THE debate over whether or not Pakistan should trade with India has resurfaced in recent weeks, in part due to the poor health of the economy, as well as recent suggestions that Pakistan has no not quite been able to fully achieve its objectives vis-à-vis the Kashmir conflict by degrading relations with India.
There is no doubt that the economic rationale for greater engagement with the neighborhood or the logic of geo-economic connectivity, which successive Pakistani governments have advocated and which has recently found central place in the national security policy document from the country.
But while those in favor of restoring India-Pakistan trade say it could usher in economic benefits and foster peaceful constituencies, they ignore the logic of disengagement with India.
The logic of disengagement has never been based on economics; it was based on India’s unilateral revocation of Article 370 in 2019, which changed the status of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
Pakistan argued that this violated the Simla Agreement. This status remains unchanged, as does the suffering of Kashmiris which remains singularly non-partisan in its domestic political appeal across Pakistan.
While there are many examples of antagonistic states managing to engage economically despite their differences (e.g., China and India), the dispute between India and Pakistan, as it stands, misses all. simply structural foundations on which a politically viable trade relationship can be built. to be built.
What would viable commercial links be based on?
What would such a foundation look like? To begin with, there should be (on both sides of the border) a political justification strong enough to attract and sustain democratic and institutional buy-in.
We have already seen the consequences of attempts to establish exchanges in the absence of such justification.
Two months ago, the federal cabinet’s endorsement of a new trade minister at the Pakistani diplomatic mission in New Delhi sparked outcry, although the cabinet later clarified that the post had existed for more than two years. decades.
Last year, the ECC saw its decision to import sugar, cotton and cotton yarn from India rejected by the cabinet in less than 24 hours, even though the price of these products was cheaper in India .
During Nawaz Sharif’s third government (2013-17), it was apparently the military that had reservations about Sharif moving too quickly on the trade front without sufficient movement on other political issues with India .
The purpose of telling this timeline is to illustrate that attempts to revive trade with India will always be politically contentious, to the point of being radioactive, if not compensated by a stronger political justification for re-engaging India. which enjoys a multi-party system and a multi-stakeholder consensus.
For now, the only avenue to find such justification lies in a) evidence that the political and human rights situation at J&K (which was the basis for the breakdown of ties in the first place) is improving demonstrable; or (b) evidence that the situation has ceased to deteriorate sufficiently to permit a conditional engagement window with the stated aim of resolving the Kashmir dispute.
Editorial: Trade links with India
Unfortunately, any engagement with India without either of these logics, no matter how compelling the underlying economic rationale, will not be accepted by politicians and the street.
There is also no indication that the neighboring increasingly authoritarian BJP-led regime is willing to discuss the J&K dispute bilaterally unless it does so under the narrowly defined rubric of “terrorism.” For the most part, BJP leaders and politicians have taken the unnecessarily maximalist position that J&K is India’s internal problem – a position which remains at odds with the territory’s internationally accepted contested nature and which is unacceptable to Pakistan. .
In the face of this intransigence, there is very little room for a Pakistani government – even one that enjoys both an organic political mandate and a good working relationship with the military – to make a convincing political case in for the resumption of trade. And if any government attempts to do so under the guise of political pragmatism, it will find itself mired in accusations of having abandoned the national interest and capitulated to the Modi government’s current position on Kashmir.
Connectivity and regional integration are public goods from which the whole region can benefit. In the Indo-Pakistani case in particular, there are many inescapable economic logics to move forward, starting with trade. But for trade to be a viable guarantee of peace, it is imperative that it be sufficiently politically legitimate, that is to say enjoying from the outset an unambiguous logic. Otherwise, expect political reversals or reversals symptomatic of troubled relationships.
The author is a political scientist at Tufts University.
Posted in Dawn, July 14, 2022