Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday marks the beginning of a new cycle of trust-building with Pakistan. If history is any measure of the present, it is sure to be dashed—soon. What needs answering are the Prime Minister’s motives and the timing of what he is doing.
It is tempting to put a realist gloss on Singh’s statement and his strategic outlook towards Pakistan. After all, there have been endless rounds of “talks” with that country in the past, all dashed on the rocks of unchangeable national positions on Jammu and Kashmir. Perhaps this time, too, we can talk and try to convince the Pakistani leadership that Kashmir won’t come their way until their patience runs out.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
That is unlikely to work in this age. Matters have changed in two important respects. Since the mid-1990s, the Pakistani leadership—the military leadership, that is—has concluded that the window for settling the Kashmir dispute is closing. General Pervez Musharraf clearly told the late Benazir Bhutto as much, long before he launched the Kargil operation. The integration of the jihadi rabble into Islamabad’s politico-military strategy against India is too well known to be reiterated here.
The second factor at work is India’s own evolution from being an inward-looking, import-substitution industrial strategy trapped nation, to an open and globally integrated economy. Today, nearly 50% of India’s gross domestic product is linked in one way or another to what it trades with the world. As such, this dependence on foreign markets—for exports or for imports—makes us much more susceptible to Western coercion. This is possible not only as direct diplomatic arm-twisting but also in much more damaging ways such as denial of market access for our exports. The fear here is not from globalization but from being denied a slice in the global march. It also means that when Mumbai-like attacks occur on Indian soil, they dent investor confidence badly.
The latter factor can lead to double-edged arguments: It can serve as an excuse to go in for meaningless talks on part of the government. But it also comes in handy for Pakistan to damage India. Each jihadi attack on India’s economic nerve centres has done more to “rehyphenate” India with Pakistan than any US effort at “rebalancing” power equations in South Asia.
In this context, the Prime Minister could well argue that that is precisely what his intention is in going forward with Pakistan. But remember, as argued above, this is a knife-edged argument: It could take a different, and detrimental, course in a flick. Pakistani impatience allows it to exploit India’s economic success. The Prime Minister has indulged in a huge gamble. Let’s hope it does not cost India dear.
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