The trade highway to peace
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Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is determined to "normalise" relations with India, backed by a business community consensus that bilateral trade and investment should be facilitated. A lot of paperwork has gone into it, many meetings have been held. Some progress has also been made, but unspoken hurdles have come in the way and the process is halted. And bad things happen, like cross-border incidents on the LoC in Kashmir, to spur the national mindsets into warlike expression.
Populism and elections, where politicians touch base with the "negative" aspects of the electorate, may then postpone any groundbreaking initiatives going against years of "nation-building". Sharif raised the Kashmir issue at the UN this year; Manmohan Singh retorted by calling Pakistan the epicentre of terrorism. After that botched Washington visit, where he called Singh a "village woman" — off the record — Sharif once again renewed his pledge to open trade and connectivity with India.
His foreign and security policy advisor, Sartaj Aziz, followed up by asking India to get down from Siachen in step with Pakistan, cleverly grounding his argument in the internationally popular issue of the environment. India predictably refused. And we are where we have always been, mutually hostile, with Singh assuring his voters that Pakistan will not win the war against India in his lifetime. (Note the "electoral" twist in his self-reference.)
Pakistan raises old issues the world has forgotten, unmindful of its latest phase of a "failing state" where the national consensus in the shape of an anti-American, anti-drone "shifting of allegiance" to the Taliban is scaring the world. India raises new issues like cross-border terrorism, over which it knows Pakistan has no control, and wants the known but more-powerful-than-the-state terrorists punished, exposing Pakistan once again to erosion of internal sovereignty, which means the state no longer exists. Both countries are caught in this binary, while the "indirect" solution hidden in normalisation through trade and connectivity fades away. What both forget is the fact of mutual nuclearisation: they cannot go to war if that is what "populism" means.