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Why India's Pakistan policy needs a rethink

From Washington through European capitals to Moscow, Beijing and Tokyo, the world is taking a more relaxed view of Pakistan. At the same time, the view about India is taking a beating. Apart from major powers and the developed economies, almost all of India’s neighbours are also willing to carry on business as usual with Pakistan. Why?

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Updated: Dec 11, 2019, 11.34 PM IST
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India’s policy of continued non-engagement with Pakistan may have run its course. The time has come for some creative rethinking on our Pakistan policy
By Sanjaya Baru
While Moody’s Investors Service lowered India’s credit rating from stable to negative last month, it raised Pakistan’s rating from negative to stable last week. ‘The rating affirmation,’ said Moody’s, ‘reflects Pakistan’s relativelylarge economy and robust long-term growth potential, coupled with ongoing institutional enhancements that raise policy credibility and effectiveness, albeit from a low starting point.’

US principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells complimented Pakistan for the Moody’s upgrade, tweeting ‘With bold economic reforms, Pakistan can boost growth, attract private capital, and expand exports.’ The trans-Atlantic powers that hold the purse strings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been liberal with their assistance to Pakistan, even if the terms are onerous. The Japan-led Asian Development Bank (ADB) has also offered additional assistance to that country.

Back in Currency

Even as the Chinese media continue to publish gung-ho reports about Pakistan’s economic recovery, Russia’s minister of industry and trade Denis Manturov arrived in Islamabad earlier this week, leading a 64-member business delegation, with promise of billions of dollars of investment in energy, steel and railways. Russia will not only sell military equipment and aircraft to Pakistan, but also invest in north-south gas pipelines that will offer a new exit route to the sea for central Asian and Russia gas.

All this is on top of the money Pakistan gets from its Arab benefactors. From Washington through European capitals to Moscow, Beijing and Tokyo, the world is taking a more relaxed view of Pakistan. At the same time, the view about India is taking a beating. Apart from major powers and the developed economies, almost all of India’s neighbours are also willing to carry on business as usual with Pakistan. Why?

Three factors have contributed to this turn. First, nobody wants Pakistan to implode under the burden of its non-performance, largely for geopolitical reasons, but also because Pakistan has demonstrated a renewed willingness to address its economic and social problems.

Second, western powers are competing with the Eurasian alliance of China and Russia to retain influence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And third, India’s case against Pakistan is increasingly viewed as having become weaker thanks to the many controversial decisions of the Narendra Modi administration that have a direct or indirect bearing on the bilateral relationship.

While India does get endorsements from governments around the world for its genuine concern about cross-border terrorism, most sign up as an act of courtesy, and in the interests of their business in India. When it comes to Pakistan, few are willing to put their money where their mouth is on the issue of terrorism. India’s concerted attempt to get Pakistan placed on the ‘black list’ of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has reached the limits of success. While Pakistan has to work hard to get off the grey list, it is unlikely to be ever placed on the black list. It is not widely known that the only two countries on the FATF black list are Iran and North Korea.

Think Think Tank, Not Tank
It shows a poor understanding of global geopolitics for any one to imagine that western powers — not to mention China that now chairs FATF — are prepared to put Pakistan in the same box as Iran and North Korea.

The US, in particular, has vehemently opposed the latter and their nuclear capability while happily doing business with nuclear-armed Pakistan. The world seems to have come around to the view that after the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008, there has been no major cross-border terror attack on any civilian target in India, and that the cross-border attackson military installations are part of an ongoing undeclared war between the two neighbours.

Given recent developments in Jammu and Kashmir terror attacks, they will increasingly be viewed by world opinion as ‘locally staged’, if incontrovertible evidence to the contrary is not provided. All this will reduce the pressure on Pakistan to improve its behaviour.

All this is not to belittle India’s case against Pakistan. The fact is that Pakistan has been at war with India from its very birth, beginning with its forced annexation of parts of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan’s hostility towards India takes many forms, and has had devastating consequences for both nations. It is in the interest of both nations to resolve their differences and address their domestic challenge of development.

India has every right to feel aggrieved that its repeated attempts to seek peace with Pakistan have been rebuffed. However, India’s current policy of continued non-engagement with Pakistan may have run its course.

There is no reason to hope that it would yield any more benefits than what has already been secured. The time has come for some creative rethinking on our Pakistan policy.

For that to evolve into re-engagement will, however, require Pakistan to take the first step by revoking the August 2019 expulsion of Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria.

The writer is distinguished fellow, Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, New Delhi

DISCLAIMER: Views expressed are author's own

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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