Pakistan needs to readjust its sights and evolve rational policies towards India and the United States before drawing any conclusions from the recent Obama-Modi embrace.
Some elements in Pakistan have a tendency to start protesting angrily whenever the US tries to deepen its ties with India. Such wailing is unbecoming of an independent state and it is fruitless too. The problem really is that Pakistan&’s rulers have consistently chosen to ignore the factors that prompt the US to give India a special place among its Asian favourites.
Washington always looked upon India as a major player in Asia&’s politics even while the latter was challenging its Cold War adventures. The US desire to promote India as a counterweight to China is no secret either. India&’s size and potential as a trading partner attract all nations, including the Muslim states on whom Pakistan often claims to have special rights.
Nobody should ignore the fact that while the US has to spend money to sustain its ties with Pakistan, it hopes to gain financially from its investment in friendship with India. These expectations have been rising since India&’s big business and its burgeoning middle class decided to wait upon the world capital regardless of the consequences to their poor and marginalised hordes.
It should not be difficult for Pakistani leaders to realise that Obama&’s decision to court Modi is consistent with Washington&’s attitude towards India. It has always maintained that its bilateral relations with Pakistan will not be allowed to stand in the way of its scheme to retain India&’s goodwill.
Before president Eisenhower agreed to supply arms to Pakistan 60 years ago he tried to assuage India&’s feelings in a letter to Nehru. The US also told Pakistan that the weapons supplied by it were not to be used against India, a condition Islamabad unnecessarily ignored.
President Kennedy was hugely relieved when after its clash with China, India discarded its shining robe of non-alignment and sought US arms. For all his regime&’s so-called tilt towards Pakistan, president Nixon persisted in treating ties with India as the cornerstone of his Asia policy. President Clinton did not combine his trip to India with a visit to Pakistan and when he was persuaded to fly into Islamabad for a visit it was only to admonish Gen Musharraf for his behaviour.
Besides, it may not be fair to assume that Obama&’s decision to keep Pakistan out of his latest Asian tour was dictated by his preference for India alone. There could be other reasons, including Washington&’s reservations about Pakistan&’s policies towards Afghanistan, India and China in particular and about its waywardness in general.
Secretary of State John Kerry&’s visit to Pakistan on the eve of Obama&’s journey to India could have been meant only to reassure Islamabad that rapprochement was not impossible.
The Pakistani government sends improper signals to its people when it pursues the mirage of equality with India in all respects. Suggestions that the growing US-India friendship must necessarily be harmful to Pakistan&’s interest fuel our people&’s bitterness towards US and India and prevent us from developing normal relations with both of them.
There are quite a few areas, such as India&’s territory and population and its war-making capacity, in which Pakistan should never claim equality. But Pakistan can compete with India by striving for excellence in the fields of arts and sciences, finding ways to settle minorities’ anxieties, ensuring a better deal for peasants and labour, and by discovering new ways to promote an informed citizenry and its due empowerment.
There is no need to rush to any conclusions about the long-term implications of the Obama-Modi fraternisation. Both of them have to contend with the critics of their convivial encounter at home. Modi may be riding a high wave of popularity with his people but it would be wrong to underestimate Indian society&’s ability to see through the media hype about the convergence of Indian and American interests.
New Delhi can hardly miss the sting in Obama&’s parting comment on the wave of religious intolerance in India. Many Indians also are worried on this count. Shakuntala Banaji, a media and communications expert at the London School of Economics, may have a point when she says that Modi&’s media “gimmicks” are blinding the world to India&’s numerous problems, ranging from human rights violations and violence against women to the rise of communalism and religious politics.
However, without objecting to any country&’s right to strengthen its intimacy with chosen friends Pakistan has reason to watch the impact of Indo-US understanding on regional issues, especially on the Afghanistan situation and China&’s role in the region.
Any boost to India&’s ambition to regulate Afghanistan&’s relations with other neighbours and revival of Sino-Indian rivalry will create problems for Pakistan. Both possibilities will demand greater use of Pakistan&’s capacity for mature diplomacy beyond the issuing of statements for domestic consumption.
Besides, Pakistan should keep analysing the effects of India&’s romance with the global capital on the lives and thinking of its people because any increase in their tribulations will be good neither for India nor for Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Pakistan must do everything in its power to prevent the present hiatus in its ties with India from growing further. Ways must be explored for resolving border issues and securing agreements wherever possible.
Even small possibilities of India-Pakistan understanding should be welcomed as stepping stones to greater concord. That is necessary to create an environment conducive to settlement of more ticklish problems, including Kashmir. Neither India nor Pakistan can afford to give up the ideal of becoming a secular and egalitarian democracy and cooperating with one another for the good of their peoples, and for peace and tranquillity in the region.
— By I.A. Rehman