As I glance at the headlines this freezing January morning, I'm shaking my head in slight amusement at "Obama pledges $4 billion for India in loans, investment" set a bit lower than "Pakistan an irreplaceable, all-weather friend: China."
President Barack Obama's three-day state visit to India on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's invitation to be the chief guest at the January 26 Republic Day is what's kept the media abuzz in India, as also in Pakistan. This has been followed by the Pakistani army chief Raheel Sharif's official visit to China, Pakistan's "great friend", who doesn't share the same rapport with the US and India. I find the media frenzy on both sides ludicrously hyped.
India is a 1.25-billion nation compared to Pakistan's 190 million, and to my mind - claiming to be neither an expert nor an analyst of the complex Pakistan-India dynamics - there's no Pakistan-India "competition." So whereas media in both countries may trumpet the significance of real or imagined issues, painting scenarios that have little or no relevance to the realities, the pragmatic few see the picture for what it is. Notwithstanding the military and civilian issues clouding any clinical and matter-of-fact discussion or debate about the status quo of uneasy politeness and simmering hostility, there is little Pakistan and India have in common - other than a shared history and cultural ethos.
That been said, there is no escaping the sharp focus on Obama's visit to India. After all, the US is supposed to be Pakistan's ally, so why this preferential treatment to India, the nation that "disregarded" the US-led hue and cry against the Soviet presence/occupation in/of Afghanistan? Pakistan took upon itself the crusade to expel the Russians from Afghanistan, the spillover of which cost Pakistan from what it suffers to date: influx of refugees, heroin and Kalashnikov culture, emergence of radicalisation, the "orphaned" Mujahedeen.
"We are not concerned with a nuclear agreement between India and the US", former federal minister Khursheed Shah stated. "What we find disturbing, however, is the double standards of the US...[how Pakistan had helped the Americans in fighting the war in Afghanistan for more than 30 years]."
The on-going American drone attacks in the FATA in an open-end mission of elimination of various militant groups camping and hiding there is another elephant-in-the-room that seems to escape most Pakistanis bemoaning the "cold" attitude of the sole superpower vis-a-vis its "old" ally. The question of having a normal, bilateral relationship - based on mutual economic and geopolitical interests - does not arise when the bigger power is in an act of war in one part of its so-called friend's territory.
In a certain parameter, India and Japan have assumed the role of "kingpins" of the "new" strategy dynamics in the region, and that holds a great deal of importance for the former. While the government of Pakistan pretends that it's business as usual, there's little joy about the latest US overtures to India, especially about giving the nuclear "edge" to Delhi. India has been, sort of, accepted as the "legitimate" nuclear power, whereas suspicions about Pakistan override any chance of acknowledgment of the same.
Pakistan's recent handing over of evidence to Washington of India's alleged involvement in terrorist activities in Pakistan via Afghanistan, while India is being accepted as a legitimate stakeholder by the US in Afghanistan is another issue that may have adverse effects on the geopolitical strategies in play. This shift in the Indo-US paradigm has, understandably, worried Pakistan, in view of the dynamics of a hostile India in Afghanistan.
Obama's commitment to Modi to support India's bid for the UN Security Council permanent seat raises another serious concern for the state of Pakistan. If granted, the position will endow India with veto power, relegating the unresolved Kashmir issue to the backburner of international diplomacy. While Pakistan expects the US to wield diplomatic pressure on India to agree to a resolution of the issue, the UNSC seat, if acquired, would secure India against any such move.
Another factor to be taken into consideration is that while the US and India intend to increase "connectivity, maritime, air and overland, in the region, including Central Asia", which would require transit through Pakistan, there has been almost no reference to the former in the joint statement. Without taking Pakistan on board, the trade route to Central Asia may not be easy to carve out from the template of thorny relations that Pakistan and India share at the moment.
One positive element of the Obama-in-India discussion in Pakistan is the highlighting of the progress India has made in the recent years. The emergence of India as a new economic power and a future regional leader is based on its structure of old and new economic and development plans to be implemented under the mentorship of its very dynamic, goal-oriented new premier. The packaging of India as the lucrative ground for investment, the clear-cut governance polices, Modi's international PR skills and the acceptance of need for reforms is noteworthy, and a model for all emerging economies.
While media on both sides chant misplaced slogans of jingoism, scratching scabs and inflaming hostilities, the pragmatic view is the desire to have a renewed dialogue between Pakistan and India, in an effort to chalk out a framework that would work within the gamut of the capabilities of the two. The acknowledgment of India's superiority in terms of its size, population, resources, and economic, scientific and infrastructural development is not an acceptance of "defeat" for Pakistan, but the perquisite to forge a new dynamic in the region. The state-to-state interaction on multiple levels will ensure that the long-standing issues - Kashmir, Line of Control skirmishes, water disputes, Sir Creek and Siachen -- are brought to the negotiating table, in the absence of which peace in the region will remain an elusive dream.
And this is where the US could play a very significant role: get Pakistan and India to talk, without one of them throwing a fit or staging a walkout. The world's sole superpower could be the moderator needed for the world's biggest democracy and the third-largest Muslim country. And not a moment too soon.
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