Peace with India will bring economic security to the region, but the onus is on Pakistan to create an environment free of terror and hostility

Pakistan’s diplomatic clout has eroded over the years because of political instability and economic insecurity. Its rulers have failed even to build a national narrative on any critical issue. The internal political strife and Pakistan’s economic dependency on other countries have raised questions about its ability to effectively fight any case in international forums.

Many factors have contributed to Pakistan’s diplomatic debacle in its latest war of words and deeds with India, ranging from incompetent diplomacy to its failure to successfully feel the pulse of post-cold war the world. The latest Kashmir rant of Prime Minister Imran Khan that Pakistan would not hold talks with India until New Delhi reverses its decision of scrapping the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. India abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 on August 5, 2019 and bifurcated it into two Union territories.

“Unless India retreats from the steps taken on August 5…, the Pakistani government will not talk to India at all,” Khan said.

On the other hand all powerful Pakistan Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa said that “it is time to bury the past and move forward” when it comes to his country’s relations with the neighbour and arch-rival India.

It Appears That Pakistan Is Playing A “Good Cop-Bad Cop” Naive Diplomacy

Pakistani policymakers failed to understand the perils of the post-cold war environment. During the cold war years, as an ally to the US, Pakistan could reasonably expect a sympathetic American response to tensions with pro-Soviet India. The end of the Cold War has changed regional and international equations. Pakistan should have learned this lesson the hard way when the Kargil conflict escalated.

One of the main pillars of Pakistan’s worldwide anti-India diplomacy has been its efforts to malign India in Islamic countries, especially in the Gulf and across West Asia. It constantly sheds crocodile tears about a so-called ‘India-Israel axis’ and an anti-Islamic ‘Hindu-Jewish’ conspiracy threatening the Islamic world. The 53-member Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), which is significantly influenced by Saudi Arabia, is sought to be used to promote anti-India propaganda, particularly on J&K.

It looks that this era is now ending, as India’s relations with the Islamic world, particularly with the oil-rich Gulf countries, including Iraq, have significantly improved. Like India, most Arab states favour a ‘two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian issue. Moreover, these countries view Pakistan as an economic basket case, forever pleading for money.

It is, however, the arrogance and naïve changing geopolitical understanding of Imran Khan, that he is obsessed with denigrating India, which has ruined Pakistan’s relations with the Arab world. His efforts to make Kashmir an issue for collective action by the ‘Islamic ummah’ inevitably failed. He was rebuffed on more than one occasion by Saudi Arabia on his pleas to convene a meeting of the OIC to act against India. His Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi demanded that Saudi Arabia should immediately convene a meeting of the OIC foreign ministers. He pompously proclaimed: ‘If you cannot convene it, then I’ll be compelled to ask PM Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir, and support the oppressed Kashmiris.’

The inner political contradictions on the stand of geo economics verses geo politics are galore on the policy on Kashmir, all the stakeholders are not on the same page. As such it is meaningless until there is perceptible change on K policy. Pak has to fight the Frankenstein of terror it has created as a matter of State’s policy. She has to take stern actions and dismantle all the infrastructures and architectures of terrorism in its real sense, Conclusion of Mumbai attack trials and punishment to the accused will go a long way. These measures will help in restoring the Pakistan’s blurred diplomatic credibility worldwide.

Pakistan’s Economic Woes

Imran. seems to have forgotten that Pakistan’s economy survives on annual doles from Saudi Arabia and the West. The infuriated Saudis responded immediately by freezing a $3.2 billion oil credit facility, and demanded that Pakistan commence repaying a $3 billion loan. Saudi Arabia and the UAE see India as a diplomatically reliable and economically useful partner. Their leading national oil companies have decided to invest $60 billion in a major petrochemical project in India,-Maharashtra’s Raigad district.

These are important developments, confirming that India has played its cards dexterously across its western neighbourhood. It has calibrated its relations with Islamic countries. Relations with Iran also have been friendly, but marred by Tehran’s unpredictable policy on Jammu and Kashmir. Most importantly, India has built a strong partnership with Israel, while supporting Palestinian aspirations for a viable nation-state. Hence India is seen as reliable, regional power.

Facing a debacle, Pakistan is now aiming to transit from a geo-strategic domain to a geo-economic domain. That means to market Pakistan as geo-economic potential instead of a strategic partner of global and regional powers.

A 35-page research paper released recently by a prominent Pakistani think tank suggested a paradigm shift in Pakistan’s approach, making economic diplomacy at top of the agenda. The five areas identified in the paper included “transiting from geo-political to geo-economic cooperation, bolstering human security: investing in people, partnering for Afghanistan’s future, countering global terrorism, turning great power competition into great power collaboration, contending with the India-US strategic alignment and enhancing disaster and climate change mitigation through cooperation.”

Instead of using financial incentives as the means to secure strategic ends, it reads the US could instead begin viewing trade, investment, and economic cooperation as the underlying basis for developing a durable bilateral relationship with Pakistan. It was in the US interest to enable Pakistan to become economically viable.

It reads that Pakistan could leverage its geostrategic position to pursue economic goals, rather than relying on international aid instead of furthering the geostrategic agendas of powerful countries, like the US. Even now, it reads as India’s image as the largest ‘democracy’ in the world has begun to tarnish and its political actions have strained its relations with its neighbours, it continues forging economic links with China, with other South Asian and East Asian countries, with Oceania and beyond. “New Delhi is well-positioned to expand its economic linkages due to the sheer size of its market and its economy. Yet, Pakistan too has the untapped potential of diversifying its economy and becoming more integrated with the global economy—something that the incumbent government plans to explore through its recent initiatives with regards to economic diplomacy.”

Post-Cold-War Realities

It also reads that rather than being coerced into choosing either Beijing or Washington, Pakistan needed to set itself up as a mediator to allow the two great powers to pursue their shared interests. The country has in the past played the part of a bridge state for the two powers during the Nixon era. However, the nature of the strategic competition between the US and China “is now quite different, and Pakistan cannot assume that it would be able to achieve any sort of détente.”

This policy paper coinciding March 18 speech of Pakistan Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa may be music to India’s ears. He said that “it is time to bury the past and move forward” when it comes to his country’s relations with the neighbour and arch-rival India. Speaking at the Islamabad Security Dialogue, he outlined a vision for his country’s foreign and strategic policy that was refreshingly forward-looking, building on themes that have been trickling in from Islamabad over the past few months: that Pakistan would reprioritize economics, and situate it at the heart of its foreign policy; that peace with India is a pre-condition for this geo-economic pivot; and that Pakistan recognizes the need for collective action to meet transnational threats in the post-COVID-19 era.

“National security in the age of globalization, information, and connectivity has now become an all-encompassing notion; wherein, besides various elements of national power, global and regional environment also play a profound role,” Bajwa said. Noting that national security is “multi-layered,” shaped by a mix of external and internal variables, he added, “I also firmly believe that no single nation in isolation, can perceive and further its quest for security, as every single issue and security dilemma faced by today’s world is intimately linked with global and regional dynamics.”

Inaugurating the dialogue on March 17, Prime Minister Imran Khan had also brought up themes reiterated by Bajwa. “National security is also about non-traditional issues like climate change and food security which threaten Pakistan and its overall security,” Khan had said.

Noting that Pakistan’s perennial dispute with India has come in the way of the country realizing its full geo-economic potential in terms of leveraging its geographical location at the intersection of South and Central Asia, Bajwa claimed that the “Kashmir dispute is obviously at the head of this problem.” “It is important to understand that without the resolution of Kashmir dispute through peaceful means, the process of sub-continental rapprochement will always remain susceptible to derailment due to politically motivated bellicosity.”

In his speech, Bajwa described his country’s geo-economic shift in terms of four “core pillars”: peace (including inside the country); non-interference in the affairs of other states; trade and connectivity within the region; and “sustainable development and prosperity through the establishment of investment and economic hubs within the region.”

Subtle Change of Priorities

But noted Pakistani scholar and former diplomat Husain Haqqani believes that the overall tone of General Bajwa’s speech at the first-ever Islamabad Security Dialogue represented a subtle change of priorities in Rawalpindi. The army chief made no mention of Pakistan’s ideology, recognised the role of “politically motivated bellicosity” in derailing rapprochement between India and Pakistan, and acknowledged the primacy of “demography, economy, and technology.”

“By refusing to identify India as a permanent enemy or an ideological rival, General Bajwa is trying to signal that he is the all-powerful military leader some in New Delhi have been looking for, who could settle matters with India’s elected leadership without fear of backtracking,” he wrote. All the above developments may be music to our ears, but we must not overlook that Pakistan has not dismantled its jihadi infrastructure and has not punished groups and individuals responsible for terrorist attacks targeting India.

Pakistan’s words should be weighed in terms of its action on the ground, especially when it comes to Pakistan’s support for cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan as well as India. It also needs to be kept in mind that in Pakistan sections of the security establishment have worked at cross purposes in the past. It may very well be that despite Bajwa’s commitments others may seek to muddy waters when it comes to India based on their incentives.

India is all for peace, all Indians stand for peace, but India cannot compromise on its security and integrity. We understand that peace between India and Pakistan will lead the region into economic security, prosperity and stability. But for that, the onus is on Pakistan to create an environment free of terror and hostility.