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Updated: May 15, 2013 02:10 IST

Two neighbours, and dealing with them

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan
Comment (14)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
The Hindu

Once praised for keeping aside the core issue to move ahead on other fronts, India-China ties can no longer be cited as a model for relations with Pakistan

When I worked in the Prime Minister’s Office of Indira Gandhi from 1981 to 1984, she told me that she could visualise a time in the future when India and Pakistan would have normal, even friendly, relations but she did not have the same hope for relations with China because, she said, it was essentially an expansionist power. How do recent events validate her instinct and analysis?

As far as Pakistan is concerned, it is universally acknowledged that it is the military establishment which is most opposed to normalising relations with India; indeed, it appears to have a vested interest in keeping India-Pakistan relations tense. Friendly relations with India would seriously undermine the raison d’être for the inflated size of the armed forces. They would lose control over the security policy, over Afghan and Indian policy as well as control over nuclear arsenal. In other words, the military establishment would become an adjunct of the civilian government, thereby losing not only its pre-eminent position but also its self-cultivated image of being the only institution that can safeguard and save the people, in effect, from themselves. It might also lose at least a part of its economic empire. Thus, for the Pakistan military, it makes sense not to normalise relations with India.

Consensus for détente

On the other hand, going by the election manifestos of major political parties in Pakistan in the run-up to the May 11 elections, there seems to be a growing consensus among politicians for détente with India. Their manifestos not only did not contain anti-India rhetoric; they also indicated a willingness to promote peace with India. The party of incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif even went to the extent of declaring that it will open the transit route for trade between India, Afghanistan and beyond through Pakistan. Since winning the election convincingly, he has reiterated his desire to work for better relations with India, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has warmly reciprocated. Imran Khan’s party also spoke of progressive detente with India. This trend needs to be noted and welcomed in India. It suggests that the political mainstream might be ready to stand up to the military in case the latter came in the way of normalising relations with India. Whether it is able to do so will remain to be seen, but at least it has made public its intention to do so. Mr. Sharif has declared that he will be the ‘boss’ and that civilian supremacy will be asserted. If that happens, the possibility of normal relations between the two countries can certainly be entertained. Indians have a tendency to lurch from euphoria to hostility in reacting to developments in neighbouring countries. We need to wait and watch.

Does this mean that Pakistanis have finally accepted that India has no evil designs on their country and that they have nothing to fear from us? Opinion polls in Pakistan have suggested that India is not on the top of their list of most worrisome subjects. The realisation that the country is being torn from within by forces nurtured by their own agencies seems to have dawned on them. The business lobbies — and Mr. Sharif is a businessman — are certainly interested in opening trade and investment opportunities on a reciprocal basis. Pakistan has not kept the deadline of implementing the promised Most Favoured Nation status to India but one may expect this to happen in view of the declared intention of all parties to do so post-election. By and large, most people in Pakistan have reached the sensible conclusion that China, their all-weather friend, is not going to bail them out and that the best, perhaps the only, salvation for their fast-collapsing economy is to ride piggyback on India’s vast economy. The big question of how they tackle the terrorist outfits acting against India from Pakistani territory will remain.

Increasing aggression

China, by contrast, has become much more aggressive, and not just towards India. Having secured two decades of peaceful growth, China is now ready, it feels, to take on the world. Confirming this assertiveness are its actions in the South China Sea, Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, and its unwillingness to discuss water issues with neighbours. China is more than willing to exploit its greatly enhanced clout in global economy to press its interests. It vigorously pursues its ambition to have the Yuan accepted as an alternative currency in international trade. It scored an important success by concluding a deal with Australia to trade directly using only the Yuan and the Australian dollar, bypassing the U.S. dollar.

As far as India-specific actions are concerned, there are any number of examples of China’s difficult attitude, as indicated by the deployment of several thousand PLA personnel in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and its intrusions across the Line of Actual Control. The most important indication of China’s true assessment of India’s importance for it is the suo moto statement of President Xi Jinping that the border problem will not be solved any time soon, making it clear that it certainly will not be resolved during his 10 years in office.

Hence, the reported statement by a Chinese official in Delhi that China would like to focus on reaching an agreement on the ‘framework’ for the settlement of the border issue needs to be noted. China will continue to make noise about the need for the two countries to cooperate in the international arena on issues such as climate change, but it remains firmly opposed to India’s aspiration for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (it would have been preferable for India not to have had any reference to this matter in the final declaration of the BRICS summit in South Africa than to have agreed to the most unpalatable formulation as finally agreed). This is what a Chinese scholar thought of India way back in 1903: “Indians have generally not cared if their territory is lost … Chinese determination is stronger than the Indian … we can foresee that Chinese accomplishments will certainly surpass those of the Indians.” Has anything changed?

The comparison with Pakistan and China brings out an interesting aspect. For many years, we in India had been asking Pakistan to follow the example of our relationship with China, in which both countries took a conscious decision to keep aside the core issue of border for the time being and concentrate on other aspects of bilateral relations that offered scope for cooperation to mutual benefit. Trade in particular was identified as offering a huge potential for expanding bilateral relations. This has happened, although the trade is heavily lopsided in China’s favour.

What is more, China is gobbling up our precious natural resources such as iron ore which we ought to be preserving for use in our own steel plants. It was the expectation at least on our part that increased economic relations would create conditions propitious for the two countries to deal seriously and pragmatically with the border problem. In this, we have been sadly mistaken.

Pakistan, on the other hand, insisted that there can be no progress on any of the bilateral issues so long as the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir was not resolved. It is premature to draw definitive conclusions, but about a year ago, Pakistan relented and agreed to move forward on trade before the core issue was settled. It agreed to grant India MFN status, apparently with the military’s consent, even in the absence of any progress on the Kashmir issue.

An interesting debate

What is the better approach? Settle the core issue first and then normalise, or normalise and then tackle the core issue? This is not just an academic question. Those arguing for the former would in effect suggest standstill in bilateral relations since the core issues are not going to be resolved, given the inflexible and politically difficult positions of all sides. Those in favour of the latter approach in effect would be reconciled to an indefinite status quo, since there would be no incentive to tackle the core issue. The debate needs to be joined.

(Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, former Indian Ambassador to the United Nations, was until recently Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Special Envoy for West Asia)

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Some commentators are misguided in calling for merging India and Pakistan into a single
country again. Pakistan is today the most dangerous country in the world. It has the most
extreme organizations of any country and the general population is also taught lot of biased
and false propaganda about Hindus as one can see in its school textbooks and is generally
highly intolerant when it comes to religious matters. Merging with such a country will pull
India down for ever. Soft minded Indians forget things quickly and get sentimental a lot. This
is not a good thing for India.

from:  Ramamurthy
Posted on: May 15, 2013 at 14:32 IST

In analyzing the relations with Pakistan and China, Pakistan has tried
to build amicable relations with India, but terrorism has created the
roadblock in it. For any cordial relation Pakistan first have to
tackle with the problem of terrorism on its soil.
On the other hand, India still fear China of its military power and
the defeat 1962 still haunts India. Thus India always succumb to the
Chinese pressure.
India needs to come on its own to tackle the notorius neighbours
rather than depend on the world to solve their problems.

from:  Akshay Dhadda
Posted on: May 15, 2013 at 13:43 IST

It is a fact that citizens of a country are peace loving. They are
always in favour of cordial relations with its neighbours. It is the
greed of Political and Military class which is making the situation
complex.

from:  Akshay Dhadda
Posted on: May 15, 2013 at 13:28 IST

This is one of the best articles which I have read in the Hindu.
Pakistan is desperate enough to revive its collapsing economy in which
good relations with India can play vital role. Keeping aside kashmir
issue, Pak should try to improve bilateral relations with India in
order to stabilize their economy. In two decades of so called puppet
relations between Pak and China, Pak hasn't gained much apart from
nuclear technology and on the contrary side, China has been using Pak
in asserting its aggressive expansion strategy. From India's point of
view; considering china's aggressive expansion, India should also try
to improve relations with Pak for their mutual benefits. China doesn't
have intentions of solving border dispute in near future; when China
is so, India should focus on development of infrastructure throughout
the country especially in north-eastern states and should
strategically evolve to counter China at border dispute resolution
table in the future.

from:  ranjithp
Posted on: May 15, 2013 at 12:50 IST

We cant change our perception towards Pakistan just because Nawaj shariff has became PM,he will be under pressure from millitary and ISI..and no one knows what is in the store.

from:  Vishwajeet Nilankar
Posted on: May 15, 2013 at 12:24 IST

The two 'C' strategy of Cooperate and Compete could be a possible resort
for this problem.With Chinese extreme left 'Red' policies turning amber
could be a green signal for public opinion being considered in China.
The way Indian polity, media and public responded to the recent
intrusion incident and the role diplomacy played in restoring status quo
was commendable. The dragon is dangerous, we have to be cautious.

from:  Rahul Shahi
Posted on: May 15, 2013 at 12:13 IST

India has had problems with Pakistan since 1947. But, they never betrayed us. Pakistan always followed what they said. But, the policy of China is entirely different. China is a country, which we can’t be trusted.
China has been considered as a non trustable nation since its attack on India in 1962. It was a huge shock for Nehru, who treated China as a friendly nation. India sensed such a betrayal from the part of china in 1998, which led to India’s second nuclear test. After the test, Indian defence minister apparently revealed that India had threats from the part of china. It is to be noted that the incident took place at the time of a friendly relationship with China.
Pakistan is not like China. We can trust their words. Good relationship with Pakistan will help us to improve our commercial ties with them. It would bring Pakistan out of the current economic crisis. We can also hope a perpetual solution for the Kashmir issue during the term of Nawaz Sharif.

from:  Arjunraj Palazhi
Posted on: May 15, 2013 at 12:05 IST

As the author points out, the Pakistani mind is looking inwards for issues and solutions instead of pushing all the blame on the neighbour and help the military to fatten itself. It's heartening to hear that none of the election manifestos had a negative word against India. Sharif for his part was always an admirer of Indian democratic values and institutions. He was envious the way power passed from Vajpayee to Dr Singh. There is hope that Pakistan will come around the bend provided we make the right gestures to the Pakistani civillian leadership enabling them to take the next step.

China is a different kettle of fish. Deal with them with mistrust. Always have the economic upperhand while negotiating. India imports more than it exports to China. That's a good starting point. Use the purchasing power to negotiate. Chinese for all their communist idealogies are at heart very petty traders.

from:  mani sandilya
Posted on: May 15, 2013 at 11:34 IST

The author is absolutely correct in reading Chinese mind. Equally, Indian leaders have displayed a zero sense of responsibility when it comes to China. Indian security agencies have time and again been caught unaware of disadvantageous moves of the adversaries on our western and northern frontiers. Recent Chinese episode, Kargil, 1965, amply demonstrate that. The surveillance capabilities of the nation are underused or used inefficiently. India must settle the dispute with China at double speed else future generations will pay heavily.

from:  Manjit Sahota
Posted on: May 15, 2013 at 10:27 IST

An interesting article. However, I would question the use of word "core" to describe the
border issue as its use implies that trade and economic relationships were somehow less
important. Yes, border issues are important but so are trade and other relationships. In fact
for most people trade, ease of travel, ability to deal with their counterparts in these countries
and economics are far more important to their daily living. Border disputes can't be allowed
to get in the way of people's natural living. Border disputes are the result of formation of
modern nation states. On the other hand, people have dealt with other people since millennia
without giving any thought to the idea of borders. Clearly, we should have as normal
relationships as possible while trying to resolve border disputes. For India to pursue its
idealism, it has to be strong in every sense. To get there, India will need much better
governance than we have had to date. China has shown what focused governance can do.

from:  V Gupta
Posted on: May 15, 2013 at 09:50 IST

we can't resolve long disputed boundary issue just in second with
satisfaction of contending countries. we need to have patience go
forward in bilateral relation. This will be beneficial for both counrty.

from:  vinay kumar yadav
Posted on: May 15, 2013 at 08:39 IST

Good post!

How to deal with other country should be decided on case to case basis. One size does not fit all. Each country has different dynamics. That needs to be kept in view before formulating a strategy.

from:  Ponga Pundit
Posted on: May 15, 2013 at 08:36 IST

Thanks to Mr. Gharekhan for calling a spade a spade which was clear for
a lot of people for a long time. India should take defensive maneuvers
to build stronger ties with China's neighbors and the USA.

from:  Suvojit Dutta
Posted on: May 15, 2013 at 08:21 IST

There is one approach which has never got discussed. Undo the partition.
Lets us become one nation again. After all we fought together against
British as one nation. Our problems started when we divided ourselves.
When the root cause is division - lets work to remove the root cause.

from:  Harpreet Chugh
Posted on: May 15, 2013 at 06:15 IST
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