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In its own interest, India should bail out Pakistan

Pakistan is in dire straits. India has previously rescued countries in South Asia like “Muslim” Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. There is no reason then why India cannot help a “Muslim” Pakistan. 

SUNIL SHARAN |

Pakistan is in dire straits. India has previously rescued countries in South Asia like “Muslim” Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. There is no reason then why India cannot help a “Muslim” Pakistan. 

Sheikh Rasheed, until recently Pakistan’s powerful interior minister, has warned that Pakistan’s atomic assets are at risk. He didn’t specify at what risk, but he must have thought about the risk of being purloined. 

Now, who would like to purloin Pakistan’s nukes? It could be the TTP, Al Qaeda, ISIS-Khorasan, one of Pakistan’s homegrown jihadi networks, or rogue army officers. If any get their hands on a nuke or two, they could blackmail the whole state. 

They could also consider selling the nukes. But who would want them? For a generation, it was believed that Saudi Arabia would buy nukes from Pakistan, but in 2015, Pakistan rebuked Saudi Arabia’s call for troops against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. 

Miffed, Saudi Arabia turned to Israel. It would come to rely on Israel and not Pakistan if Iran went nuclear. Nobody else is on the market for Pakistan’s nukes. Rogue elements steal- ing a nuke would just want to take over the country and convert it into a jihadi state. 

Pakistan is already half-jihadi but do you want to taste the full version? A jihadi Pakistan would at once threaten India with nukes. Does India want that? 

PM Modi and Nawaz Sharif are friends. A friend in need is a friend indeed. Modi has various mechanisms to help out Pakistan. Trade is touted as one of them. But Pakistan needs help more urgently than trade would provide. 

Admittedly, trade could dramatically lower the costs of goods in Pakistan. But Pakistan also risks being swamped with Indian goods. The Pakistani government could impose a tax on goods imported from India, and thereby earn revenue. In a few years, two-way trade could touch $10 billion. 

But Pakistan doesn’t have the respite of a few years. And a tax on trade may not fetch much. What Pakistan needs is an infusion of billions of dollars on easy terms. In 2010, Pakistan was ravaged by floods. Manmohan Singh offered it a grant of $25 million, but Pakistan refused to take the money from “Hindu” India. The money had to be routed through the UN. 

Even now, Pakistan may cavil at “Hindu” India helping it. It could even baulk at buying “Made in India” products. India is flush with cash and cheap Russian oil. It is extending lines of credits and oil facilities in the billions of dollars to Sri Lanka. Pakistan needs help so badly that it will take Indian money and aid if routed through an acceptable third party. 

The question that arises is how India will recoup its money from Pakistan. What is bleeding Pakistan dry is the amount of money it spends on its defence. Ronald Reagan bankrupted the Soviet Union by upping his own defence expenditure until it became unsustainable for the Soviets to match. The Soviet Union collapsed. The US had won the Cold War. 

But the Americans’ victory was pyrrhic. If the Americans had not become the sole superpower or a hyperpower, they would not have indulged in the adventures that they did in the second Iraq war or even the war in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union as a strong counterpoise to America would not have let the Americans do what they did. In Iraq and Afghanistan, and later Syria, Libya and Yemen, the Americans tasted defeat. 

India’s very defence premise is based on a two-front war with China and Pakistan. Admittedly, Pakistan goads China against India, but China too uses Pakistan against India. India had tried to defuse Pakistan by cosying up to China. That hasn’t worked. Why not defuse China by cosying up to Pakistan? 

India’s poverty is not reducing fast enough for it to become what it aspires to be, a middle-income country. One of the key reasons is the amount of money that India spends on its defence. If there was a rapprochement with Pakistan, both countries could lower their defence expenditure dramatically. 

Hawks in India believe that Pakistan wants to rule India. Many Pakistanis believe that India wants to break up Pakistan and solve its Pakistan problem that way. They cite what they consider the devious role India played in the break-up of Pakistan in 1971. 

But a Pakistan that is not at odds with India and which is strong and stable and united is in India’s interests. If Pakistan breaks up, then India will find it impossible to cope with refugees from the other side of the border. India’s CAA law omitted Muslims. Now India would be full of Muslim Pakistanis. 

Modi and Nawaz have met in Delhi, Lahore and Kathmandu. They must arrange another meeting between themselves. Pakistan should lay out what it needs and how it wants to receive the money and India should help as much as it can. 

In years gone by, Bangladesh was seen as the basket case of South Asia. India provided Bangladesh with lines of credit worth billions of dollars. Today Bangladesh is outpacing India as an economy. May such a happy outcome also await Pakistan. And hopefully, in the 75th year of both countries’ independence, when since independence all we have done is fight and recriminate with each other, let new dawn of peace, friendship and cooperation begin, which puts aside historical angst and animosity for another 75 years. 

 

(The writer is an expert on energy and contributes regularly to publications in India and overseas.)