Trade vs Terror

A relationship based on connectivity and free trade is the only recipe that will work in a world tired of Indo-Pakistan conflict.

December 1, 2018 01:20 IST

Pakistan couldn’t handle the fallout from the “operations” in Kargil (1999) and Mumbai (2008). Governments in Islamabad fell on bad times and the elected leaders were punished for refusing to swallow the two misadventures. Pakistan was forced to try the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, but the trial quickly became a farce

On November 10, 2012, the country’s officials told the anti-terrorism judge trying Lakhvi that the terrorists who attacked and killed over 160 people in Mumbai belonged to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the outfit had trained at different places in Pakistan. The mastermind, Lakhvi, married in jail, fathered a son and boasted about his time in the jail on phone. Tariq Khosa, a retired inspector-general of police, wrote in Dawn on August 3, 2015: “The judge of the anti-terrorism court trying Lakhvi has been changed eight times since the trial began in 2009. The Federal Investigation Authority has confessed that prosecuting a commander of LeT is difficult and the learned trial judge refused to visit Adiala Jail where Lakhvi was being tried — due to security reasons. They received threats on cellphones. Witnesses were insecure and reluctant to depose against the accused.”

Pakistan still denies that by harbouring those declared as terrorists by the UN, it is complicit in terrorism. But its “all-weather” friend, China, has twice joined those who accuse Pakistan of sheltering terrorists — at BRICS with India and at FATF in Paris with Saudi Arabia. The latest rumour is that Pakistan wants peace with India. The Imran Khan government has hinted that it wants to “normalise” relations with India the way its two predecessors did, but their leaders were criminalised by the country’s courts.


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All over the world, free trade is the first sign of “normalisation” of relations between countries. In 2005, at the SAARC summit in Dhaka, then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talked of connectivity. In the past, India has given the status of the Most Favoured Nation to Pakistan — a gesture that has gone unreciprocated. Now, after Kargil and Mumbai, and after blowing its economic fuse, Pakistan apparently wants free trade.

But South Asia has walked away from SAARC and the idea of the region as a “connected” trading bloc. C Raja Mohan writes: “India’s refusal to engage Pakistan unless Islamabad addresses its concerns on cross-border terrorism, has also held up the next SAARC summit in Islamabad. The last summit of the leaders of the eight SAARC countries was convened in Kathmandu in late 2014. The real tragedy, of course, is that nothing of substance would come out even if the summit was held tomorrow in Islamabad.” (‘Farewell to South Asia’, IE, October 11)

Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa says his country’s economic prosperity is linked to the region and to peace talks with India. This, they say, is the Bajwa Doctrine cutting Pakistan off from the negative legacy of Kargil and Mumbai. Reportedly, China too wants Pakistan to “patch up eastwards” so it can push its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor through. If anyone thought India would bite after Prime Minister Imran Khan issued his “two-steps forward” statement on a proposed bilateral dialogue, he was soon disabused. The bilateral equation has worsened and India is growling more ominously than at any time in the past.

Pakistan has proposed “peace talks” to discuss disputes. This has been tried as a deadlock-breaking recipe in the past but “normalisation” of relations is something different. Maybe the world has to wait till the next election general elections in India. Meanwhile, both sides are scoring points with their people.

The 14th SAARC Summit at New Delhi in 2007 posited the question of trade routes. India and Pakistan agreed to the vision of a South Asian community, where there was smooth flow of goods, services, peoples, technologies, knowledge, capital, culture and ideas in the region. For SAARC, which had started in 1985 with wrangles over whether Kashmir could be mentioned during the summit sessions, the acceptance of trade routes was a big step forward.

In 2011, SAARC looked like taking off. The members were ready to act on the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement signed by them in 2004. Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar arrived in New Delhi saying, “Pakistan wants to improve its regional connectivity with energy pipelines and roads. One day it would be possible for Indian trade with Central Asian nations to transit through Pakistan”.

But by 2012, SAARC was once again a dicey proposition. Pakistani diplomats, who should have anointed the wheels of cooperation, cursed the organisation and called for “resolution of disputes” first. Indian diplomats, on the other hand, demanded that Pakistan talk first about cross-border terrorism. It was goodbye, SAARC.

In contrast, the of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) envisions a single market like the European Union. More than 25 per cent of the trade interactions by the ASEAN’s members are within the region itself — as against South Asia’s 5 per cent.

Who could want connectivity more than Prime Minister Narendra Modi? But look what happened. The year 2015 looked promising: On February 11, Prime Minister Modi rang Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with a message of goodwill. But two months later, before Sharif could begin talking, the Lahore High Court had approved Lakhvi’s release from prison.

States are created by drawing borders and boundaries which cut them off from their neighbours. Nations are often created by acclaiming identities that are in conflict with the identities of their neighbours. Boundaries are barriers to the movement of people and goods and provide “national security”. Trade with the neighbouring states is often said to be inimical to “national security” because it tends to link national advantage to the “connections” it builds with the “threatening” neighbour. This was the thesis of Mahnaz Z Ispahani’s seminal book, Roads and Rivals: The Politics of Access in the Borderlands of Asia (1989). Today, such an analysis helps us understand how global trade under the WTO has changed the old ways of thinking about security.

Will Pakistan and India persist with the old pattern? Will Pakistan be a national security state, forever? Both need to revisit their bilateral relationship and move to the only recipe of normalisation they have allowed to develop in the now-dead SAARC. A relationship based on connectivity and free trade is the only recipe that will work in a world tired of Indo-Pakistan conflict. Pakistan as a revisionist state has damaged itself almost beyond repair. But its politicians do agree on the “connectivity” formula.

Illustration by CR Sasikumar

The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan.