Monday, 9 April 2012

Zardari's India Visit - Act II in Pakistan's Surrender

So Pakistani President Zardari has come and gone. A state visit thinly disguised as a private one, this is one that has raised the usual cautious optimism.

It has also prompted the weary cynicism that comes from repeated disappointment. As that cynical blogger has pointed out,

- Zardari cannot rein in his army and the ISI;
- He cannot call back the jihadists unleashed upon this country (India) by his predecessors and the army;
- He cannot stop or hand over Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and other terrorists operating with impunity from Pakistani soil; and [so]
- [...] he cannot deliver on his promise of living peacefully with India.

He's superficially right. However, I think this time is fundamentally different.

I don't believe Zardari is going to bring about a change in the Pakistani mindset towards India. If anything, it's the other way around. I think the Pakistani mindset has already been altered by harsh circumstance in recent months, which is why Zardari has been sent to India with an olive branch. The presidential visit is in fact the second straw in the wind that indicates a welcome Pakistani realism. The first was the decision by Pakistan to liberalise trade with India and move towards reciprocity by granting Most Favoured Nation status to India by the end of 2012. They need the economic lifeline that an open trade border with India will give them - cheaper imports and a large market for exports.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, I have become extremely conscious of the role economics has to play in the destiny of nations. Once you're bankrupt, your options are pretty much limited to surrender and implosion. Pakistan is bankrupt, make no mistake about it. The 65-year war with India is over, and Pakistan has lost. What we're seeing is the surrender dance.

India needs to play its cards right to ensure that Pakistan has a "soft landing", so to speak. In hostility, Pakistanis have enjoyed the illusion of parity with India. In peace, they cannot escape the reality that India is an order of magnitude bigger on any scale. They will not take it well. Some elements may adopt a "death-before-dishonour" approach to derail the process of surrender (for that is what this is), and trigger one last, violent engagement that may even go nuclear. While the process overall is going India's way, that is the one aspect to watch out for that could spoil the party.

In business, acquisitions are often termed "mergers" to assuage egos in the corporation being taken over. India must adopt a similar stance in its PR and take care not to display triumphalism at the recent turn of events. Thankfully, we may not need to worry on that score. The mild, modest and totally self-effacing Manmohan Singh is probably the best person to shepherd the two countries into their new and extremely unequal relationship.

If the trend continues without disturbance, culminating in the collapse of the only counterweight to India in South Asia, we will be seeing a dramatically altered power structure in Asia. India will have the luxury of playing off the core powers (China, Russia and Iran) against the peripheral powers (the West) to its own advantage. Has the Indian foreign policy establishment gamed this scenario, and are they prepared to exploit it? The future is here now.
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