Pakistan’s relationship with India is complex in nature. It has all the three elements of confrontation, competition and cooperation. India’s hegemonic designs in South Asia and numerous outstanding Pakistan-India disputes, particularly Kashmir and Siachin, provide the element of discord and confrontation between the two countries. Pakistan-India wars, the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 through direct Indian military intervention, recent incidents of cross LOC and Working Boundary shelling, and the charges of state-sponsored terrorism against each other are a reflection of this element of confrontation. Then there is the element of competition in Pakistan-India relations. The two countries are in competition with each other primarily in the race for economic progress, eradication of poverty, and improvement of the standard of living of their peoples. They also compete with each other in securing a prominent and influential position in the comity of nations. This element of competition is not unique to Pakistan and India. Most of the countries of the world are competing with one another as they try to accelerate their economic progress and improve the lot of their people. In the case of Pakistan and India, however, this competition has implications for their security also because of the close link between economic strength and the security of states.
Finally, there is the element of cooperation between Pakistan and India in such fields as trade on a mutually beneficial basis, fight against drug trafficking, river water management, environment, and health. It is also in the interest of the two countries to cooperate with each other in the avoidance of an armed conflict and the maintenance of regional peace and stability. Peace between them is a strategic imperative because of their status as de facto nuclear-weapon states and the need for them to achieve rapid economic progress and eradicate poverty through diversion of resources from the military to the gigantic task of economic development. The areas of cooperation will expand to the extent that the two countries are able to limit and minimize the element of confrontation. After all, bilateral cooperation cannot take place in a vacuum. Bilateral disputes, strains and tensions cannot but have negative repercussions on the possibilities of cooperation between Pakistan and India as is the case at present.
Ideally, our policy towards India should be a balanced one, informed by an awareness of the elements of confrontation, competition and cooperation in the bilateral relationship. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Our leaders and policy makers, from time to time in our history, have over-emphasized one element or the other depending upon their predilections and the mood of times. The result has been a lop-sided approach to our handling of relations with India. In good times, we tend to overlook the elements of confrontation and competition in our relations with India leading in due course to disappointment, frustration and downgrading of our relations with it. In bad times when the tensions are high, we ignore the fact that both Pakistan and India have to learn to live as good neighbours and take advantage of the possibilities of cooperation wherever feasible. A long-term and balanced approach, which takes into account the different aspects of our relations with India, would enable us to pursue a steady course in the management of this relationship.
Such a policy towards India must be based on a realistic assessment of India’s strategic goals in the region. Indian policy makers and scholars have left no doubt about India’s desire to establish hegemony in South Asia and exercise a veto power over the actions of outside powers in the region. Even a scholar like Zbigniew Brzezinski has noted India’s hegemonic designs in his latest book, “Strategic Vision”.It is unlikely that India would give up its pursuit of hegemony in South Asia in the foreseeable future. If anything, India under the BJP government led by Narendra Modi, a life-time member of RSS with total commitment to its Hindutva ideology and to its anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan biases, is likely to adopt a more forceful and belligerent attitude in pursuing the goal of hegemony in the region than was the case under the preceding Congress government. The cancellation of foreign secretary level talks by India on flimsy grounds and its unprovoked shelling across the LOC and the Working Boundary have exposed India’s growing belligerence towards Pakistan under the Modi government. In a way, the Modi government has exposed to the Pakistani people and the international community the real face of India.
India’s pursuit of hegemony in South Asia carries the seeds of enduring tensions with Pakistan since the latter would not be prepared to play a subservient role to India. It is this over-arching reality within the framework of which Pakistan must formulate and execute its India policy. The tension between the Indian hegemonic designs and Pakistan’s refusal to fall in line with them precludes genuine friendship between the two countries. The existence of serious disputes like Kashmir and Siachin further aggravates this tense relationship. At the same time, as noted earlier, peace between Pakistan and India is a strategic imperative because of their status as de facto nuclear-weapon states. It is within this narrow space of lack of genuine friendship and tenuous peace that Pakistan must learn to manage its relations with India instead of living in a dream world of wishful thinking.
The maintenance of peace between Pakistan and India requires the two countries to adopt CBM’s to avoid the risk of war through miscalculation or inadequate information, and to build up mutual trust for resolving outstanding disputes. Further, neither of the two countries should resort to any adventurous or provocative activities in dealing with each other. India must desist from fuelling the fire of militancy and terrorism in Pakistan, especially in Balochistan and FATA. Pakistan must avoid Kargil type adventurous operations in the future. Both the countries should resume dialogue on the basis of mutual respect and sovereign equality with the objective of resolving outstanding disputes and promoting mutually beneficial cooperation on a level playing field.
Pakistan-India cooperation in various fields must take place with the clear recognition that in the foreseeable future their relations would be marked by lack of trust and the absence of genuine friendship. In such a situation, bilateral trade on a level playing field and on a mutually beneficial basis should be promoted keeping in view the over-all health of our economy. The two countries can also cooperate to their mutual advantage, bilaterally or within the framework of SAARC, in such fields as environment, river mater management, health, and the fight against drug trafficking. But it would be unwise to pursue foolhardy schemes like an Economic and Monetary Union in South Asia. Under such a Union, India would tend to dominate the economic and monetary policies of the member states. Therefore, Pakistan would lose the ability to frame its economic and monetary policies in its own best interest. The community of interests and the cultural affinities required for such a Union simply do not exist between Pakistan and India. Pakistan would be well advised to keep away from such schemes of regional cooperation.
It is a pity that Pakistan went along with the call for a South Asian Economic and Monetary Union in the SAARC Declaration issued after the last SAARC Summit at Kathmandu despite the obvious disadvantages of this proposal for us. It is still not too late for our government to commission an in-depth study on the subject and then take a position in the best interest of the country in the light of its conclusions and recommendations.