Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Think peace

Jan 4, 2012, 12.00AM IST
Tucked away within America's 2012 defence spending Bill is an item of great significance for South Asia. The Bill seeks to suspend 60% of the $1.1 billion military aid to Pakistan till the US Congress is satisfied with Islamabad's efforts in the war against terror. Given the lack of inclination on the part of the Pakistani military to provide that kind of satisfaction, this could be the beginning of the end of America's 'special' relationship with Pakistan - whereby Washington felt obliged to be Pakistan's chief armourer and prop it up with financial aid.

New Delhi has been long highlighting diversion of American military aid to Pakistan for activities far removed from fighting terror. Instead of combating jihadis, these funds have been used to strengthen the Pakistani army's hand domestically and upgrade its assets against India. Relying on the American crutch does nobody any good. It breeds resentment rather than gratitude in Pakistan. Arming the military to the teeth makes Pakistan a praetorian state by artificially propping up the army and allowing it to play a larger-than-life role. It also breeds resentment in India, coming in the way of the India-US relationship.

The converse argument also holds. Throwing away the foreign aid crutch would enhance the incentive to improve Pakistan's economy by stepping up trade with neighbours, including India. The Pakistani economy is in poor shape with double digit inflation persisting for more than four years. The country is in the throes of a deepening energy crisis, with increasing power outages. This in turn is cutting industrial output and exports. In this context, the new agreement between India and Pakistan to trade in electricity and petroleum products is a welcome step. Recent times have seen healthy interactions between business chambers of the two countries. Pakistan is also expected to ease trading norms with India and grant the latter most favoured nation status by October this year.

Bilateral synergy in trade and business will help wean Pakistan away from reliance on foreign aid. In that sense it serves the interests of people in both India and Pakistan. Normalisation of relations with India would pave the way for economic prosperity, transforming South Asia into a vibrant growth hub. Since the army is deeply involved in business in Pakistan, it too would have a stake in booming business ties. There's evidence that in contemporary Pakistan, the image of India as the principal enemy has suffered erosion as the country has other preoccupations nowadays. It's time to seize this opportunity.

No comments:

Post a Comment