Conventional wisdom dictates that enhanced trade between nations binds their peoples together which helps create stable relations. But very often strategy to safeguard national interest should be dictated by unconventional wisdom. Currently the UPA government is encouraging enhanced trade with Pakistan and China in the belief that this will build confidence and defuse India’s tensions with both countries. This approach is widely acclaimed by analysts and experts. It is a policy that needs to be pursued with extreme caution. By pursuing this policy India could be walking into a trap.
|... while India is a democracy, however badly governed, both China and Pakistan are for all practical purpose dictatorships controlled by their respective armies. In democracies big business controls big media and thereby influences government policy. In dictatorships governments control big business.
Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani recently disclosed that his government had received encouragement from Beijing to increase trade ties with India. President Zardari went a step further to supplement this. He said India should follow the same approach as it does with China – allowing contentious issues to remain on the back burner while trade is allowed to flourish. This is generally hailed by experts as a pragmatic approach leading to future prospects of peace and stability. The experts and the Ministry of External Affairs should reflect. Would President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani be advancing trade ties with India without clearance from the Pakistan army? Why would Pakistan’s Generals allow enhanced trade with India? Why would their mentors in Beijing give them the nod to go ahead? The reason could be simple. India could thereby get trapped into an arrangement that would be very difficult to exit.
What our government should never forget is that while India is a democracy, however badly governed, both China and Pakistan are for all practical purpose dictatorships controlled by their respective armies. In democracies big business controls big media and thereby influences government policy. In dictatorships governments control big business. As trade between a democracy and a dictatorship grows the commercial vested interests influencing the democratic government become more powerful. In time these become unstoppable. The democratic nation becomes a prisoner of commercial interests that would sacrifice the national interest in order to protect and promote commercial profit.
Take a concrete current example. A powerful business house with close ties to China recently expanded commerce by seeking a fresh loan arranged by its Chinese collaborator from China’s State Owned Banks. The loans received by this company would be running into billions. The Indian business house has ownership and influence over India’s mainstream electronic and print media. When national interests collide with business interests, which way will the business house swing? Could not its powerful influence through media ownership and political funding tempt it to protect its business interests by subverting policy to the detriment of national interest? Are there not crucial issues between India and Pakistan as well as between India and China that need to be resolved?
Pakistan’s support for cross border terrorism, its nuclear buildup, its missile buildup, its allowing growing military presence of China in Kashmir – would all these defuse because of growing trade? China’s encroachments in Ladakh, in Himachal, in Arunachal, its threats on the South China Sea, its arms aid and sanctuary given to Indian terrorists, its arming India’s neighbours to encircle it – would all these disappear with growing trade? No. The adverse status quo for India would get frozen as trade continues to grow without these issues being resolved first. As India becomes a prisoner of the vested interests committed to close ties with China and Pakistan, this frozen status quo would eventually be legitimized. This would happen because of appeasement enforced by these vested interests which could exert powerful influence on democratic India’s official policies.
India should take a lesson from the rest of the world. Even the world’s biggest super power could not escape the trap created by trade ties greedily expanded with a dictatorship at the cost of national security. America has slid into a hole from which it does not know how to climb out. The government should seriously consider the implications of enhancing trade with China and Pakistan before basic issues with both nations have been resolved.