Rajiv Kumar

Why we must engage with Pak

RAJIV KUMAR | Updated on March 09, 2018

Removing non-tariff barriers to imports and investments from Pakistan and relaxing the visa regime for business travel will help improve bilateral relations.   -  The Hindu

National security, vis-à-vis Pakistan in particular, is better achieved by influencing civil society and business communities in our neighbourhood — not by being reactive and defensive.

I have been gratified by the unexpectedly large response to my previous column on the prospects of Indo-Pak commercial relations. Not all of it has been supportive of my optimism about these prospects. But, clearly, there is interest, despite the misperception and lack of adequate understanding of India's options in this strategically important relationship. Hence, this sequel.

The response I received can be put in three categories. First, that the red-carpet treatment given to the visiting Pakistan Commerce Minister and my own rather over-enthusiastic view of future possibilities reflect a north-Indian fixation with Pakistan. These readers argue that Indo-Pakistan relations are not a priority for all of India.


Look at Pakistan from the south of the Vindhyas, and priorities and options would seem very different. For that matter, even our relations with China are perceived differently from the Deccan or the Nilgiris. From a ‘Southern Indian' view, the best course would be leave Pakistan well alone and let it stew in its own juice. Benign neglect would be the best policy option.

The second set of readers wanted me take a more balanced view of future prospects in the light of the track record of bilateral relations. These are marked by rising bonhomie for a period, only to be brought crashing down by deliberate and cussed action on the part of the malignant segment of the Pakistani establishment.

This segment (read ISI), which does not want the relations to improve beyond a point, would rather have the kettle simmering and boiling over from time to time. These readers warned me that given ISI's implacable opposition to a real improvement in Indo-Pak ties, and the organisation's huge reach and influence in Pakistani society and statecraft, it is fruitless to pursue an agenda of greater cooperation between these two nuclear-armed Siamese twins, joined at the Rann of Kutch.

Strategic interests

The third set of responses not only mocked my optimism but wished for, and indeed felt sure about, a coming implosion of Pakistan, which according to them was already a failed state. A few, more confident of India's strategic prowess than they should be, wanted the Indian government to hasten the implosion as that would serve India's strategic interests.

The first and third sets of arguments are relatively easy to handle. First, would the proposed southern Indian attitude of neglect help India's own interests? I am afraid not. Issues such as optimal utilisation of west Himalayan rivers, increasing desertification in Rajasthan and Punjab, and lack of over-land access to West Asian and Central Asian hydrocarbon resources and access to their markets, for example, cannot be resolved without working together with Pakistan.

Benign neglect of Pakistan could surely result in a malignant spread of fundamentalism on both sides of the border. That will not help our cause. And an imploding Pakistan will send waves of refugees across the borders with fairly horrific consequences. This implosion will surely be accompanied by the establishment of a victorious jihadi state in both NWFP and the Punjab.

This will resonate with jihadi groups here in our midst; the ideology calling for the establishment of a pan-Islamic state will get a boost.

The Pakistani army will suffer a real blow to its credibility, legitimacy and pride and will break up in many ways. But that will imply the emergence of an independent fully armed hard-core jihadi army which will see its raison d'etre as spreading the movement further, as fast as possible and at any cost. Does that sound like a better future for India?

Countervailing forces

The second response, which has the unfortunate history of the sub-continent on its side and sounds reasonable, is effectively a call for inaction. It is more difficult to counter, as historical evidence is in its favour. But to accept it and therefore stop trying completely, is to accept that the ISI is indeed all-powerful and can effectively control the destiny of this region with its 1.5 billion people — 99 per cent of whom do not share the ISI's view of their future.

The Indian state, and indeed Indian business and India's middle class, cannot let down the entire South Asian people. Not for the cause of charity or selfless behaviour. But because our own destiny is tied inextricably to whether or not we can defeat the nefarious designs of a minute segment of South Asian society which, in its utter cynicism and pursuit of very narrow self-interest, will stop at nothing. The only option, therefore, is to do whatever it takes to defeat the nefarious designs of this small coterie. The twofold response to counter this ‘low temperature war' by both covert and overt means is to one, make it increasingly expensive to launch operations designed to create chaos and enmity between the two people.

And two, to do all we can to strengthen the business community and civil society in Pakistan. This will allow them to emerge as viable and robust counter-vailing forces to Rawalpindi. In present-day operational terms this translates into unilaterally removing the non-tariff barriers to imports and investments from Pakistan, relaxing the visa regime for business travellers and hugely expanding the contacts between all segments of civil society.

Let us remember that our national security will be achieved when we can influence the decisions in our neighbourhood and not simply by being reactive and defensive.

(The author is Director-General, Ficci. The views are personal. >blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

Published on October 14, 2011

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