Wednesday, Jul 24, 2019 | Last Update : 03:07 PM IST

Both India & Pak need to keep talking

The writer is a former Pakistan high commissioner to India and ambassador to the US and China
Published : Jan 28, 2019, 1:22 am IST
Updated : Jan 28, 2019, 1:22 am IST

The US is still the world’s mightiest and only comprehensive global power.

Pakistan should continue to extend its hand of cooperation irrespective of a lack of response from India.
 Pakistan should continue to extend its hand of cooperation irrespective of a lack of response from India.

Foreign policy is the external aspect of national policy. It covers the whole gamut of global, regional and neighbourhood developments, movements and strategies. When national policy is substandard it puts a ceiling on the success of foreign policy no matter how good it is.

Take a look: What are the foreign policy challenges faced by “Naya Pakistan”? Similarly, given the external dependency of Pakistan’s national policy, it cannot achieve its goals without a prioritised and resourced foreign policy. Some aspects of external policy are primarily dealt with by specialised ministries, departments and services. But the Foreign Office should not be held responsible for the negative consequences of bad decisions it had no part in taking. This often happens and is always at the cost of the national interest.

This is obvious. Yet in practice it is usually ignored. Why? The main reason is the unwillingness of corrupt or weak governments to take any risks for good governance, including good foreign policy. This is the soft state syndrome. It is often a prelude to a failing state. It precludes serving the national interest. Powerful vested interests define the national interest and make foreign policy. What is to be done?

If the political system is made participatory and inclusive it will eventually find the right answers. If it remains elitist, exclusive and exploitative it will not. Changing the system, however, involves risk-taking.

The US is still the world’s mightiest and only comprehensive global power. Afghanistan is a force multiplier for Pakistan’s security or insecurity.

As regards India, the core issues for Pakistan are progress towards a Kashmir settlement acceptable to opinion in the Valley and radically improving the horrendous human rights situation there. For India it is Pakistan’s use of “terrorist proxies”. These core issues need to be addressed to the satisfaction of each other if dialogue is to be meaningful. Finding common ground for a negotiating process to be sustainable is a challenge. Indian interference in Balochistan is a fact. However, the Balochistan “problem” is not of India’s making. It is due to institutionalised bad governance and exploitation over decades. Pakistan should continue to extend its hand of cooperation irrespective of a lack of response from India. It should keep the LoC quiet as best it can. It should build on the Kartarpur initiative. It should extend normal trading or MFN rights as promised. This is arguably a WTO obligation also.

Pakistan should offer travel, communications, confidence and security-building (including regular nuclear and water-management) discussions and proposals. Let India take its time to respond. Pakistan cannot lose by being consistent and reasonable. Realistic rather than provocative narratives need to be developed. The people of both countries need to get to know each other more directly instead of through warped images. Differences need to be contained, addressed and reduced through a realistic working relationship. This will enable South Asia to meet the survival challenges of the 21st century.

The leaders of both countries should make appropriate statements, stay in touch, and unfold a range of innovative initiatives. If India demurs, even after its elections, that is its problem. India is justly regarded as a large neighbour with a small heart. Many Afghans see Pakistan similarly despite the massive Afghan goodwill accumulated during the Soviet occupation. Why? Pakistan need not create a two-front situation for itself. Being large-hearted towards a smaller neighbour is actually good strategy. Specific issues are more easily resolved when the fundamentals are okay.

By arrangement with Dawn

Tags: kartarpur corridor