There is a large and growing segment of opinion in Pakistan that questions the security state paradigm and realises that the threat to the country is internal

What are the first thoughts that come to our mind regarding Pakistan? A country founded on the two-nation theory, which is the antithesis of the principle of secularism enshrined in our Constitution. A country which questions our territorial integrity. A country which thrust four wars on us — in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999. Memories of Pakistan-sponsored terror acts in various parts of India are etched deep in the psyche of the Indian people.

There is, however, another side to Pakistan, less known to us. Rampant terrorism and lawlessness, resulting from Pakistan’s own policies, combined with freer flow of information in the Internet age and a vibrant media, have spurred greater introspection. The judiciary is more assertive than ever before. All state institutions, including the army, have been questioned in an unprecedented manner in recent years.

Despite attempts by undemocratic elements to derail elections, the transition from one elected government to another took place in 2013 because of an active media, judiciary, civil society and above all an understanding between the two major parties — Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) PML (N) — not to side with unconstitutional forces against each other.

Civil-military equation

Barring a few sectors, large segments of trade and industry support expanded trade relations with India. India was not an issue during the 2013 elections, except for repeated expression by Nawaz Sharif of his desire to build a better relationship with the country.

I do not intend to say that Pakistan has made a clean break with its past. Civil-military equation has again been in greater focus of late because of reported differences between the army and the civilian government on issues like General (retired) Pervez Musharraf’s trial; dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban; relations with India; and the Army’s demand for action against the Geo TV network, which blamed the ISI for attack on its star anchor.

It is also not my intention to say that threats from Pakistan to our security and stability have disappeared. Groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) continue to enjoy space on the Pakistani soil.

What I wish to say is that there is a large and growing segment of opinion in Pakistan that questions the security state paradigm and realises that the threat to Pakistan is internal. They may not agree with us on everything, but are conscious of the need to build a stable relationship with India for a better future for themselves. They must acquire a greater say if Pakistan is to become a normal state, at peace with itself and its neighbours.

The above realities oblige us to contain and counter the threats emanating from Pakistan. However, an Indian response which tars all the Pakistani people with the same brush and is characterised by a threatening rhetoric and an absence of or a frequent interruption of dialogue in response to every provocation — big or small — plays into the hands of the security state proponents. We must, therefore, offer an alternative narrative that includes advantages of building constructive linkages with India.

As the largest country in South Asia, with aspirations to radically transform our economy and play a leadership role in the region and beyond, we have high stakes in peace and stability in our periphery and a special responsibility to promote it. That responsibility requires us to continue making efforts to bring some sense to even as difficult a relationship as ours with Pakistan and encourage the voice of reason in that country.

Trade road map

Seen in this context, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative to invite all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders, including the Pakistan Prime Minister, to his swearing in ceremony, was a wise step. As the largest economy in South Asia, it is our responsibility to give our neighbours a stake in our economic success to build a zone of shared prosperity in the region. We have taken significant steps in this direction under South Asian Free Trade Area (Safta) vis-à-vis other neighbours, but have not been able to do so in relation to Pakistan because of its discriminatory trade regime vis-à-vis India. In 2012, Pakistan significantly expanded the number of items importable from India, barring a negative list of 1200. However, it failed to deliver on its promise to do away with the negative list.

The aforementioned factors necessitate three essential elements of our policy. First, those in Pakistan who seek to undermine India’s stability, territorial integrity and interests, should be left in no doubt that such attempts would be thwarted with single-minded determination. More than tough language, this requires quiet and firm action on the ground to defend ourselves and deter errant behaviour.

Second, we should be prepared to give generous preferential market access under Safta to products of export interest to Pakistan after it eliminates its India-specific negative list to give us a Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status, which is our due under the WTO regulations. This was the essence of the trade road map agreed to in September 2012. We should also offer cooperation in other areas such as health, education and energy.

Third, the other outstanding issues need to be kept under discussion to find mutually acceptable solutions. For want of a better alternative, the eight-track template instituted in June 1997 has been adopted each time we have resumed dialogue. It covers discussions at Secretary-level on peace and security, including CBMs, Jammu and Kashmir, terrorism, Siachen and Sir Creek.

There has been talk of evolving a revised template in the light of developments since 1997. However, because of differing perceptions, such revision in terms of level or subjects of discussion would be a tricky exercise. Talks below Secretary-level would be meaningless and those above that would needlessly raise expectations.

I have not suggested any radically new policy options, but merely recalled some ground realities that need to be kept in mind while crafting our policy. These realities necessitate a two-track policy: contain and counter the dangerous; engage the constructive.

Dealing with complex issues such as Jammu and Kashmir requires patience as well as a pragmatic and forward looking approach. The contours of the four-point formula discussed during the Musharraf era, which was based on such an approach, are now amply in the public domain. It was meant to be a significant step towards a non-territorial solution, based on the assumption that boundaries cannot be redrawn, but can be made irrelevant. However, dilution of focus on the outdated U.N. resolutions during the Musharraf regime was undone by the PPP government and that trend has continued.

Pakistan must realise that these resolutions are not going to lead us to a solution. Further, statements in Pakistan that there can be no peace between the two countries without resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir issue betray the agenda of certain influential forces there not to allow peace to prevail till the J&K issue is resolved to their satisfaction. Such statements only harden the Indian resolve to counter any attempts at disrupting peace.

We hear frequently from Pakistan’s political class and commentators that building a good relationship with India is Pakistan’s priority. What can be better evidence of this priority than implementation by Pakistan of the already agreed upon trade agenda, widely considered by its top economists and business leaders as vital for Pakistan’s economy and as a win-win proposition?

(Sharat Sabharwal is Central Information Commissioner and a former High Commissioner to Pakistan. The views expressed are personal)

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