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Should India come to Pakistan’s aid?

India has given billions of dollars of loans to Sri Lanka and facilitated roughly $3 billion in loans for Sri Lanka from the IMF.

Sunil Sharan | New Delhi |

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Opponents of India’s candidacy for the permanent seat on the UN Security Council ask how India can become one of top six or seven nations in the world when it cannot even set its own house, i.e. South Asia, in order.

India has given billions of dollars of loans to Sri Lanka and facilitated roughly $3 billion in loans for Sri Lanka from the IMF.

Justifying India’s help to Sri Lanka, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has said that blood is thicker than water. But how is Sri Lankan blood and Indian blood any thicker than Pakistani blood and Indian blood?

Sri Lankan Sinhalas and Sri Lankan Tamils may have a common genetic origin, but they are at odds with each other. Further, the Sinhalas are Buddhist while the Tamils are Hindu.

They fought a gruesome civil war for decades. Pakistanis and Indians share the same DNA. Pakistanis are Muslim and Indians are largely Hindu.

There has been tension between the two groups for centuries. But blood between Pakistanis and Indians is common, and by what Jaishankar said, India should help Pakistan the same way that it is helping Sri Lanka.

Such is not the case. Devastating floods ravaged Pakistan recently and India was missing in action in providing aid. Pakistan’s economy is in the same situation as Sri Lanka’s, yet India is not providing a paisa of aid to Pakistan. India should consider facilitating an IMF loan for Pakistan, as well as provide loans and grants to the benighted country.

A section of opinion feels that if Pakistan recovers, it will want to take India on. Such might not be the case.

Manmohan Singh is warmly remembered in Pakistan for the $25 million he provided in flood relief to the country in 2010. When the Pakistanis wouldn’t accept the money directly, he routed it through the UN.

India doesn’t have a strong lobby in Pakistan batting for peace. It must create such a lobby. Right now India’s foreign exchange reserves are more than $600 billion while Pakistan’s are a measly $3 billion. Such is the time to help our listless neighbour.

Jaishankar said during the SCO foreign affairs meet that Pakistan’s credibility is eroding faster than its foreign exchange reserves. That was a churlish barb, but India and Pakistan are used to exchanging barb after barb. Many people feel that trade holds the key to peace between the two countries. That is not necessarily the case. Just as Chinese goods have flooded India, so too will Indian goods flood Pakistan.

A huge trade imbalance, one in favour of India, might develop. Yes, it’s true prices of produce will lower in Pakistan. And that Pakistan can use cheap Indian raw material to export finished goods.

But Pakistan needs more tangible help than just trade to survive. India is the 800-lb gorilla of South Asia. The fight with Pakistan has made it virtually impossible for it to realize its true global potential. Indo-Pak relations are amongst the most nettlesome in the world.

Whichever Indian prime minister makes a real breakthrough in relations is deserving of the Nobel peace prize. Pakistan fosters the impression around the world that were India to win a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, it will twist its new advantage to favour itself in Kashmir.

That’s one of the reasons people who matter are reluctant to give India the seat. Today, age-old enemies Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as Japan and South Korea, are making peace. In disaster often lies opportunity. India should show its large heart by offering aid to Pakistan, and Pakistan should drop its churlishness to accept Indian aid.

Of course Pakistan would benefit immeasurably, but the benefits to India could be far greater.

(The writer, an expert on energy, contributes to journals in India and overseas. The views are personal.)

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