Disturbing news is coming out of Pakistan at such a pace that one item tends to crowd out the other. For example, how much of a mark have the millions of flood-stricken, homeless people in the Indus delta left on the international media scene? Even in Pakistan itself, their fate is not prominent any more. The other day, three (or was it four?) doctors were murdered in Northern Sindh, targeted for being Hindu. In this continuing turmoil, finds AAN’s Advisory Board member Ann Wilkens, scarce items of good news are easily overlooked.
So let us dwell for a while on one such item! On 3 November, the Pakistani government decided to grant Most Favoured Nation status to India. This move which constitutes a late reciprocation of a similar Indian decision in 1996 is designed to facilitate the realization of the now greatly underdeveloped trade potential between the two neighbours. It means that the issue has been delinked from the conflict over Kashmir and that the line of favouring exchange with India taken by the PPP government since its inception in 2008 has prevailed, in spite of earlier obstacles put up by security-oriented circles. ‘This was a decision taken in the national interest and all stakeholders, including our military and defence institutions, were on board,’ commented the Pakistani Minister of Information Firdous Ashiq Awan. Indian Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar hailed it: ’This is an extremely good confidence-building measure.’ (See here) Another good confidence-building measure preceding the trade decision might have contributed to make it possible: For the first time in history, India supported Pakistan´s bid for one of the non-permanent seats in the UN Security Council, a bid which turned out to be successful. For the increasingly beleaguered Pakistani nation, this is an important recognition, as well as an opportunity to gain prestige in the international community. As India is currently also occupying a non-permanent seat, it means that both countries will be members of the Security Council during 2012, working together on a range of foreign policy issues where their views often converge. On the Pakistani side, positive things have also happened, e.g. the swift return, on 23 October, of an Indian military helicopter straying into Pakistani territory and the decision to send a Pakistani judicial commission to Mumbai to probe the terror attacks there in November 2008.
All in all it looks like the composite dialogue started in 2004 * is finally yielding some important results. Is this too good to be true? Well, as always, there are reservations: Predictably, the trade decision has incensed the pro-Pakistan Kashmiri movement All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), whose leader Syed Ali Geelani immediately called for a repeal: ‘It is a great source of pain for us to see Pakistan granting MFN status to India when Indian security forces are raping our women and destroying Islamic culture.’ (See here) Other Kashmiri leaders are less militant but remain unenthusiastic. And India notes no improvement when it comes to the central issue of reducing cross-border terrorism, according to a statement by its Home Secretary on 6 November: ‘Though they (Pakistan) keep telling us that they do not encourage terrorists or that they do not encourage people to operate from their soil, on the ground there has been no difference.’ (Read here) Furthermore, Jamaat-ud-Dawah, the front organization for Lashkar-e-Taiba, accused of carrying out the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was not included on the list of banned groups barred from collecting animal hides during the recent Eid al-Azha celebration, in spite of earlier assurances that the organization had, indeed, been banned. Thus, the composite dialogue continues to be somewhat of a roller-coaster ride. Still, the trade breakthrough is a central one – assuming that the government is strong enough to actually carry it through. It was immediately followed by some back-tracking, causing Pakistani media to speculate that the government was suffering from cold feet. Both Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar felt the need to step in to clear the air. Pointing out that Pakistan´s ‘best friend’ China also trades with India, Gilani said: ‘There is no backtracking. There should be no misunderstanding that we are backtracking. We are committed and we will do it.’ (See here) Even if it takes some time to implement, increasing trade between India and Pakistan has great potential when it comes to breaking the cycle of security-oriented thinking that holds almost all Pakistani politics hostage, with serious side-effects for the prospect of stability in Afghanistan. Mutually beneficial economic exchange, increased people-to-people contacts and, perhaps above all, time – a generational shift producing a leadership less influenced by the bloody separation of the subcontinent in 1947 – are keys to détente. Such détente will benefit the whole region, not least Afghanistan. Read another interesting comment on the issue from Pakistani independent weekly, The Friday Times here. * The composite dialogue between Pakistan and India was started by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf after a meeting in Islamabad in January 2004. It covers a range of issues, including the Kashmir dispute, nuclear capabilities and other security matters, and has been implemented both through official meetings and back-channel diplomacy. After the terror attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, the dialogue was stalled until July this year, when a meeting between the current Foreign Ministers marked a new, cautious beginning.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020