Visiting US Secretary of State Mr. John Kerry arrives at a critical time for the region. With US depletion of troops in Afghanistan just a few months away, how the aftermath of the withdrawal is handled will be of crucial importance. Mr. Kerry urged New Delhi to play a pro-active role in Afghanistan and help improve its electoral system. What Mr. Kerry diplomatically avoided mentioning was how his proposal would be taken by Islamabad. The visiting dignitary did however urge closer ties between New Delhi and Islamabad going so far as to suggest that the approach of the West to this region would factor on that aspect. He said that the international community would invest in the region if India and Pakistan “can confidently invest in each other”.
Mr. Kerry was voicing conventional wisdom. Closer economic ties creates vested interest between peoples to become closer. Indian authorities are already working on this proposition. New Delhi is busy preparing a new roadmap for trade normalization with Pakistan and India’s Commerce Minister Mr. Anand Sharma has discussed the issue with Pakistan High Commissioner Mr. Salman Bashir. Doubtless the attempt to forge trade ties between India and Pakistan will gladden Washington.
This approach to Indo-Pakistan normalization is horribly flawed. It is dictated by the conventional wisdom dished out by big business which perceives prospects of stability and progress dependent wholly on the market by altogether disregarding political realities. In the context of Indo-Pakistan relations the attempt to normalize trade is like putting the cart before the horse. Unless the trust deficit is removed improved trade will always remain hostage to terrorists who could ruin the normalization process with a single act. It has happened before. It can happen again.
New Delhi should advise Washington to exert its influence in every conceivable way to help create a South Asian Union based upon federal democracy, joint defence and common market. It can be confidently stated that unless that is done there is no way normalization and stability can be established in the region without altering existing international borders. Restructuring international borders can result in unprecedented bloodshed and mayhem.
Even Afghanistan will graduate to modernism only after it introduces federalism. Commenting on the prospect of the Taliban sharing power in the government after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, former Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan Mr. Vivek Katju wrote:
“The Taliban are part of the Afghan landscape but their vision of the country’s future is flawed for it is exclusionary, not inclusive of Afghanistan’s diversities. Our diplomacy while remaining realistic and flexible must not be oblivious of this aspect.”
Because our diplomacy should consider this aspect did this writer reiterate that Afghanistan should create the new proposed province of Khorasan in which all the non-Pashtun tribes of northern and central Afghanistan could exercise power. This proposal had been indirectly suggested also by former US Ambassador and security analyst Mr. Robert Blackwill. If such a province were created in the context of a South Asian Union as proposed in these columns the Pashtuns would be more than compensated for their reduced authority in northern Afghanistan by the cultural and economic access to their fellow tribes in the Khyber Pakhtunwha province of Pakistan due to free movement of peoples and goods in the proposed South Asian Union.
However there is a long way to go before a South Asian Union can be established. India and Pakistan would have to play the key role to achieve it. Both nations can only succeed if the trust deficit between them is removed. That can only be done if terrorism is stamped out. To eliminate terrorism which is hurting Pakistan more than it hurts India it is necessary for the armed forces and security agencies of both governments to cooperate and jointly confront the challenge. That is why the proposal to normalize trade should be put in cold storage.
New Delhi and Islamabad must first take concrete steps towards eliminating terrorism which can only be accomplished through joint defence. Therefore New Delhi should thank Mr. Kerry for his advice by proffering him advice of its own. The region will only normalize and stabilize after the establishment of a South Asian Union. And such a Union will only emerge if New Delhi and Islamabad agree in principle to create joint defence between both nations and take concrete steps for achieving it.
First things first, Mr. Kerry!