Readers would recall my oft repeated plea that India should adopt the policy to either make or break the peace dialogue with Pakistan. For decades successive governments have failed to choose either the soft or the hard option for dealing with Pakistan, both frequently outlined in these columns, while India continues to bleed from terrorism. With the ascent of Mr. Nawaz Sharif to post of Prime Minister of Pakistan once again hope arose that a genuine breakthrough for peace and normalcy would arise.
Mr. Sharif made all the right noises before and after assuming office. India responded positively and a proposal to economically integrate both nations took root after Pakistan’s Punjab Chief Minister Mr. Shahbaz Sharif met an Indian team of Petroleum Ministry officials to explore prospects of India supplying electricity to power-starved Lahore. This appeared a most welcome start.
But then appeared the revelation that the Pakistan government had given enormous funds to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, parent organization of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, headed by Hafiz Saeed who, it might be recalled, escaped UN sanctions for abetting terrorism only because China exercised its veto to protect him.
The Lashkar was responsible for the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai which Mr. Sharif had promised will be sincerely addressed. This largesse to Hafiz Saeed understandably revived doubts about Pakistan’s real intentions. This writer appreciates that for electoral gain politicians in India and Pakistan are known to cooperate with terrorist and insurgent outfits. It may well be that Mr. Sharif’s party received significant help from such outfits in the recent poll. But if Mr. Sharif is at all earnest about establishing normalcy with India he must be prepared to take hard and unpopular decisions. It will be difficult for even the most ardent peaceniks in India to resist public pressure to break the peace dialogue and adopt the hard option with Pakistan.
Vested interests in Pakistan might sneer at the prospect of India adopting a hard option. One would earnestly advise them to reappraise the prospects of their nation. Pakistan as the hub of global terror has outlived its utility to even powers that mentored such terrorism. The world has moved on. Pakistan can be deemed expendable if it fails to check terrorism that is destroying more lives in Pakistan itself than even in India. A section of Pakistani leaders might be relying upon unending Chinese support for their nation to survive. They need to reflect and recall a few hard truths.
Events in the Arab world suggest that serious restructuring of nation states in Asia is under way. Not only are Sunni-Shiite differences being resolved, even the irrational national boundaries bequeathed by the colonial era that divide people with common ethnicity and culture are being questioned. In this regard Pakistani leaders would do well to reflect upon the concept of the New Middle East endorsed in principle by former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Pentagon analyst Colonel Ralph Peters prepared the map outlining the concept. That map should be studied. It Balkanizes Pakistan.
If Pakistani leaders draw exaggerated comfort from support by Beijing they should know that this support will not continue without a price. China above all else is focused on its economy. The Beijing government no longer needs to encourage terrorism to the same degree it used to. China’s growth depends heavily upon acquiring natural resources and energy supplies. For that Beijing requires access to West Asia through Baluchistan and the rights to explore minerals in both Baluchistan and Afghanistan. For that, friendship with Pakistan is vital. But were Pakistan to break up Beijing’s core interests would not be affected adversely if Baluchistan became independent, as the Ralph Peters New Middle East map indicates.
I will not repeat my personal conversation with Mr. Qian Qichen who went on to become China’s Foreign Minister and Vice President three decades ago. Suffice to say that if Chinese leaders as reputed take a long term view that does not alter with time, Pakistan should not be complacent.
Were Pakistan to persist with a negative approach that leads to its implosion, results would be calamitous, messy and tragic. One still hopes and believes that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will rise to the challenge and summon the will and vision to address the problem of terrorism with statesmanlike wisdom.