The India and Pakistan slow dance, Irfan Husain
CALL me an optimist, but every time India and Pakistan begin their one-step-forward-two-steps-back slow dance, I get up and applaud.
In a repeated triumph of hope over experience, I anticipate a breakthrough that will usher in normal neighbourly relations, if not close fraternal ties. Never mind that we have been here many times before, only for the dancers to break off their gyrations in mid-step and retreat to their chairs by the dance floor in a sulk.
In 1989, Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi, the youthful prime ministers of the day, seemed to have developed a working relationship that promised to bring the two countries closer together. But the Pakistan Army feared just such a development, and conspired with Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the wily president, to topple her government in 1990.
In 1999, Nawaz Sharif struck a similar chord with Vajpayee, his Indian counterpart, and welcomed him toLahore. Again, our military brass made sure this initiative would be still-born by launching the absurd misadventure in Kargil.
Chastised by the experience, Musharraf reached out toIndiawith some unconventional ideas to break theKashmirdeadlock in 2004. This time, it was the Indian side that felt too insecure to take the Pakistani peace efforts seriously.
Even after this public rebuff, Musharraf was persuaded by his principal civilian adviser, Tariq Aziz, to continue this attempt through discreet, top level channels. According to well-placed sources, the two countries were close to an agreement when Musharraf became embroiled in the judicial crisis, and the Indians put the process on hold.
So clearly, despite the influence hardliners on both sides exert on relations between the two countries, there is a constituency for peace. In Pakistan, both Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have repeatedly stated their desire to normalise
relations withIndia. Sadly, after Kargil and the Mumbai attack, many inIndia have given up on peace with their neighbour.
But as these two low points indicate, we have allowed violent men in and out of uniform to hold India-Pakistan relations to ransom. The recent progress on trade links indicates that Pakistani generals have finally come around to accept that our economy desperately needs a shot in the arm.
It has been obvious to even the meanest intelligence that importing machinery fromIndiarather than paying vastly more for western goods would save us a huge amount. The jingoistic argument against this logical step is that it would help Indian industry. But how is helping western industry any better?
Some 15 years ago, when I was heading the Textile Institute of Pakistan, we needed to import some testing machines for our labs. An Indian firm that manufactured virtual replicas of a Swiss design made us an offer that was three times lower than the original.
As TIP was a private-sector institution with limited funds, we placed an order for the cheaper option. But despite our best efforts, we could not obtain an import permit for the Indian machinery, and had to go back to the Swiss firm.
Multiply this example by a thousand, and you will get an idea of the real cost of our self-defeating trade policies.Indiagranted Pakistan Most Favoured Nation status over 15 years ago, and it is only now that we have reciprocated. Ever so slowly, we seem to be heading towards normal trade relations that promise to unlock vast potential across the subcontinent.
There is a fear that cheaper imports fromIndiamight harm Pakistani manufacturers. Certainly, less efficient companies might be driven to the wall. But isnít this exactly what Chinese imports have done already? Ultimately, the consumer benefits through lower prices and better products. To remain competitive, our manufacturers will have to improve quality and cut costs. If they canít adapt, they will have to shut down.
This Darwinian process is at the heart of capitalism. ĎCompete or dieí is the driving force behind innovation. Itís not often pretty, and there are winners and losers. Everyday, new businesses open while others close. Many are rendered jobless while new jobs are created. We may not like how the system works, but it is the most efficient one around.
Many respected voices, my friend Jawed Naqviís among them, have argued that trade alone is not enough to lead to normalisation. I disagree. While the European Union is not currently the best example, the fact is that many among its members were enemies for centuries, and have fought countless wars. But over the last 50 years, close trading links have made armed conflict between members virtually unthinkable.
With trade come travel and tourism. Presently, Indians make up the biggest single group of tourists toSri Lanka. If the present ridiculous visa regulations are eased, many Pakistanis would travel toIndiaand vice versa. Ultimately, trade and tourism create their own constituency for peace, if only because war is bad for business.
We should not forget that the military represents the biggest single business group inPakistan. Through various pension and benefits funds, it has established a vast network of manufacturing, banking and real estate operations run by and for retired military personnel.
These business interests provide a powerful argument for peace. As the middle class in both countries expands, neither can afford a war.India, with its regional and global ambitions, would prefer to settle local disputes and move on.Pakistan, fighting its self-created monsters, can ill-afford its unending and fruitless confrontation with its vastly more powerful neighbour.
Ejaz Hyder, a friend and fellow columnist, wrote recently that in order to have peace, we have to prepare for war. Again, I disagree: after preparing for war for over 60 years, we have, at best, an armed and uneasy truce punctuated by occasional outbreaks of hostilities. Across much ofEuropeandLatin America, on the other hand, there is peace, with most countries relatively unprepared for war.
It is true that we live in a tough neighbourhood, and disputed borders do supply countries in the region with excuses to go to war. But as experience over the last 50 years shows, trade can overcome a history of bad blood.
IndiaandPakistanhave been at war several times, and at daggers drawn for the rest of the time. For a change, letís give peace a chance.
The writer is the author of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West.