“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Firdous says that merely granting the MFN will not do, deatils will matter

(Mr. Firdous Syed Baba, 44, was born in Bhaderwah, Doda, and had his schooling in Jammu. He is a weekly columnist for the Greater Kashmir and writes for the Daily News and Analysis (DNA), Mumbai, as well as The New Indian Express, Chennai. Formerly, he founded the “Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Development Studies” and the periodical, “New Hope.” Between 1989 and 1991, he led the Moslem Janbaaz Force, a militant group, and was jailed from 1991 through 1994. In 1996, he publicly renounced the gun culture, and is an active member of the Kashmir civil society.)

India the Favoured

Apparently, Pakistan has decided to grant ‘Most Favoured Nation’ (MFN) status to India. Last week the decision was announced enthusiastically by the information minister of Pakistan, a degree of confusion still persists. Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson refuting the allegations of a second thought has categorically stated that “Pakistan is not backtracking”. The statement of Pakistani Prime Minister that the “cabinet’s decision was in effect about normalisation of trade ties between the two countries which would eventually culminate in granting the MFN status to India” in comparison to the earlier straightforward statement of “granting MFN status to India” adds to some ambiguity.

Irrespective of any uncertainty on the issue, the influential quarters are expecting that sooner than later the India and Pakistan may eventually be able to restore their normal trading ties, in near suspended animation since the 1965 war. The potential of trade between India and Pakistan is approximately $6 to 8 billion a year. Last year, “India exported $1.5bn to Pakistan, while Pakistan`s exported $275m to India”. Even during the period when India and Pakistan were and are still arguing back and forth over the issue how to restore the normal ties, the illegal trade primarily routed through Dubai is estimated to be $3bn-$4bn a year.

There is always a possibility of slip between cup and the lip. Unless a decision is clearly inked on paper rather engraved on stone, a simple media announcement is no agreement. Still the mere announcement of granting MFN status has generated some sort of —even though muted— controversy here in Kashmir as well as in Pakistan. The overwhelming sentiment within the pro-freedom obviously is against the normalisation of trade ties between the two ever squabbling neighbours. Separatists erroneously believe that the Indo-Pak normalization process without resolving the Kashmir dispute is equivalent of putting Kashmir problem in a deep freezer. This might be true but to the extent only wherein Pakistan forced by the fast changing geopolitical realities in the region may not be able to maintain its traditional hard stance on the Kashmir issue, in the near future. (The discomfort of the separatists also brings into sharp focus the failure of pro-freedom groups to strengthen the movement internally; solely dependent on external factors the resistance is destined to fail.)

Putting on the back-burner or more precisely lowering the heat for the time being can never be described as a paradigm shift. The exigencies of time may vary from time to time; it is not possible for the nation states to act in complete isolation and divorced from the emerging scenarios. Change of tactics and strategies cannot be easily portrayed as a paradigm shift. Contrary to the dismay of naysayers habitual of viewing the prospects of a normal relationship between India and Pakistan as an immensely negative development, only a sincere peace process between India and Pakistan rather dissolving the conflict will be able to resolve the dispute, in a purposeful manner. Moreover the dynamics of Indo-Pak relations is such that without resolving their core conflicts, they will be never able to reconcile, fully. The expectations built around the notion that trade will eventually transform Indo-Pak relations radically, is much hyped.

Strategies of the countries may change, their core interests’ remains constant, that’s what we learn from the nature of Indo-China relationship. Presently China is second largest trading partner of India; during 2010-11 the two Asian giants traded the goods worth $60 billion. And both the countries are aiming to achieve a target of annual $100 billion worth of trade, in few years time. Yet the increasing Indo-China trade has not been able to put brakes to the ever growing arms race in the region. China’s tremendous militarily build-up has pushed India to expand its military muscle that may eventually cost it tens of thousands of crores.

The growing fears of getting isolated in the region due to the increasing tensions with America may have pushed Pakistan for a trade detente with India. The emerging Great Game in Afghanistan may dramatically alter the geopolitics of this region. In case peace in Afghanistan was the real motive, it would have been easier for all the regional powers including India and China along with America to join the hands. This is not the case; in a bitter power struggle Afghanistan has been turned into a battle ground. On one hand America wants greater integration of South Asia with India playing a pivotal role to ward growing influence of China.

Conversely, Pakistan and China are keen for America to leave the region. China wants to preserve its regional hegemony; Pakistan is scared due to the growing status of India. In the evolving new Great Game the risk of regional tensions flaring up, has increased manifold.