Archive for the ‘ SAARC ’ Category

Pakistan Should Open Itself Up to India

By Aakar Patel for Firstpost

India and Pakistan have a reciprocal relationship. If one does something to the other, send back a spying diplomat for instance, the other imitates this and also sends one back. One country’s visa regime mirrors the other’s. We would rather harm ourselves by an act that is imitative than let the other side get away.

The world sees this behaviour as childish, perhaps rightly.

India acted maturely in opening up trade unilaterally a few years ago. This is why the shelves of Thom’s Cafe and Bakery, where I shop for groceries in Bangalore, are filled with Shan Masala boxes.

Now an opportunity exists for Pakistan to take the lead.

Islamabad should open up its borders and give Indian tourists visas on arrival. The same conditions under which Indians are allowed into Sri Lanka and Nepal and Bhutan. A quick stamp on the passport and that’s it.

Vast crowds of Indians will come to Pakistan.

Sikhs on pilgrimage to Nankana Sahib and to see Ranjit Singh’s masoleum (totally empty when I went there 10 years ago) next to Lahore fort.

Hindus who want to see the Indus, after which their country is named, and their faith. Muslims and Hindus who want to visit Pak Pattan, Data Saheb, and the shrines of Rukn-e-Alam and Bahauddin Zakariya.

Pakistanis will be amazed by how many Hindus worship at Muslim shrines. Punjabis will come and see the cities of Lahore and Pindi, of which they have only heard about from their grandparents. India’s wealthy Sindhi community will come to Sukkur, Hyderabad and Karachi.

Three Muslim communities – Memons, Bohras and Khojas – have their headquarters in India. They have family ties to Karachi and also business interests that will benefit from regular visits.

Deoband and Nadwa scholars can exchange views with Pakistan’s ulema.

The package tour business, which is big in India, will bring in large numbers who might see a Pakistan different from the one in their imagination. College and school excursions, which are also big in India, will find new venues to take their students to.

Bollywood will be interested in new settings to shoot, and access to the cities will open up plot-lines.

As an intelligent piece in The Friday Times a few years ago noted, Indian tourists will blend in, dress modestly, not expect too much, be at home with the food and do shopping on a healthy scale.

The exchange rate of the Pakistani Rupee, whose value is a little over half that of the Indian Rupee, will give them a bigger budget than they have at home.

The Hindu middle class, especially Bengali and Gujarati, are adventurous travellers and will not be easily put off by a couple of bomb blasts as westerners will. Because Indian women are not secluded, whole families will come, especially if non-airplane routes such as road and rail are opened. Pakistanis will not be threatened by middle aged Indian men and women with squealing kids about them.

It will not be possible, given the mischief in Mumbai and in Parliament, for India to freely let Pakistanis enter. So reciprocality must not be expected immediately. But that shouldn’t be seen as a problem.

Pakistan has already accepted a break in the tit-for-tat relationship. Pakistan’s cricket team is likely to play in India while there’s no chance that India’s players will come to Pakistan. No other cricketing nation is willing either and so it’s not about Indian obstinacy in this case. Just the circumstances, which can be altered by a little wisdom.

It’s a profitable opportunity for Pakistan to benefit economically, improve its image as a safe place and normalise relations with India. Three things gained while nothing is lost.

Pakistan should open itself up to Indians without waiting for reciprocity. And it should do this in self interest.

India, Pakistan Try ‘Trade Diplomacy’

As Reported by AFP

India and Pakistan, still at loggerheads on Kashmir and no closer to a full peace deal, are channeling their efforts into increasing trade in the hope that business can bring them together.

31-year-old Karachi food trader Kashif Gul Memom is among those eager to seize the opportunities offered by easier links between the estranged neighbours, which have fought three wars since independence in 1947.

“This is a change for the good. It’s an exciting time,” said Memom, one of the generation born after the painful partition of the subcontinent that gave birth to India and the Islamic republic of Pakistan.

“My generation of business people is putting the past behind us. We’re looking to the future, India is such a huge market for us,” Memom told AFP while at the largest ever Pakistani trade fair held in India.

The improved relations between the nuclear-armed rivals stem from Pakistan’s decision to grant India “Most Favoured Nation (MFN)” status by year end, meaning Indian exports will be treated the same as those from other nations.

In further progress, the neighbours opened a second trading gate in April along their heavily militarised border, boosting the number of trucks able to cross daily to 600 from 150.

India now also says it is ready to end a ban on investment from Pakistan and the countries are planning to allow multiple-entry business visas to spur exchanges — a key demand by company executives.

The warming commercial ties underline the new relevance of the private sector in the peace process, with prospects still low for any swift settlement of the “core issue” of the nations’ competing claims to Kashmir. The divided Himalayan territory has been the trigger of two of their three wars since independence.

Indian and Pakistani officials have been looking at the so-called “China option” as a model, with deepening economic engagement seen by experts as crucial to establishing lasting peace in the troubled region.

Beijing and New Delhi have been pursuing stronger economic ties while resolving outstanding political issues, such as a festering border dispute that erupted into a brief, bloody war in the 1960s.

“There is no other option but economic partnership between India and Pakistan — this leads on to other partnerships,” Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said at the April trade fair in Delhi, a follow-on to a similar venture in Lahore earlier in the year.

“We have to recognise our true trade potential and leave our children with a legacy that ensures prosperity, harmony and peace.”
Some Pakistani businesses have protested against the trade opening, fearing they may be swamped by cheaper Indian goods, especially in drugs, auto parts and consumer goods. But others eye the possibilities India’s market offers.

“India with 1.2 billion people gives us great potential,” Mian Ahad, one of Pakistan’s leading furniture designers, told AFP.
Indian businessmen are equally enthusiastic, saying there is an opportunity for trade in areas from agriculture, information technology, pharmaceuticals, and engineering to chemicals.

Official bilateral trade between India and Pakistan is just $2.7 billion and heavily tilted in New Delhi’s favour.
But Indian business chamber Assocham estimates up to $10 billion worth of goods are routed illicitly — carried by donkeys through Afghanistan or shipped by container from Singapore and the Gulf.

Indian commerce secretary Rahul Khullar told AFP that Pakistan’s decision to grant India MFN status by the end of the year was “the game-changer.”
MFN status will mean India can export 6,800 items to Pakistan, up from around 2,000 at present, and the countries aim to boost bilateral trade to $6 billion within three years.

“I’m cautiously optimistic. Commerce is an excellent way to bring countries together,” Indian strategic analyst Uday Bhaskar told AFP.
“Once you institutionalise trade, it becomes hard to slow the momentum for cross-border exchanges. People say if there are onions or cement or sugar available next door, why can’t I have them? And why can’t I travel there too?”

India and Pakistan: The Truth of the One Nation Theory

By Aakar Patel for FirstPost

The first time I came to Pakistan, I was taken aback at how good some of the infrastructure was. The airports at Karachi and Lahore were small, but they were efficient and well designed. I think my host told me the Japanese had built one or both of them, and those airports were a very different thing from the ones I had just taken off from in India.

This was when the government made the airports and as with all things the Indian government takes up, our airports were clumsy and barely functional. But a few years later this changed. Today the airports at Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore are pretty good. They’re not world class (nothing in India can ever be), but they are not embarrassing as the earlier ones were.

The differences that I had thought were significant turned out not to be so.

This led me to think of how similar we were as nations. Not in the sense that Mohd Ali Jinnah meant. I think it is fairly obvious that the character of India and of Pakistan is different when we observe their constitutions. India’s secularism is fundamentally Hindu in its nature. Pakistans constitution is Islamic by design and in appearance.

Though this is an important aspect of nationhood, however, it is only one aspect.

What I mean is how we are one nation in all the negative aspects. Our neighbourhoods and streets are among the most shameful in the world, because we are selfish and blind to the concern of others. Delhi’s drivers are as terrible as those in Lahore (and the women of Delhi and Lahore would concur on the behaviour of the loutish men of those cities). Half of us are illiterate and the half who are literate don’t really read much. The comments sections of Indian and Pakistani websites are the most dreadful in the world, without qualification. Hateful and pedantic, the product of minds who are only functionally literate. We think time will bring some big change in our society but it isn’t easy to see where this change is going to come from.

I know of few other nations where people would not be embarrassed at the thought of keeping servants. Few cultures would be so unaffected, so uncaring of privacy to not mind the constant presence of the servant in the house. I am not even talking about the bestial manner in which we treat them, because every reader of this piece, whether Indian or Pakistani already knows what I mean.

We divide ourselves into nations based on things like which animal the other eats or does not eat. The outsider probably sees no difference between us, and rightly.

We produce very little of meaning to the outside world, and it is tough to think of what our contribution is to the nations from whom we take so much. In science and technology we have nothing to offer the West, despite the boasts of Indians that we gave the world Arabic numerals and zero (I agree with that; we have given the world zero).

Pakistanis stake claim to Islams golden age. Daily Jang columnist Hassan Nisar often takes up this point. He says that the Arabs laugh when Pakistanis owns Islams achievements. What aspect of the conquest of Spain or the scientific revolution in Baghdad did Punjabis and Sindhis participate in?
To the world we are one people in that sense.

My friend Col Iftikhar, from Musharrafs batch in the Pakistan Military Academy, said he discovered this horrifying fact when he went to Mecca a few decades ago for Haj. He met some Saudis, one of whom asked him where he was from. Lahore, said Ifti. Where’s that, the Saudi asked (this was in the 70s). Pakistan, said Ifti proudly. Where’s that, the puzzled Saudi asked. Ifti took out a map and pointed. Ah, said the Saudi to his friends, he’s Hindi.

Our problems are so primitive that they should make us stop and repair ourselves immediately. But they don’t seem to affect us at all. Our media carry on like we are normal people. Reading the militant bombast of the strategic affairs experts in the newspapers of these two nations, the outsider would never suspect that these were two nations unable to even keep their public toilets clean.

Pakistan Leader’s India Visit Hailed For Its Symbolism

By Mark Magnier for The Los Angeles Times

Pakistan’s president arrived in India on Sunday, the first official visit one leader of the wary neighbors has paid to the other nation in seven years. No breakthroughs were announced, but both sides hailed the meeting as a sign of easing tensions along one of the world’s most dangerous borders.

Spinmeisters on both sides worked overtime to lower public expectations of the “private” trip that saw Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh discuss the 2008 terrorist attack on the Indian city of Mumbai, modest if expanding trade links, the disputed territory of Kashmir and efforts to bring various militants to justice.

The Pakistani president then visited a famous Muslim shrine for Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti, offering a $1-million contribution.

“I am very satisfied with the outcome of this visit,” Singh said. “The relations between India and Pakistan should become normal — that is our common desire.”

The rapid-fire luncheon and shrine visit weren’t enough to overturn long-standing distrust between the nuclear neighbors, however, as summed up in a headline in India’s Mail Today tabloid newspaper: “Eat, Pray, No Love.”

The meeting is part of an apparent effort to follow the diplomatic model in place between India and China, which fought a war in 1962 over their disputed border: Put aside the most nettlesome issues for the time being and focus on building investment and trade links that benefit both sides.

This year, India and Pakistan approved a most-favored-nation agreement, lowering taxes that impede trade. Although India had offered this benefit to Pakistan in 1996, it wasn’t reciprocated until recently. Official two-way trade of about $2.6 billion is heavily weighted in India’s favor.

Sunday’s one-day visit was heavy on symbolism if not on substance. Zardari invited Singh for a reciprocal visit to Pakistan, which the Indian leader accepted, although no date was set. Zardari’s 23-year-old son, Bilawal, invited ruling Congress Party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi to Pakistan, which was also accepted, again with no date set.

On other fronts, both sides agreed in principle to ease visa restrictions. India offered its assistance in the wake of this weekend’s massive avalanche in the Siachen Glacier area, which buried about 130 people on the Pakistani-controlled side of the border in disputed Kashmir. And both sides did lots of glad-handing for the cameras.

“We had fruitful bilateral talks,” Zardari said. We “hope to meet on Pakistani soil very soon.”

But any bid to bring to justice those who planned the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed at least 166 people was sidestepped. India has long blamed Pakistani-based groups for plotting the attack.

Last week, Washington offered a $10-million reward for information leading to the capture of one Pakistani militant leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who enjoys widespread support in Pakistan.

Analysts on both sides of the divide welcomed the gradual thaw even as they acknowledged its slow pace. That no date was set for a return visit, and that Congress Party head Sonia Gandhi — characterized by some as India’s real leader behind the scenes — didn’t meet Zardari or attend the lunch, suggests the Indian government is wary of getting too far ahead of public opinion, some observers said.

“There have been some useful steps forward,” said B. Raman, director of Chennai’s Institute for Topical Studies and a former Indian intelligence officer on the Pakistan desk. “But the government has taken a cautious line.”

The fact that Zardari, 56, made the trip at all suggests that Pakistan’s military realizes improved relations are in its interest, added Talat Masood, an analyst and retired Pakistani general.

“They’re overstretched, realize the economy’s in a shambles and that you can’t have a genuine defense without a good economy,” Masood said. “It’s very sad in a way, that the process has been held hostage to jihadi groups and hard-rightists on both sides.”

Singh, 79, heading a weak government beset by corruption scandals, has pushed for improved ties with Pakistan in a bid to secure a legacy, analysts on both sides said. “Prime Minister Singh realizes he’s only going to be there a few more months,” said Masood. “He wants to do something positive so he’s remembered.”

Pakistani Troops Dig for 135 Missing in Avalanche

By Chris Brummitt for The Associated Press

Pakistani soldiers dug into a massive avalanche in a mountain battleground close to the Indian border on Saturday, searching for at least 135 people buried when the wall of snow engulfed a military complex.

More than 12 hours after the disaster at the entrance to the Siachen Glacier, no survivors had been found.

“We are waiting for news and keeping our fingers crossed,” said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.

Hundreds of troops, sniffer dogs and mechanical equipment were at the scene, but were struggling to make much headway into the avalanche, which crashed down onto the rear headquarters building in the Gayari sector early in the morning, burying it under some 21 meters (70 feet) of snow, Abbas said.

“It’s on a massive scale,” he added. “Everything is completely covered.”

The military said in a statement that at least 124 soldiers and 11 civilian contractors were missing.

Siachen is on the northern tip of the divided Kashmir region claimed by both India and Pakistan.

The accident highlighted the risks of deploying troops to one of the most inhospitable places on earth.

The thousands of troops from both nations stationed there brave viciously cold temperatures, altitude sickness, high winds and isolation for months at a time. Troops have been deployed at elevations of up to 6,700 meters (22,000 feet) and have skirmished intermittently since 1984, though the area has been quiet since a cease-fire in 2003. The glacier is known as the world’s highest battlefield.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani expressed his shock at the incident, which he said “would in no way would undermine the high morale of soldiers and officers.”

The headquarters in Gayari, situated at around 4,572 meters (15,000 feet) is the main gateway through which troops and supplies pass on their to other more remote outposts in the sector. It is situated in a valley between two high mountains, close to a military hospital, according to an officer who was stationed there in 2003.

“I can’t comprehend how an avalanche can reach that place,” said the officer, who didn’t give his name because he is not authorized to speak to the media. “It was supposed to be safe.”

More soldiers have died from the weather than combat on the glacier, which was uninhabited before troops moved there.

Conflict there began in 1984 when India occupied the heights of the 78-kilometer (49-mile)-long glacier, fearing Pakistan wanted to claim the territory. Pakistan also deployed its troops. Both armies remain entrenched despite the cease-fire, costing the poverty-stricken countries many millions of dollars each year.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since the partition of the subcontinent on independence from Britain in 1947. Two of the wars have been over Kashmir, which both claim in its entirety.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- The death of these 135 and allegedly more soldiers should prove to be a defining moment for Pakistan in regards to the urgency of peace with India just as the death of the 24 killed by “friendly” NATO attack that killed so many near the Afghanistan border last November.  It is high time India and Pakistan find a way to make peace and end this 60+ year battle and hatred with ourselves as we are one people.  This may not completely apply for India, but the ONLY way to fix EVERYTHING that ails Pakistan is a peace treaty with India~ RIP to the patriots of my sacred land~ MM

Why President Zardari’s Visit Is A Small Bonus

By Soutik Biswas for The BBC

Hope is not a policy, but neither is despair, as South Asia expert Stephen Cohen says in a recent essay on Pakistan.

So it is with relations between India and Pakistan.

The past few days have shown how fragile the relationship can be – even as India welcomed President Asif Ali Zardari’s private trip to India on Sunday – the first by a Pakistani head of state for seven years – and PM Manmohan Singh invited him for lunch, the $10m US bounty for Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, provoked the cleric to openly launch a fresh attack against India (and the US).

But people live in hope, so Indian media is gung-ho about Mr Zardari’s visit.

They say the Pakistani president must be applauded for trying to end trade discrimination against India, easing petroleum imports from across the border, and moving towards a liberal visa deal.

“Under Mr Zardari’s watch, India and Pakistan are considering a sweeping agenda for economic co-operation for the first time in decades. The prime minister has every reason to welcome Mr Zardari warmly and consider the next steps in consolidating the unexpected movement in bilateral relations,” the Indian Express wrote.

Analyst C Raja Mohan believes Mr Singh must make an official trip to Pakistan after his meeting with Mr Zardari. “For his part,” he wrote, “Mr Singh should convey to Mr Zardari his readiness to move as fast and as far as the Pakistan president is willing to go.” Others like Jyoti Malhotra actually find Mr Zardari’s visit to the shrine of a famous Sufi Muslim saint in Rajasthan loaded with symbolism in these troubled times. “Clearly, Mr Zardari has stolen an imaginative moment from the bitter-sullen history of India-Pakistan, by asking to come to pay his respects to a cherished and much-beloved saint across the Indian subcontinent,” she wrote.

The relations between two neighbours remain complex. A 2010 Pew survey found 53% of the respondents in Pakistan chose India as the greater threat to their country, and only 26% chose the Taliban and al-Qaeda. At the same time 72% said it was important to improve relations with India, and about 75% wanted more trade relations and talks with India.

Pundits like Mr Cohen believe that it will “take the [Pakistan] army’s compliance, strong political leadership, and resolutely independent-minded foreign ministers to secure any significant shift of approach towards India”.

None of this appears to be in much evidence at the moment.

Both countries have seriously weakened governments that makes them unable to move towards any radical confidence building measures. In the current circumstances, President Zardari’s visit can only be a small bonus. And as scholars like Kanti Bajpai suggest, India must remain patient (even if faced with another Mumbai-style attack), continue to engage with Islamabad, help the civilian government in Pakistan politically, try to resolve a few outstanding disputes like Siachen and Sir Creek, build a relationship with the army and explore the possibility of cooperating with Islamabad on the future of Afghanistan. Despair does not help mend a stormy relationship.

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