. Will trade change India, Pakistan too and alter the very discourse and dynamics of their relations? There is a real prospect for this. Where does it leave Kashmir and the ongoing separatist struggle in the state? Does anybody among the gaggle of its leadership spare some time to think of the great changes sweeping the region and what it entails for them. It is time they do.
Lastupdate on : Tue, 8 May 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 8 May 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 9 May 2012 00:00:00 IST
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