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India should realise that trade and opening borders can address Kashmir dispute

What happened in the Valley was hair-raising enough to shock the world and drag Pakistan back into its national position of challenging India.

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Updated: January 25, 2020 11:36:19 am
Jammu and kashmir, Kashmir tension, India Pakistan, Imran Khan-Narendra Modi, Pakistan India relation, India china relation, indian express Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan. (File Photo)

Pakistan was supposed to become like India if it wanted to survive. India’s former foreign affairs minister, Yashwant Sinha, used to point out that while India had fought a war with China in 1962 and still had territorial disputes with it, China was India’s largest trading partner. Today, Sinha is not a part of the BJP. And, instead of Pakistan following India, India is becoming like Pakistan.

Pakistan refuses to budge from its revisionist track. It keeps on fighting sub-nuclear wars with India and hurting its economy. It has disputes with India, but so has Bangladesh. But Bangladesh doesn’t challenge its bigger neighbour like Pakistan. Look at the figures: Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves stood at $15 billion in October 2019, while Bangladesh’s reserves were $32.93 billion in 2018. Bangladesh’s economy is expected to grow at 7.2 per cent in 2019, and around 6.8 per cent in 2020. Pakistan is in the IMF’s oxygen tent for the coming years given its indebtedness.

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Despite being in the US’s anti-China camp, bilateral trade between India and China is set to cross $100 billion in 2019. Pakistan didn’t listen to Sinha — today India too doesn’t — and its defence budget is 3.6 per cent of its GDP. But according to the World Bank figures for 1988 to 2003, Pakistan’s military expenditure represented 25-29 per cent of the Central government expenditure, and 6-7 per cent of its gross national income. On the other hand, India’s defence budget is 1.6 per cent of GDP, while Bangladesh’s is 1.4 per cent.

The “rejected economist” Atif Mian said in The New York Times, “Pakistan’s economy, like the airplane, has crashed 13 times in the last 60 years, each time requiring an IMF bailout. It wasn’t always so. During the 1980s, in per capita terms, Pakistan was richer than India, China and Bangladesh by 15, 38 and 46 per cent. Today Pakistan is the poorest.”

In 1948, Pakistan’s trade with India formed 56 per cent of its exports and 32 per cent of imports. In 2018, the bilateral trade between Pakistan and India was merely 2.76 per cent and 0.35 per cent of their global trade. In 2018, Pakistan even banned border trade with India after the latter abrogated Article 370 of its Constitution.

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When Imran Khan became prime minister of Pakistan he called on his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to “normalise” relations because Pakistan wanted to trade rather than fight. But, Modi was busy getting rid of Article 370 even as Khan got together with his army chief General Bajwa to open the Kartarpur Sahib shrine for Indian visitors.

What happened in the Valley was hair-raising enough to shock the world and drag Pakistan back into its national position of challenging India. Soon, both Khan and Modi faced their own separate challenges on the economy, one going into the IMF tent, the other getting hit from low growth and weakening political strength in states.

Khan has failed to get the world to support his plaint about the abrogation of Article 370; not even the so-called Islamic world is willing to stand with him on the Kashmir dispute. Yet, Pakistan feels less challenged today on the eastern front than on its western boundary. Once considered Pakistan’s “strategic depth”, Afghanistan has emerged as the most unpredictable counter in Pakistan’s foreign policy game-plan. India is there in Kabul and is close to Iran as well.

Once the Americans leave, the Kabul government will fall, handing it over to the Taliban and their al Qaeda and ISIS soldiers. They will milk both India and Pakistan, but will endanger Pakistan more with their ideology which blends dangerously with Pakistan’s “weak” territories abutting the Durand Line. Pakistan, which is planning to hold the next summit of the defunct regional trading bloc SAARC in Islamabad in 2020, must convince India that through trade and opening of borders, the dispute of Kashmir can be laid to rest.

This article first appeared in the print edition on January 25, 2020 under the title “Becoming like Pakistan”. The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan.

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