Reset ties with Pakistan

As a first step, appoint ambassadors to take charge soon

Reset ties with Pakistan

TWIST: Shehbaz has assumed power amid changes that have taken place in India’s relations with Pakistan’s immediate neighbours in the oil-rich Gulf region. AP

G Parthasarathy

Chancellor, Jammu Central University & former High Commissioner to Pakistan

PAKISTAN’S political families have drawn their wealth primarily from agricultural properties. Land reform was never even considered. The ownership of agricultural lands now continues largely in the hands of politically influential families. Pakistan’s Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto drew his wealth from his lands in Sind, even as he professed socialistic leanings. His grandson Bilal Bhutto, and son-in-law Asif Ali Zardari, who lead the Pakistan Peoples’ Party, belong to today’s rural aristocracy in Sind. The Sharifs, who originally resided in Kashmir, moved to Punjab, where the patriarch (Nawaz Sharif’s father) settled down, and set up a steel industry. The industry was duly sold and the Sharifs now possess a $300-million sugar industry.

India can even consider a phased restoration of SAARC if Pakistan fully implements the provisions of the Free Trade Agreement.

Shehbaz Sharif has always behaved as the younger brother, who obediently followed his elder brother’s wishes. But unlike Nawaz, who has run afoul of the army, Shehbaz has maintained a good professional relationship with the army. It, therefore, had no doubts while backing his bid to succeed the mercurial Imran Khan.

Nawaz has an ambitious and bright daughter, Maryam. Shehbaz has an equally ambitious son Hamza, who has been catapulted to the position of CM of Punjab. Maryam is information minister in Shehbaz’s Cabinet.

Pakistan’s economic problems have been marked by acute shortages in its foreign exchange reserves, necessitating constant use of a begging bowl, to be filled by donations from Arab states. Pakistan’s GDP has fallen drastically from $315 billion to $292 billion in the past four years. Its foreign exchange reserves have been falling, despite large doses of foreign aid. Foreign exchange reserves, which stood at $18.8 billion in August 2021, fell to $14.9 billion in February 2022. Pakistan has depended on doles from Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Imran Khan, however, was getting ready to join an Islamic grouping being set up by Malaysia and Turkey, obviously to challenge Saudi Arabia. An infuriated Saudi Crown Prince Salman, backed by UAE’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Zayed, turned the economic screws on Pakistan.

Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia was the first foreign country that Shehbaz visited. Saudi purse-strings have been opened thereafter. A promise of $2 billion has been made. He also met the UAE Crown Prince. Shehbaz was, however, given a reality check, when he found that his powerful Arab neighbours now adopt a new approach to relations with India. The Saudi-Pakistan joint declaration with Saudi Arabia read: ‘Saudi Arabia welcomed the statements of Pakistan mentioning keenness to find a solution to all disputes with India, including the J&K dispute. The two sides stressed the importance of dialogue between Pakistan and India in order to resolve the issues between the two countries.’ This is different from what Pakistan expected, including references to UN resolutions.

Shehbaz has assumed power amidst significant changes that have taken place in India’s relations with Pakistan’s immediate neighbours in the oil-rich Gulf region, and across the Indian Ocean. This is more so in countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have found India to be low-key, but helpful and a useful country for investment in the oil and gas sectors. Moreover, the close relationship between the Indian Navy and the US 5th Fleet in Bahrain has provided a useful maritime cover across the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. While President Biden has, in the past, shown a keen interest in interacting with Pakistani Generals, he found no time to meet, or talk to Imran, who had made no secret of his support for the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, Secretary of State Blinken has invited Bilawal Bhutto for a food security meeting at the UN in New York

Pakistan army chief General Bajwa is scheduled to retire in November. While the ISI continues providing support to jihadis in Kashmir, Pakistan is increasingly feeling the heat from the pressures of the Financial Action Task Force for its support to terrorism in India. Rawalpindi is now more discreet about the activities of terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Interestingly, there now appears to be more focus by the ISI on promoting cross-border terrorism in Punjab.

Pakistan, meanwhile, faces serious challenges on its borders with Afghanistan, from the Tehriq-e-Taliban, which operates both in the Pashtun tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, and across the disputed Durand Line. Pakistan also faces similar problems in Balochistan, which were manifested recently when a woman Baluch nationalist blew up a bus carrying Chinese nationals in Karachi. There has been strong Baloch resentment at the growing Chinese presence in Balochistan, particularly in the Port of Gwadar.

India should continue its diplomatic and economic pressures on Pakistan till Rawalpindi dismantles the infrastructure of terrorism on territory under its control, in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. In the meantime, New Delhi should establish a credible back-channel to discuss ways to move ahead for establishing a normal relationship with Pakistan. As a first step, ambassadors have to be appointed to take charge soon. Much will, however, depend on whether Pakistan continues supporting terrorism. One hopes Pakistan remembers the old adage that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. We can, in due course, even restore bus and air services while having a normal people-to-people relationship. India can even consider a phased restoration of SAARC if Pakistan fully implements the provisions of the SAARC Free Trade Agreement. The ball is in Pakistan’s court.

Tribune Shorts


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