Breaking Views: Kartarpur Saga
By Mohammed Rizwan
It took New Delhi and Islamabad a long time but finally they decided to take a step towards what could be a quick dash to ground zero of a lasting peace – road bumps and even roadblocks notwithstanding. The move to open up a border that connects Punjab on both sides and lies at the foot of Jammu Hills, was not surprising for many South Asia policy watchers as the work was in progress for quite some time now. No matter how many guns blaze at the borders and how much fire is spewed up by politicians, the states don’t fall for their own rhetoric after all. They continue to talk and keep trying to find common ground. Sometimes they fail and sometimes they succeed. There has never been a greater rivalry in modern times than between communist Soviet Union and the United States but they never stopped talking and never turned off communication channels. Not even at the height of Cuban missile crisis. Because when you stop talking, war could come quicker than blink of an eye and today war means – mutually assured annihilation.
Though India and Pakistan are different in their nomenclature as one is a democracy and the other is controlled and run by military junta, the good thing is they agree to talk. So it is safe to assume that Kartarpur did not happen overnight. It is the result of years long hard work by think-tanks of the establishments on both sides that we popularly call track two or track three. These tracks have always been there. But in case of India and Pakistan all they produced till Kartarpur, is a string of false alarms. The alarm bells blared when late Indian PM Vajpayee travelled on bus to Lahore and they were even louder when the master of duplicity General Musharraf seemed to have sealed the deal, first with Vajpayee and later with PM Manmohan. But all came to nothing when the time to deliver arrived. So the question on every mind who cares about these South Asia soap operas, is why it would be different this time. The answer to this one lures one to where no policy pundit likes to be. Because this is a position where one is asked to predict about the future behaviour of Pakistani military. The history is replete with broken promises and retaliations so better not to place your bets on how the military would or would not behave. But it would be far better to try and analyse the situation based on other factors that would affect the behaviour of military.
Let’s consider these factors.
1- Pakistan is at the verge of economic collapse that is threatening to trigger an implosion. The signs of an economic meltdown are in abundance and are obvious. Note a few major indicators for example and it becomes glaringly obvious that why an immediate ‘re-set’ in relations is being sought desperately both from New Delhi and Kabul. The country needs more than 30 billion dollars in next two-three years just to be in a position where it can regularly pay back just loan instalments and import bill. Currently it is spending around two billion dollars a month from its meagre foreign currency account which stands at less than 10 billion dollars. All ‘friends’ have declined to support and even if IMF approves 6-8 billion loan, it will be barely enough till the next June. Country owes 100 billion dollars to bilateral and multi-lateral donors. Add around 25 billion dollars that China claims it has given to Pakistan and a picture emerges where there is nothing in the coffers to just pay back the interest accrued on these loans. Imports are down below 20 billion, remittances are falling fast to below 16 billion and there is no foreign or even local investment. All the basic ingredients for a spectacular economic crash are in place.
2- Country’s military looks seriously divided on the issue of taking road to China permanently by aligning with the mighty neighbour in a permanent strategic bind or try and talk trade with India and Afghanistan that may bring early dividends. The situation is beneficial to both India and Afghanistan as well as it will cool off their borders while Pakistan can also focus on improving its economics conditions and social divisions.
3- There is no money not even in black economy left to fight open and proxy wars. So it takes away any capacity or leverage to blackmail or threaten.
4- After thinking long and hard, the military may have eventually decided to take option two.
Now, let’s have a quick look at what lurks in the shadows. What could derail this entire peace project even before it reaches ground zero.
1- The first and foremost danger is from within. It seems that not everyone who is military approves this plan and China option is still very popular in there.
2- Any mischief from those who are talking peace in Pakistan would scare away guarantors and coordinators who are probably making their last-ditch sincere effort.
3- There are people who don’t like Saudis coming in Pakistan and there are people who don’t like peace and trade with India and Afghanistan and there are people who want to bring in China through Gwadar and there are people who want to keep China off Arabian sea at all costs and they all are playing inside Pakistan. If this turns into open hostilities then the first casualty will be this peace process.
4- Watch out for religious proxies. They have the potential to create a permanent state of chaos.
5- Pakistan’s role in Afghan peace process will be a first litmus test
The road to peace and prosperity lies right in front. However, this can only be traversed if all the elements that are called ‘state’ in Pakistan get on board and quickly.
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