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“Free Trade Agreement will solve India-Pakistan problems”

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Kishore Mahbubani, the former Singapore Ambassador to the U.N. (left), and Stephen P. Cohen, Fellow of the Brookings Institution, in Chennai on Sunday.
Kishore Mahbubani, the former Singapore Ambassador to the U.N. (left), and Stephen P. Cohen, Fellow of the Brookings Institution, in Chennai on Sunday.

Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: While there are many demanding that Pakistan be punished unequivocally for the Mumbai attacks, Kishore Mahbubani, former Singapore Ambassador to the U.N, believes that India should actually conclude a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Pakistan and help develop the other country’s economy to create a bulwark for itself against terror elements.

“An India-Pakistan FTA is an idea whose time has come. The anger over the terrorist attacks is justifiable because there is no doubt that Pakistanis were involved in the attacks. But India needs to look at the problem from a longer-term perspective and free trade would actually improve the situation in the long run,” Dr. Mahbubani said on Sunday. He said a 20-year programme to build Pakistan’s education, health and other infrastructure would place the economy in better shape and create a strong middle class.

This middle class would share India’s apprehensions over radicals and provide a bulwark against terrorism in the long run.

This would also benefit the Asian resurgence in the 21st century, and the collective power of the economies could help place them in a favourable position of power relative to the U.S. and the European Union. He said the anachronistic organisation of bodies such as the IMF and the World Bank, which were still Euro and U.S.-centric, needed to be altered and the bargaining power of a united Asia could make this possible.

Stephen P. Cohen, leading expert on South Asia and Fellow of the Brookings Institution, said the U.S. had made some missteps in its previous work in the South Asian region. However, India would largely benefit from increased cooperation, especially in its military and police operations.

“The police in India were designed in the colonial times to protect the state from the citizens. This has to be reorganised to protect the citizens from criminals and possibly even the state at times,” he said. Military organisation in India also needed a major overhaul with modernisation of operations more important than technical modernisation. The U.S’ leadership in this area could also be used by India to develop an effective response to internal and external threats.

Dr. Cohen said setting up a think tank of IIT graduates would benefit the country and it should look at an entire gamut of inter-connected issues from a broad international perspective to have significant effect. Originality in policymaking was required to deal with ever-changing conditions, Dr. Cohen said, quipping, “Conventional wisdom is the death of policy.”


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