The ‘Heart of Asia’ Failure

The stubborn policy of India and Afghanistan vis-à-vis Pakistan is untenable in the long run.
The ‘Heart of Asia’ Failure
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As Amritsar was gearing up for the Heart of Asia conference which was held on December 3-4; a more noticeable issue was the Pakistan's resolve to attend the meet. Sartaj Aziz, Advisor on Foreign Affairs did attend the event. It was a good way to reciprocate to the Indian participation in the Heart of Asia 5th ministerial meeting which was held in Islamabad in December 2015. It assumed added significance keeping in view Modi's decision to boycott the 19th SAARC summit which was scheduled for November 15-16. Amidst the growing violence along LoC, the Heart of Asia conference was a good opportunity to build a momentum for the resumption of bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan. Abdul Basit, Pakistan's High Commissioner in India conveyed his country's willingness to engage on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia conference. But India had other plans in mind. Both Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi lashed out at Pakistan. Addressing the sixth Heart of Asia ministerial conference Ashraf Ghani said, "We need to identify cross-border terrorism and a fund to combat terrorism. Pakistan has pledged $500 million for Afghanistan's development. This amount can be spent to contain extremism". Sartaj Aziz rebutted by saying that it's simplistic to put blame on one country for the violence. A country, in the throes of war, can ill afford to annoy its neighbour for all its failures. The Afghan government has no clear policy on Taliban; whether to engage them or fight them out. On the other hand, Pakistan is hosting some two million Afghan refugees. The Afghan President needs to realise that the two million mouths don't feed on a loaf of bread. If these refugees are pushed back into Afghanistan, he needs to provide them shelter, food, education, security and other basic necessities of life. How can he afford this when half of the country is beyond his writ? Better to heed the advice of your predecessor Hamid Karzai who said back in 2011 that even though India is our great friend but Pakistan is our twin brother. Important to mention here is the fact that the influx of refugees into West Bengal and Assam was the main reason for Indian involvement into the 1971 war.    

India and Pakistan are the major players in South Asia. The current stalemate between them is detrimental to the peace and prosperity in the region. Because of violence along the LoC and International Border, thousands of people had to flee their homes. The 2003 ceasefire agreement enabled the border dwellers to live peacefully and cultivate their lands. But the renewed hostility forced them to abandon their homes again. Annoyed as they are with the recurring dislocation, they favour an all out war between India and Pakistan to permanently end the crisis.     

South Asia is the least integrated region in the world. The intra-regional trade is less than five per cent. After the September Uri attack, snapping trade ties and abrogating the Indus Water Treaty is being envisaged as a coercive strategy to punish Pakistan into submission. But the facts speak otherwise. Official trade between India and Pakistan is estimated at about $ 2.6 billion. It's heavily in India's favour. Pakistan amounts to around 40 per cent of India's total cotton exports. It also imports a large quantity of fresh and dry fruits and vegetables from India. So, any change on the trade front will hurt Indian traders more than their Pakistani counterparts.   

The Indus Water Treaty is one of the most successful water sharing arrangements in the world. With or without the treaty, India is duty bound to release a sufficient amount of water to the lower riparian state of Pakistan. But unilateral abrogation of this treaty will plunge the region into a deep crisis. Practically speaking, India can't divert the waters of Indus river or its tributaries. The water flows through deep gorges of the Karakoram and Himalayan mountains. The only way to divert water is to build hundreds of kilometres of tunnels through the toughest mountains. It's financially unviable. India as a founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, aspiring for a permanent seat at the Security Council can't afford to scrap the Indus Waters Treaty; it would invite international condemnation.

Coming to the Heart of Asia event, Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar was right is saying that India will miss the opportunity to engage with Pakistan. For the BJP government at centre, Pakistan bashing is a politically fruitful exercise. The UP and Punjab elections are the main motivating reasons.   

The stubborn policy of India and Afghanistan vis-à-vis Pakistan is untenable in the long run. Without reconciliation with the latter, the development and Security in Afghanistan is difficult to achieve. Both India and Afghanistan only enjoy limited leverage over Pakistan. Even this would come to an end once the CPEC becomes fully operational. Kashmir continues to be the main reason for economic disintegration in South Asia; reviving the Grand Trunk Road necessitates its resolution.          

Sajad Padder did his PhD in Political Science from the University of Kashmir. 

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