Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
The world’s largest democracy chooses a new government in an election beginning on Thursday, and given the fires burning next door in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the men and women who will rule New Delhi over the next five years will doubtless exert influence over the course of events.
Indeed, with the pain and anger over the Mumbai attacks of November still raw, the mood could hardly be tougher against Pakistan. Even shorn of the campaign rhetoric, the positions of both the ruling Congress and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party on Pakistan begin from common ground. No dialogue with Islamabad until it “dismantles the infrastructure of terrorism”, both parties say in their manifestos.
New Delhi’s continued refusal to resume dialogue or indeed to expand other links such as trade has caught Pakistan between a rock and a hard place, according to this piece in 2point6billion.com, a website tracking developments mainly in China and India. While Islamabad has repeatedly called for resumption of dialogue since the attacks, Delhi has refused to comply until it is assured that Pakistan will prosecute all those involved in the planning and operations.
Delhi maintains that it holds information garnered from satellite, cellular and other communications devices captured at the scene that lead to specific individuals that Pakistan has as yet failed to apprehend. Islamabad denies the charge and says it is doing everything in its power to cooperate.
Pakistan’s economy has survived three wars with India and a long history of tension with its much bigger neighbour. But this time its own domestic economic and political problems, combined with tension on the border with Afghanistan, are running smack into a global financial crisis that will make it harder for its traditional allies to bail it out.
So is it time to break the taboos and ask: Does Pakistan’s best hope of economic recovery lie in making peace with India?
Pakistan’s new President Asif Ali Zardari is starting to challenge quite a few long-held positions.
India, he told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published over the weekend, ”has never been a threat to Pakistan.” For a country that has fought three wars with India, including one in 1971 that ended in humiliation and the birth of Bangladesh from what was East Pakistan, these are remarkable words.
In the aftermath of the deadly hotel bombing in Islamabad, amidst fresh tensions with the United States over helicopter intrusions in Pakistan’s northwest, and in spite of reports of fresh cross-border firing in Kashmir, negotiators from India and Pakistan met in New Delhi and agreed to open trade across Kashmir. There could hardly have been a more unlikely time for the two countries to agree to crack open one of the world’s most militarised frontiers, where a ceasefire which has more or less held since 2003 is beginning to fray at the edges.
To be sure, the neighbours have a passenger bus service twice a month that links the two parts of Kashmir under their control, but it is heavily restricted and travellers are subject to all sorts of clearances before they can get anywhere near it.