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Trade should be linked to normalisation with India and not resolution of Kashmir

Daily Times, Pakistan

20 June 2006

EDITORIAL: Trade should be linked to normalisation with India and not resolution of Kashmir

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said in Karachi on Sunday that no progress had been made so far with the Indian government on the resolution of Siachen, let alone Kashmir and other vital issues, but he hoped that “outstanding issues will be resolved soon if the dialogue between the two neighbours continues”. He pointed out that a number of “proposals” on Kashmir such as demilitarisation and autonomy, made through the media by Pakistan, had not received any response from New Delhi. He then referred to SAARC and put resolution of political disputes on top of the agenda before the organisation could take off the ground.

However, when it comes to SAARC and its trade paradigm, we know that Mr Aziz makes any progress on Indo-Pak trade conditional to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. This means that if the dispute is not “resolved” for the next 20 years, SAARC will remain stranded in political disputes and could even just fade away. The Kashmir dispute is half a century old and will definitely take a long time to resolve, but the window of opportunity for accepting a new trade-based regional system through negotiation is not going to remain open for very long.

Had the “principle” of linking all deals with India to Kashmir been an air-tight one, we would at least have conceded the point to Mr Aziz on his consistency; but in the case of the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline (IPI) the principle has been waived. It simply means that in case of matters of urgent need the “Kashmir first” principle can be set aside. Then the question is who agrees with the principle enunciated by Mr Aziz, whose own stance is hardly credible given the fact that he is an economist? Not the world outside, and inside only those who would rather have his scalp than let him finish his dream programme for Pakistan’s economic uplift. But do the “experts” agree with him?

The TV Channel Business Plus (December 13, 2005) discussed India’s “non-response” with General (r) Talat Masood, ex-foreign secretary Dr Tanvir Ahmad Khan and opposition politician Javed Siddiq. General Masood was of the opinion that no solution of Kashmir could be achieved through war. Dr Tanvir Ahmad Khan said that India was the “status quo power” and Pakistan was against the status quo. But because of their given strengths, it would be better to adopt the practice of not giving statements on the pace of the bilateral talks. Such statements tended to raise expectations and when a solution was not delivered according to those expectations people ended up opposing the policy. Javed Siddiq said that there was a consensus on Kashmir in Pakistan and if there was a policy change then a new consensus was required. But in the case of normalisation with India all decisions were being taken outside parliament. GEO TV (January 18, 2006) discussed Indo-Pak relations with Ambassador Shahid Amin and Senator Akram Zaki. Mr Zaki said that India had not responded to Pakistan’s overtures well but normalisation was still the best course for Pakistan to follow.

It is the opposition and some other quarter (perhaps the agencies and the army’s own internal opinion) that link the process of normalisation - without trade, normalisation would be chimerical - with Kashmir. But Pakistan need not become overly flexible on Kashmir to arouse suspicion at home; it simply has to widen the scope of normalisation with India to take advantage of the overall positive public response to President Pervez Musharraf’s India policy. The linking of trade with Kashmir puts the prime minister’s back to the wall. What if India says “no” to moving on Kashmir? What is Pakistan’s option after that? Since we don’t have a clear answer to that - except that we might think of going back to the option of jihad - we should be very careful in assuming that India is under enough pressure to start talking on Kashmir. We have seen that Pakistan had to delink the IPI pipeline before India was even willing to reconsider its earlier plan to go for the over-the-seas LNG option. India reserves the LNG option for any future “flip-flop” on the part of Pakistan. India’s accusation that Pakistan is still involved in abetting terrorism through its so-called jihad is believed across the globe. Pakistan’s protestations of innocence sound hollow as it is seen less and less able to control its own land in almost 60 percent of its territory: Balochistan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA), the no-go katcha area (850 km long) in Sindh, and increasingly the settled areas bordering the north (Bajaur) and south (Waziristan) of the Tribal Areas. Also, the free press in Pakistan has been compelled to take note of the jihadi camps still operating in the Hazara division of the NWFP and its adjoining territories. Reporters have covered the activity of these gangs of terrorists that pass for “mujahideen of freedom” only in the eyes of the MMA who may well use them one day against the people of Pakistan to impose their “khilafat” on the country. The latest reports on them will not fail to attract the attention of the world. Far from being cajoled into linking Kashmir to normalisation with India, the prime minister should delink himself from this dangerous enterprise. He almost got killed at the hands of one of these “mujahideen” of Pakistan’s favourite covert wars.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has to assert himself vis-à-vis the people who advise him on the false “linkage”. His own instincts as an economist should guide him better. Instead of looking east towards India, he should face west towards the Tribal Areas where he is losing territory to the warrior priests. He doesn’t have to be “flexible” on Kashmir, he has to simply leave it to the process of peace-making, and move forward on trade with India. Pakistan as a narrow strip of territory doesn’t need “strategic depth”, it needs to realise that it is essentially a transit country. For once Pakistan should bend all its talent to thinking how it can make money off India instead of fighting wars with it that it cannot win. *