August 2005 News

Kashmir: Sub-regional Trade

9 August 2005
The Dawn
Shahid Javed Burki

Karachi: With this article, I conclude the series on Kashmir that I began several weeks ago. I am writing this last piece as the western press begins to speculate that the momentum built up since April 2003 to develop new relations between India and Pakistan on the basis of mutual trust rather than an all-consuming hostility may have begun to slow down. The momentum began to build up when Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then prime minister of India, famously offered the hand of friendship to Pakistan which the latter warmly reciprocated. That was more than two years ago. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh continued with the beginnings made by his predecessor. Recently, however, he has struck a harsher tone in his public pronouncements about Pakistan. For instance, he said in a television interview while on a state visit to Washington in July that he was apprehensive that Pakistan may not be able to protect its nuclear assets and prevent them from falling into the hands of Islamic extremists if there was a breakdown in law and order. This statement understandably irritated President Musharraf who saw it as extreme opportunism on the part of the Indian leader while the world was focused on the curse of extremism following the bloody attacks on London's transport system. There have been other setbacks. India's senior leaders have begun to express less than full enthusiasm about the proposed gas pipeline linking Iran with Pakistan and ultimately with India. There is an impression that this may have happened because of pressure from Washington. Also, Islamabad probably believes that India may have been emboldened by the agreement concluded with America during Prime Minister Singh's visit, allowing New Delhi access to nuclear technology denied to those who have not joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Could it be that having virtually gained the near-superpower status and virtual entry into the nuclear club of five states as its sixth member, India feels less compelled to accommodate Pakistan? Nobody should have expected that the warming of relations between India and Pakistan would proceed on an upwardly sloping curve; that each act of benevolence by one side would be reciprocated by the other. Years of ill- feelings and suspicions cannot be washed away for good and within a short period of time Pakistan cannot become Canada to India's United States. It will take time before the two countries begin to live in peace and harmony, and start to concentrate their attention on bettering the lives of their people rather than spending untold resources on a military face-off. The process of change could not have been a smooth one especially when the environment in which it was taking place was constantly changing, most of the time to Pakistan's disadvantage. India continued to gain respect as a responsible player in the international system. It has a buoyant economy, a working political system, and a growing pool of talented people who were being put at the service of the global economy. Pakistan, on the other hand, had to deal once again with the perception that it was at the front line of the jihadi campaign being fought by stateless and mostly faceless people against the West and in particular against the United States. When a face was acquired by this set of people to Pakistan's great consternation it turned out to be a Pakistani one - of the four men who killed 52 people in London on July 7, three were of Pakistani origin. All three had visited Pakistan and at least one of them had spent some time at a madressah. These events have seriously affected the environment in which Pakistan is operating. It is clear that the window of opportunity available to Pakistan to rebuild its relations with India on a different foundation and to get a different strategy to work for itself on Kashmir is getting narrower. As the 'perception gap' between the way the world perceives India and Pakistan widens, it will weaken Islamabad's bargaining position. The compulsion for India to accommodate Pakistan will be reduced if this trend continues. That has already happened. It is important that this time Islamabad moves with intelligence and alacrity. How should it proceed especially with respect to Kashmir? I should perhaps summarize the main points I have made todate before going on to deal with the issue of the day - how a sub-regional trading arrangement involving India, Pakistan and both parts of Kashmir could help the move towards a settlement of the Kashmir dispute. I have reached this point in my argument by building my case on four pillars. The first was the recognition that the dispute over Kashmir was the result of the messy way the British partitioned their Indian domain. Had the principle on which the British Indian empire was divided been applied to the states governed by the princes, Kashmir, being a predominantly Muslim area, would have automatically become part of Pakistan. By granting choice to the princes the British, perhaps quite deliberately, sowed the seeds of what became an all consuming passion for both India and Pakistan. Second, having been frustrated by Delhi's unwillingness to abide by the resolutions of the United Nations that called for a plebiscite in the state to settle its future, Pakistan tried to use force to move Kashmir to its side. That did not work and as India became stronger economically and militarily, Pakistan turned to jihad as a way of forcing the Indian hand. In using this tactic, it was encouraged by the way the jihadis had humbled a superpower in Afghanistan in the bitterly fought war of the 1980s. There was considerable temptation for Islamabad to encourage the same tactics in Kashmir especially after the draconian measures adopted by the Indians in the state to suppress the growing opposition to their presence. The Indian tactics alienated most of the population and fairly large segments of the population were prepared to take up arms against the Indians to assert their rights. This presented Pakistan with an opportunity by encouraging the insurgency. Third, while encouraging jihad in Kashmir was tempting for Pakistan, there was a tremendous cost attached to the pursuit of this strategy. There were two elements to the cost. One was the growing diversion of scarce resources into military expenditure, especially when gross mismanagement by a series of politicians in the 1990s weakened the economy. The other was the prestige acquired by the extremists in Pakistan as their sacrifices in Kashmir against heavy odds were greatly appreciated by large segments of the Pakistani population. Fourth, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, alerted the international community to the extreme dangers involved in allowing weak states to use dedicated religo-nationalists to press for their demands, Islamabad came under pressure to curb the groups it had supported. The involvement of young men of Pakistani origin in the bombings in London on July 7, 2005, has put greater focus on the operation of these groups. For these reasons - and there are several more - it is now time for Islamabad to focus on an entirely different approach. This should involve Pakistan working with India to develop, help finance, and implement a programme of economic development that has three distinct objectives. One, to increase employment opportunities for the Kashmiri youth and thus begin to address the problem of poverty. Two, to closely tie the economies of both parts of Kashmir with those of India and Pakistan., Three, to involve the international community in developing, financing and watching over the implementation of such a plan. An integral component of this approach is to agree with India on the launching of a sub-regional trade arrangement that provides free and easy access, including transit rights, to the goods and commodities produced by Kashmir as well as the people of the state. This could be done within the agreed framework for the South Asia Free Trade Area (Safta) which the seven countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) agreed to launch on January 1, 2006. That decision was taken in Islamabad at the Saarc's 12th summit. An India- Pakistan-Kashmir regional trade pact could go beyond that envisaged within the context of the Safta. It could focus not just on allowing tariff free access among the participants for the goods they produce. It could also include the sectors excluded for the time being from Safta. Of particular relevance for such an arrangement would be services and movement of people. As discussed in a previous article, tourism is of special significance for the state. Including it within a sub-regional trade arrangement would allow free access to potential tourists from Pakistan to Kashmir and India, and Indians and Kashmiris to Pakistan. The Chinese should also be able to use the already established land links between their country and Pakistan to gain access to the attractions Kashmir has to offer. The free movement of people between Kashmir and Pakistan would reverse the constraints on travel that resulted from decades of conflict involving the state. Such a movement could integrate the sizable handicraft industry that exists on both sides of the current divide in Kashmir. Before the partition of British India and the conflict over Kashmir, the Kashmiri handicraft industry, including wool weaving and wood working, had strong links with similar activities in the border cities of Rawalpindi and Sialkot. Those links could be re-established. Would such an arrangement be practical? Would India and Pakistan be prepared to work on it as a way of finding a lasting solution for the long festering problem? At this time, India seems inclined to move towards such an option. In a wide ranging discussion with the press following the visit to New Delhi by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, in late November 2004, Natwar Singh, India's foreign minister, said that 'the two countries could settle the Kashmir dispute only if they strengthened ties, increased trade and brought people on the two sides closer to prepare them to accept a compromise.' A similar hope was expressed by the Indian prime minister and the Pakistani president after their April summit in New Delhi. A sub-regional trade arrangement involving India, Pakistan and Kashmir can only be concluded if New Delhi is prepared to grant the occupied state economic and political powers that go beyond those given to the other states in the Union. This would imply much greater autonomy than given to Jammu and Kashmir in Article 370 of the Indian constitution. India seems willing to do that. 'We have made it clear... as far as regional autonomy is concerned, the sky is the limit,' Natwar Singh told a news conference in November 2004 after holding discussions with his Pakistani counterpart. Pakistan seems to be moving in the same direction. In an interview with The Economist, in May 2005, 'General Musharraf talked of offering the people of Kashmir. . . 'Something between autonomy and independence, like self-governance.' This could be 'over-watched' by all three parties.' Some cooling off in the relations notwithstanding the two countries seem committed to using economics and trade to create a new reality. This could be created by putting into place tripartite trade relations involving India, Pakistan and the two parts of Kashmir. This could be done within the framework of the Safta.

 

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