Nov 28

Breaking the deadlock

Posted on Friday, November 28, 2014 in The Friday Times (Editorial)


The 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu has ended with a whimper. All the leaders spoke passionately about the necessity of regional cooperation to alleviate the misery of 1.6 billion South Asians below the poverty line. This region accounts for a mere 3% of global output and 2% of world exports — in which intra-regional trade is only 5% of total trade compared to 66% in the EU, 53% in NAFTA, 32% in the Pan Pacific region and 25% in ASEAN. Yet they couldn’t agree to sign a single multi-lateral agreement on trade, commerce, energy or transport. Indeed, the leaders of India and Pakistan, whose attitude underlines the recurring failure of SAARC since it was founded 29 years ago, couldn’t even exploit this opportunity to talk about talks, even as each highlighted a critical dimension of the issues confronting them. Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif exhorted his regional colleagues to resolve simmering political disputes (an indirect reference to Pakistan’s dispute with India over Kashmir) in order to pave the way for economic cooperation while India’s PM, Narendra Modi, talked about the need to tackle the menace of terrorism (an indirect reference to the 26/11 Mumbai attack originating in Pakistan) as a prelude to normalization of relations.

In essence, Pakistan’s position is that composite talks on all issues should begin simultaneously without any pre-conditions. But India’s position is that Pakistan must first unilaterally act against India-oriented Pakistan-based terrorist groups in general and the 26/11 accused facing trial in particular before any talks can begin. The irony is that until 1999 (when India’s proposal for a composite dialogue was accepted by Pakistan at the Lahore summit), it was Pakistan that had consistently pre-conditioned a dialogue with India on the core issue of Kashmir and spurned the composite dialogue approach.

Interestingly, from 2004-2007, a back channel between India and Pakistan made significant headway in trying to find a working “out-of-the-box solution” to Kashmir. But 26/11 terrorism derailed it. Equally, another back channel between the two countries after the election of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister of Pakistan in 2013 would have delivered MFN trade status to India if PM Modi had not abruptly cancelled the foreign secretary level review talks scheduled in August this year. Why did India cancel the talks?

India says it asked Pakistan’s High Commissioner in New Delhi not to meet with the Kashmiri Hurriyet leaders in the Pakistan embassy prior to the talks. But the fact is that India’s Foreign Secretary called up the Pakistan High Commissioner when one of the Hurriyet leaders, Shabbir Shah, was already in the embassy and another was scheduled to arrive the following day. Therefore the advice was not heeded on the grounds that it would have publicly embarrassed the Hurriyet leaders and soured relations with Pakistan. If the message had been delivered well in advance, before the Hurriyet leaders were invited, Pakistani sources say it might well have acceded to it in order to keep the secretary talks on track, as when Nawaz Sharif met with Narendra Modi during the latter’s inauguration ceremonies and didn’t meet with Hurriyet leaders. Why did India make this an issue at the last minute and is still refusing to reschedule the talks?

Clearly, the state elections in held-Kashmir have influenced Mr Modi’s decision to hold off on talks with Pakistan. Since becoming PM, he has visited the state five times in a bid to whip up the Hindu vote in Jammu and the Muslim vote in parts of the Valley at the expense of the Congress, enabling the BJP to cobble a majority of the 87 seats in the state assembly with the help of Muslim independents or anti-Hurriyet groups and parties. Under the circumstances, his policy may be to deny importance to the Hurriyet by cutting off its contacts with Pakistan.

But this line of reasoning would also suggest that once the elections in held-Kashmir are over in January, whatever their outcome, Mr Modi might be ready to restore the foreign secretary talks and get back on track for obtaining MFN trade status from Pakistan. The fact is that India benefits much more than Pakistan from an opening of trade and the pro-Modi business lobby in India is smacking its lips in anticipation of MFN status (whatever its formal denomination). Such an opening would, apart from giving India a slice of the 200 million Pakistan market, also automatically pave the way for Indian manufactured goods to reach the 300 million Central Asian markets via Pakistan even if Pakistan doesn’t allow India direct overland road access to Afghanistan.

This deadlock must be broken. India needs foreign markets. Pakistan needs stable borders. Both are hurting from terrorism in the region. Pakistan’s war against terrorism is now a reality in FATA. But the trial of the Mumbai accused also needs to be speeded up as a signal of our credibility vis a vis India.

Nov 23

Apas Ki Baat 23 Nov 2014

Posted on Sunday, November 23, 2014 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

Nov 22

Apas Ki Baat 22 Nov 2014

Posted on Saturday, November 22, 2014 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

Nov 21

Revisiting Nehru’s India

Posted on Friday, November 21, 2014 in The Friday Times (Editorial)


India’s Congress Party is in soul-searching mode after its unprecedented loss to the BJP in the last elections. Its favoured option is to try and revive the memory and legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru as the great freedom fighter and founder of modern India. A recent conference in New Delhi presided over by Mrs Sonia Gandhi attracted VIP delegates from all over the world to commemorate Nehru’s fiftieth death anniversary, extol his virtues and stress how he had laid the foundations of a great democracy on the basis of an independent economy, a non-aligned foreign policy and an assimilative secular ideology of the state. It is significant that Narendra Modi, the BJP superhero who has taken India’s rich and poor alike by storm, is opening up the Indian economy to foreign investment, aligning with the West and is publicly hostile to the notion of secularism.

Most Pakistanis see Nehru through the angry prism of Kashmir. He is the villain who annexed it forcibly and then reneged on his pledge in the UN to hold a plebiscite to determine its future. It is the “unfinished business of Partition” that remains the root cause of conflict between the two countries. But we also grudgingly acknowledge that without Nehru India would not be the enviable democracy it is today, while we are still struggling to anchor ourselves firmly in it. After all, in 1947 both India and Pakistan were “fraternal twins”, in the sense of an overlapping genetic and linguistic heritage, a common struggle against colonialism, a post-colonial state-bureaucratic system and a common Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence. Both started off in quest of democracy. But India is a democracy today because it was a democracy yesterday, and the day before, and the day before. Each year of uninterrupted democracy has strengthened it. And it is Nehru who laid the foundations of freedom and democracy in India. But we in Pakistan have, from Day One, floundered on the rock of military-bureaucratic rule and autocracy. And that has made all the difference.

Broadly speaking, the choices made by Nehru in the first critical months and years sowed the seeds of democratic India. As prime minister he governed with a cabinet of elected civilians. In Pakistan, we opted for a non-elected, military-bureaucratic oligarchy. Nehru laid the foundations of an independent India on the basis of an independent economy (the Mahanalobis model). In Pakistan we opted for a free-market economy (the Harvard model) and became dependent on US aid. Nehru built a politically independent India without becoming part of the Cold War. Pakistan joined various defense pacts with the US and gave it military bases against the USSR.

Nehru scripted the story of India as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-regional, multi-linguistic state comprising many “nations” and peoples. The bedrock of the state was secularism. The bedrock of the nation was assimilation – internal unity in diversity. The bedrock of democracy was a consensual constitution, free and fair elections, regional state autonomy and economic and political independence externally.

But we were unlucky. The Quaid, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, didn’t live long enough to practice his vision for a secular Pakistan in which Hindus and Muslims and Christians would cease to be Hindus and Muslims and Christians, not in the religious sense but in the sense that all citizens of the new state would be equal. The bedrock of the new state became centralization under a military-bureaucratic oligarchy. The bedrock of the new nation became a form of non-assimilative and exclusivist Islam in which Muslims were more equal than non-Muslims. The bedrock of the new political system became a “guided constitutional democracy” with rigged elections and a dependent and indebted economy.

Modern Indian generations take India’s democracy and economic and political independence for granted. Therefore the Congress is not likely to cut much ice with them by harping on Nehru’s achievements fifty years after his death. Nor will he serve their purpose if they deliberately choose to block out the core element of his democratic vision – empowerment of the masses through alleviation of poverty, disease and illiteracy. This is precisely the “development agenda” that has caught the imagination of half a billion Indians on the margins of society no less than its middle classes and catapulted Modi to center-stage.

Another Nehru legacy has also fallen by the wayside. That is an enduring settlement on Kashmir. In 1962, Nehru sent Sheikh Abdullah to Pakistan but nothing came of it. In 1973, his daughter Indira Gandhi signed the Shimla Pact with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto but bilateralism didn’t get anywhere. The BJP tried to smoke the peace pipe with Nawaz Sharif and then General Musharraf (1999-2004) but Nehru’s Congress blocked progress despite the promise of an out-of-the-box solution that tilts in India’s favour. Now Modi’s BJP has frozen the process all over again.

Nehru’s Congress Party remains wedded to the Nehru dynasty. The irony is that this core strength of yesterday has become its core weakness today.

Nov 21

Apas Ki Baat 21 Nov 2014

Posted on Friday, November 21, 2014 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo