By all accounts, President Zardari received the loudest applause after his address to the HT Summit of world leaders. Some commentators opine that he made the right noises to please India. In fact he went beyond President Musharraf in reaching out to India. It was the right opportunity and an appropriate high profile non-official platform for him to do that. Consider his constraints. He is confronting a divided domestic constituency. He is threatened by jihaadi militants. He is pressured by an impatient Washington. He is dependent upon China that is cool to US influence in Pakistan. He faces unrest in NWFO and Baluchistan. In the light of all this he went as far as he could. It almost sounded like a desperate effort to create an opening for India to respond.
The Indian government has not responded as yet. After all it did not respond to the out-of-the box proposals thrown by Musharraf either. The wimps who misgovern India are unlikely to respond to Zardari --- unless some first secretary of some embassy advises them accordingly. But Zardari deserves a response. So recall what he said and consider what should be said to him.
Zardari declared that Pakistan would pursue a policy of "no-first use" of nuclear weapons. He went on to propose a non-nuclear South Asia. He said: "I am for a South Asian non-nuclear treaty and can get my Parliament to agree to it right away. Can you [India] get your Parliament to agree to it?"
Our reply should be: Don't get too smart. A non-nuclear South Asia would be hailed by your mentors in the West and China. Why don't you talk of a non-nuclear Asia in which China, Japan, India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran and North Korea commit themselves to it? You propose that and we will support you. Pending that, why talk about just a "no-first use" treaty? Why not joint defence between India and Pakistan as the late Ayub Khan proposed? That would, today, include nuclear weapons too!
Zardari said he was seeking enhanced trade and economic ties with India. He said: "If you can trade with China, why not with Pakistan?"
Our reply should be: Get real! If Pakistan can have most favoured nation agreement with China, why not with India? Before making glib proposals for enhanced trade, how about giving muscle to SAFTA? Put your money where your mouth is.
Zardari favoured the opening of the India-Pakistan border for trade. He said there was no need for a strict visa regime to enter each other's country. The two countries could create a special card for their people to cross the border without hitch. He said there is a little Pakistani in every Indian and a little Indian in every Pakistani.
Our reply should be: These are fine sentiments. Why not pursue them to their logical conclusion? You want visas abolished. You really think that is possible unless cross-border terrorism ends? Do you seriously deny it exists? If you can't handle it, why not seek India's cooperation? You acknowledge that there is a little Indian in every Pakistani. Is there even the tiniest Chinese in every Pakistani? You very well know our history. Then why does your government support silly proposals of making China a full member of SAARC? If you want to give adequate political expression to the cultural unity of India and Pakistan, if you want to abolish visas, if you want total nuclear security between India and Pakistan, if you want to stabilize Kashmir without altering international borders, you cannot be unaware that the only sensible option is to create an arrangement between both our nations akin to what obtains in the European Union. India and Pakistan must have a common market and joint defence. Only such a commitment in principle will help us to jointly end the scourge of terrorism. You evidently know all this. Why are you afraid of stating it? Don't wait for the political twits in the Indian government to take the initiative. The people of India and Pakistan will welcome it. Don't just fly kites, Mr Zardari. If you mean business, go the whole hog and speak up. Believe me your country doesn't have time to waste! Already think tanks in the West are redrawing the map of Pakistan.