By neglecting the economic paradigm Pakistan has become irrelevant to


The Chairman
Apr 17, 2009
Falling off our map: By neglecting the economic paradigm Pakistan has become irrelevant to India

Ashok Malik

Everybody likes attention, and when suddenly deprived of it is upset, befuddled and quick to blame others. This is a common human predicament. In a sense, it is an apt description for Pakistan's understanding of India in the 10 months the Narendra Modi government has been in office.

To Pakistan's mind, the signals from the Modi government have been confusing. In May 2014, there was the invitation to the swearing-in ceremony. A few weeks later, there was a sledgehammer (in pure military terms, disproportionate) response to Pakistani incursions and firing on the line of control and the international border. New Delhi cancelled foreign secretary level talks because Pakistani diplomats met the Hurriyat leadership.

Now, government seems to have settled into the awkward formulation that Pakistanis can interact with Hurriyat but not in the run up to bilateral talks.
In the early months, the determination to have a free election in Jammu & Kashmir influenced Modi's approach and sought to warn Pakistan against possible meddling. Yet, post-election, things have not returned to 'normal'.

When Indian foreign secretary S Jaishankar visited Islamabad recently, it was posited as part of a Saarc yatra, rather than a two-nation event. Pro forma statements were made. No roadmap for a 'composite dialogue' or any other form of dialogue was laid out. No invitations were handed over.
Are these disjointed, disparate occurrences or is a pattern emerging? Many Pakistanis have read a 'Hindu hardliner' message into Modi's actions. That may satisfy lazy stereotyping but is not altogether correct. A better explanation is that on Pakistan at least the priorities of the prime minister's office (PMO) and the foreign policy establishment, and those of the country at large, are finally merging.

These priorities are not so much those of hostility, but of indifference and recognition that things cannot really be repaired in a hurry. Resultantly or otherwise, India and Indians have other fish to fry.

This is the hard truth Pakistanis find difficult to digest: that Indians, and India, have lost interest in Pakistan. While the universe of Indian engagement with and coverage of the world has expanded in the past 15-20 years, the proportion of news or mind space devoted to Pakistan has declined. As prime minister, Modi is an embodiment of that societal and generational change; he has not created it.

For 15 years — under former prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh — the PMO virtually ran Pakistan policy, reducing the external affairs ministry and the Pakistan desk to a sideshow. Today, under Modi, some of that autonomy has been restored and the PMO is no longer micro-managing. Why then did Vajpayee and particularly Manmohan spend so much political capital on Pakistan?

There were several sets of reasons. Singularly important was that both Vajpayee and Manmohan belonged to a pre-1947 generation that had experienced the benefits of a seamless trading system that ran from Peshawar to Kolkata. They strived to recreate it within a two-country framework, and hoped it would lead to new avenues.

Modi is 20 years younger than his predecessors. Modi's voters — 52% of India's population is below 35 — are 50 years younger. They have zero memories of the composite trading network that existed before Partition and even the residual commerce that continued till the war of 1965.

Ironically, the Indian citizen and Indian strategic thinking are today more outward looking than in recent history. This is largely a function of growing economic aspirations. When Indians look west — whether to Dubai or the United States or even to an ITES contract in Argentina — they see jobs and opportunities. It is the same for the east (Singapore, Asean) or the south (Indian Ocean region, Australia).

Bluntly, there is no comparable economic imperative to consider to the northwest. As an economic geography it is cut off. This has given Pakistan very little leverage in contemporary India. In contrast, China, with all the history of contestation and suspicion, is a crucial business partner.

Paradoxically, South Asia is critical to Modi's world view and to the expression of Indian political, economic and soft power. To be fair, in prioritising economic engagement with the neighbourhood India is only doing itself a favour.

Bangladesh is key to evacuating hydropower from Arunachal Pradesh. A power corridor from Bhutan lights up homes in Delhi. Ganga water management, without which flooding in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar cannot be checked, requires cooperation from Bangladesh and Nepal.

A sub-regional BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) energy network is being promoted. It has the Modi government urging Bangladesh to take a stake in power projects in Bhutan, and incubate a BBIN power grid and energy trading system. Joint manufacturing projects involving Meghalaya and Bangladesh and Meghalaya and Myanmar are being discussed. Sri Lanka and the Maldives (despite the current standoff) are essential for Modi's Indian Ocean ambitions. Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan are access routes to the economies of China, especially Yunnan, and of Asean.

Where is Pakistan? By abandoning the trade and economic paradigm, it has written itself out of the India story. That is the harsh reality.

Falling off our map: By neglecting the economic paradigm Pakistan has become irrelevant to India - TOI Blogs
Indeed, Pakistan is no longer relevant to Indian national or domestic perceptions.

It is a fact that Pakistan has actually become irrelevant to the Indian outlook and progress story that is encompassing the rest of the neighborhood and the world.

The Indian Govt dispensation and the majority of Indians are from the population that are far into the post Independence generation and no baggage of the pre Partition days of the mirage like fondness that Manmohan had for Gah or Valpayee's dream of trade as before from Peshawar to Kolkata.

The new dispensation thus is pragmatic and is stitching up win win relationship that assist the neighbourhood and India and unite pan Asia in an economic mutual benefit.

It is obvious that all this will take time, but that it is fructifying is evident and the shoots of the same is seen germinating to the overall good of India, the neighbourhood and Asia.

Sadly, Pakistan being its usual churlish self, is being left out in the cold.

It will only look to near West where its military will go to the assistance of Saudi Arabia, get further involved in bloodshed and blood letting and face the deathlike consequences in Pakistan when the virus hits them home.
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