Our enmity with India is impractical
Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary has denied that any state actor was involved in the Mumbai attack while he has shown readiness for a joint probe.This is just one step ahead of the conventional state of denial that has characterised our spokesmen whenever presented with evidence regarding terrorists having used Pakistan’s territory to plan or launch attacks abroad. The offer has come after Zabiuddin Ansari who is in Indian custody started singing like a canary. It is in Pakistan’s vital interest to actively investigate the case to prosecute those associated with the Mumbai attack in any capacity.
Developing good neighbourly relations with India is crucial for Islamabad. Unless this is done, Pakistan will face instability, its economy will suffer and its defence expenditure will continue to skyrocket at the expense of education, health and social development.
The stability in Pakistan is tied up with peace in Afghanistan. To ensure this, there has to be cooperation, instead of rivalry, between Islamabad and New Delhi. In case the two act at cross purposes there is little hope of any enduring settlement in Kabul. Once the Nato forces are out, it will not take the Taliban long to capture power. This will lead to a number of developments harmful for Pakistan.
The return of the Taliban will boost the morale of the TTP which will redouble attacks inside Pakistan, causing enormous civilian and military casualties. This would also strengthen concerns in the US regarding the security of our nuclear arsenal and the unpredictable consequences that might follow.
Once the Taliban capture Kabul, another Northern Alliance comprising ethnic minorities will come into existence. Keeping in view the economic decline in Europe and the financial crunch being faced by the US, there is little likelihood of the international community honouring its commitment to provide the $10 billion annually which Afghanistan needs to maintain the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and to sustain an economy which is mostly dependent on the foreign presence. The downsizing of the ANSF will contribute to lawlessness. Any civil war in Afghanistan will send millions of refugees to Pakistan bringing it economy under stress, causing economic and social problem in KP and further tilting the ethnic balance in Balochistan.
Former Foreign Secretary Najmuddin Sheikh, who knows the subject more than most, has estimated that Pakistan will have to host between two million to five million Afghan refugees. These would be in addition to the five million already living here. Joint attempts by Pakistan and India will discourage others from supporting rival factions in the civil war that could be disastrous for the region.
It is ironic that while heavy army casualties are taking place along the Western border with Afghanistan, the bulk of the troops and military resources remain tied up on the Eastern border. The reason is the army’s continuous perception of India as the principal enemy of Pakistan. The TTP’s unending attacks inside heavily populated areas, on mosques, shrines and public gatherings have led to the killing of thousands of Pakistani civilians and rendered many more unable to lead a normal life. The militants have also attacked the GHQ and Mehran Base, killed several serving and retired high ranking military officers and are involved in the unending insurgency in several Fata agencies. While India might be involved here or there, the vast majority of attacks are owned by the Pakistani militant organisations or Al-Qaeda affiliates. There is a need to enter into talks with India to normalise the ties so that the troops needed on the Western border to suppress the insurgency can be released.
The defence budget is already becoming untenable. The official allocation of Rs 545 billion for 2012-2013 is considered highly misleading by defence experts. Independent estimates put the actual budget at Rs 800-900 billion, almost double the allocated amount. This is because the estimated budget does not include internal security expenditures, military pensions, interest on military loans, arms purchases, etc.
India’s military budget is roughly four to five times higher than Pakistan’s total defence allocation in absolute terms, but India allocates a lower percentage of its government expenditure (15-17 % on average) than Pakistan (actually around 25-28 %). But India’s economy is also bigger and growing much faster than Pakistan’s. Pakistan cannot afford the existing levels of military expenditures on account of its much smaller economy.
Nations do not have permanent friends or enemies. They only have permanent interests. It is time to revise the policy of hostility towards India. Bringing those who planned or executed the Mumbai carnage can act as a major confidence building measure leading to the resolution of outstanding issues step by step.
The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.