Dr Qaisar Rashid
Both countries have tried to show that they have outgrown their hatred for each other and are ready to utilise trade as a Confidence Building Measure (CBM).
The history of South Asia is saddled more with the episodes of conflict than with the reminiscences of amity. To zoom in, between Pakistan and India, mostly antagonism has superseded empathy. Nourishing large armies to terrify each other, siding with superpowers to corner each other, fighting wars directly or through proxies to dispirit each other, and testing nuclear weapons to daunt each other might have brought about several expected results for the quarters concerned existing in both countries but have not yet prodded the two neighbours into settling their mutual disputes.
Against this backdrop, it seems that an understanding is gaining ground on both sides of the Pak-India border that the level of hostility should be reduced and the level of cooperation should be mounted to see if things can progress in that way. The recent trade talks and exchange of trade promises are a prologue to amicable neighbourly relations between the two countries. Both countries have tried to show that they have outgrown their hatred for each other and are ready to utilise trade as a Confidence Building Measure (CBM) to offset the mutual trust deficit.
Sometime ago, the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) made an estimate and disclosed that the volume of informal yearly trade between Pakistan and India was between $ 1 to 2 billion while the volume of formal yearly trade was below $ 500 million. Secondly, between the two countries, the yearly trade potential was around $ 10 billion. Some Pakistanis nurture two apprehensions about trade with India.
First, in case of adopting a liberal trade policy towards India, Pakistani markets might be glutted with cheap but qualitatively better Indian products — to the detriment of the local manufacturing industry — and, resultantly, the trade balance may tilt in favour of India (against Pakistan).
The question is how long Pakistan can avoid trading with India at the formal level, especially when the volume of informal trade outperforms the volume of formal trade. Presently, the informal trade is taking place via third countries — through Iran, Dubai or Afghanistan. In the formal trade lies a legitimate source of income for both the governments. Hence, there is a need for the transformation of the trade pattern from an informal to a formal one.
The next question is, instead of making its agricultural and industrial products competitive, why should Pakistan resort to trade isolation at the regional level? For the past several years, both the USA and European Union have been persuading Pakistan to engage in regional trade instead of dumping its goods in their countries under various quota regimes. In Pakistan that policy may be viewed as foreign powers driving it into doing trade with India compulsorily but, in a way, that policy entails an opportunity for Pakistan to make its products competitive, initially at the regional level. Especially in the textile sector, the trade experience at the regional level will help Pakistani entrepreneurs compete in the international market. Logically, Pakistan must mature its commerce sector to survive independent of the quota system in trade. The same is mandatory on Pakistan under the trade liberalisation agreement signed at the platform of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in January 1995.
Second, in case of getting engaged in trade with India, the issue of Kashmir would move to the backburner and may never be resolved. International political dynamics in the post-Cold War era are different. The word ‘freedom fighter’ is fast failing in sustaining its legitimacy and assuming its relevance. During the Cold War, insurgencies were escalated by freedom fighters; now, insurgencies are considered the handiwork of terrorists. Consequently, the word ‘insurgency’ has also lost its repute. Similarly, a freedom fighter of today is an apologetic being and sponsored by none. Nevertheless, the word ‘occupation’ is also being subjected to scrutiny. The forces of democracy and human rights have got emboldened and have been dissecting any area that is suspected of being under occupation anywhere in the world.
In this age of fiber-optic communication, the voice of dissent cannot be muffled. Who is right and who is wrong is now not a local declaration but an international one. In the past few years, against the military attacks and subsequent occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the world heard more dissenting voices coming from inside the US and UK than from outside of them. In India, despite attacks by militants on the parliament building in 2001 and in the city of Mumbai in 2008 — apparently to promote the Kashmir cause — several sane voices for the rights of the Kashmiris were heard from inside India. In October 2010, Arundhati Roy, a renowned Indian writer and human rights campaigner, spoke unequivocally against the human rights violations committed by the Indian army in Kashmir. Hence, while it is difficult for Pakistan to help sustain any liberation movement in the part of Kashmir lying with India, it is also not easy for India to suppress the right of self-determination of the Kashmiris.
Retrospectively, in February 1999, if the Lahore visit of Atal Behari Vajpayee, the former prime minister of India (and the signing of the Lahore Declaration) had not been despoiled by waging the Kargil war a few months later, both Pakistan and India would have gone a long way on the road to peace, encompassing the peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue and forging mutual commercial ties. Both the Kargil war and the Mumbai attacks blemished the face of Pakistan and depicted it as a country that was an aggressor and disposed towards exporting terrorism.
Generally speaking, both Pakistan and India have to mull over the model they intend to follow: whether they want to follow the Korean model of staying in a perpetual state of conflict or they want to follow the European Union model of leaving the past behind and striving for the economic wellbeing of their populace.
The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Daily Times, 8 August 2012