Losing the narrative

Munir Akram

IN a review of Anatol Lieven’s book Pakistan: A Hard Country, in the Guardian of May 1, 2011, Pankaj Mishra wrote:
“[…] [A]n un-blinkered vision of South Asia would feature a country whose fanatically ideological government in 1998 conducted nuclear tests, threatened its neighbour with all-out war and, four years later, presided over the massacre of 2,000 members of a religious minority. Long embattled against secessionist insurgencies […], the ‘flailing’ state […] now struggles to contain a militant movement in its heartland. It is also where thousands of women are killed every year for failing to bring sufficient dowry and nearly 200,000 farmers have committed suicide in the past decade.” Mishra added: “This country is not Pakistan; it is India.”
The review noted that India has revamped its Western image in a most successful rebranding and through one of “the cleverest PR campaigns.” On the other hand, Pakistan (which both Lieven and Christophe Jaffrelot, in his book The Pakistan Paradox, describe as a country with a surprisingly resilient society and institutions, despite a history of mis-governance) seems to have “lost the narrative”.
The joint statement issued in Ufa is the clearest and most recent confirmation of this unfortunate reality.
Normalisation between Pakistan and India is an imperative. But this can be achieved only if Pakistan pursues an equal relationship with clarity, confidence and persistence.

Normalisation between Pakistan and India can be achieved only if Pakistan pursues an equal relationship.

In recent interactions with India, Pakistan’s political leaders have displayed none of these attributes. They are being played like a fiddle by Modi.
Below are the essential aims Pakistan needs to project and promote vis-à-vis India.

Military balance:
India’s current military build-up poses an ever growing threat to Pakistan’s security and needs to be neutralised, either through arms control or a reciprocal defensive build-up.
To those, like the US, who argue that this is not aimed against Pakistan, it should be sufficient to point out that almost all of India’s capabilities are deployed against Pakistan; its military doctrines are Pakistan-specific; and threats of aggression against Pakistan are persistent and current.
Pakistan should propose bold and specific arms-control measures to India, bilaterally and through multilateral channels. The onus for refusal should rest on New Delhi. Simultaneously, Pakistan cannot be deterred by Western admonishments from taking measures, including short- and long-range missiles, to deter Indian aggression or adventurism.

Kashmir remains a flashpoint for another Pakistan-India conflict. It cannot be put on a back channel. The ongoing exchanges along the Line of Control can easily escalate. Modi’s policies virtually ensure that, sooner rather than later, there will be another Kashmiri revolt. Islamabad would not be able to restrain support flowing to a new Kashmiri insurgency even if it wanted to. It is for New Delhi to halt its repression and human rights abuses, de-militarise Kashmir and engage in a constructive dialogue with Pakistan. This can avert a Kashmiri eruption and a Pakistan-India crisis.

Pakistan is the major victim of terrorism in South Asia, with by some accounts 50,000 casualties since the US-led incursion into Afghanistan. Much of this terrorism has been sponsored or supported by India, as admitted recently by BJP leaders. India should not be allowed to adopt the victim’s mantle.

In Ufa, Pakistan should have insisted on reflecting Indian support to the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), insisted on an inquiry into the Samjhauta Express incident, and clarified that the legitimate Kashmiri struggle for self-determination does not amount to terrorism.

Trade and investment:
Trade with India can be mutually beneficial, especially in the exchange of natural resources and food, gas and energy supplies (from Iran and Central Asia). In manufactures, India competes with Pakistan and enjoys the advantage of size and a host of protections.
Similarly, the Indian investment regime is far more restrictive than that of Pakistan. The field has to be levelled before bilateral trade and investment can be fully opened.

Transit through Pakistan to central and west Asia is a major Indian priority (although it is building an alternate route from Chabahar in Iran). Pakistan cannot provide such transit to India until the issue of Indian subversion through the BLA and the TTP has been resolved. Even after that, Pakistan should pose two conditions: one, that the upgradation of transit facilities involved should be financed by India or the regional countries involved (as China is doing on the Economic Corridor); and, two, that Pakistan should be accorded reciprocal rights for transit to Nepal and Bangladesh through India.

Access to water is fast emerging as an existential issue for Pakistan (and for India). To avoid food and ecological disasters, and a possible conflict, it has become vital for the two countries to live up to the principle of the equitable sharing of water enshrined in the Indus Waters Treaty. Pakistan must secure this aim bilaterally and through all available international avenues.

Composite agenda:
It is self-evident that all the issues between Pakistan and India are interlinked and interdependent. Progress on some will facilitate movement on others; and vice versa. The security issue and Kashmir were rightly accorded higher priority when the agenda for the composite dialogue was framed. The rationale for this priority is, if anything, more compelling today. It is purblind to restrict attention to terrorism only.

Foreign policy management:
The foreign policy lapse reflected in the Ufa statement is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident. There have been several other demonstrations of a naïve and simplistic approach to foreign affairs.

As has been noted in the Pakistani media, it reflects a dysfunction. The current complex structure at the apex of the foreign ministry is no doubt a major problem. An even larger problem is the inability of the professional foreign service to render good advice to the political leadership and/or the unwillingness of the leadership to accept it.

It is imperative to ‘normalise’ the structure, restore the primacy of the professional foreign service, integrate the security establishment into policymaking and appoint someone with the experience and independence required to formulate and project a foreign policy that reflects Pakistan’s vital interests and objectives and preserves its dignity.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.