How do you hold a rogue moonbeam in your hand?

Posted on March 14, 2009. Filed under: Public Square, Uncategorized |

How do you solve a problem like Pakistan?

Well, what do you do when your radical traitor of a brother, who you swore you’d never talk to again, is now broke and seems to have a terminal disease?

You help him out, that’s what you do. You throw him a bone. Family’s family after all, isn’t it?

And that’s what India needs to be doing, if it ever hopes to live in a region that isn’t constantly hampered by strife, militancy and, as a result, sustained poverty.

Invest! Pressure the Pakistani government to begin trading and opening up the country to Indian private investors. Put money into infrastructure and civil society development.

India has already extended Most Favoured Nation status to Pakistan, although this hasn’t been reciprocated, the only such case in the world. But right now they need the help, and they’d be hard-pressed to refuse it.

But wait, aren’t they supposed to traditional be arch-enemies, sustaining a pseudo-war over Kashmir, and will never agree to work that closely, especially since the Mumbai attacks?

Well, the “tradition” of being enemies only extends to the 1930’s, when the British first started dividing the locals on the basis of religion. For a culture that prides itself on unity in diversity for thousands of years, 80 shouldn’t mean much.

Indians and Pakistanis speak many of the same languages, although they may write them a little differently, wear the same clothes, enjoy the same movies and music, have the same obsessive passion for cricket and share the same penchant for inept politicians.

It’s only the emotional baggage left over from partition that keeps the people of the two countries apart.

So what’s keeping the two governments from working closely with each other?

As should be obvious from the events of the last few months, there’s the alarming spectre of fundamental Islamism that works closely with the Pakistani Army and the ISI to keep the two countries apart. And they’ve even managed to dictate the public mood, somehow rousing anti-India sentiments after the terrible events of the Mumbai attack.

The only way to counter the forces of jihadism, is to show that the country can succeed without fundamentalists. But it doesn’t seem likely that Pakistan will be able to do that on their own anytime soon; what with giving up the Swat valley to the Taliban, freeing A.Q. Khan and ceding more control of the NWFP to the tribes.

So they’re going to need some help.

Right now its the Americans and Chinese who are pouring money into the country. But the Yanks do it despite widespread opposition from the Pakistani populace, and also follow their own objectives in the region, having sunk $15 billion in the last 3 years without much to show for it. And the Chinese essentially help provide them with the military capabilities to keep India at bay,  furthering the Chinese aim of being the sole superpower in Asia, without actually being invested in a stable, prosperous Pakistan.

So who does benefit from a stable Pakistan? India!

They’re already spending millions in Afghanistan; Substantial amounts of money that goes to local institutions and infrastructure to induce democracy via prosperity.

Why not apply the same model to that other western neighbour, and, better yet, tie the money to Pakistani progress on dismantling the terror networks?

The actual process would have to take place in a careful, considered manner, with constant efforts to manage the publicity of such actions, but just because it will be difficult doesn’t mean its failure is assured.

The Indians would have to convince their own media, politicians and public to actually pour their own money into a country many see as being the “anti-India.” But after years of an unsuccessful peace process, and just as Islamic terrorism has upped its ante, Indians might be ready to face facts and be proactive about the situation, rather than expecting Pakistan to deal with it. They would have to make sure their money is not wasted on projects that will be destroyed by the Islamists.

On Pakistan’s side, it will be crucial to ensure that public opinion doesn’t see the investment as a form of a ‘soft’ invasion, a tough thing to ask, and the best way to do that would be to find a convenient public measure, subsidised by India, that actually has an impact on the average Pakistani.

If the government, and even more importantly, the people of Pakistan were convinced that their own prosperity depended on India’s, then the very dynamic of South Asian politics could change, and Pakistan might be less inclined to give a free rein to the terrorists.

India has always fancied itself as the big brother to the other South Asian countries, but the extreme volatility of the neighbourhood has stopped it from being able to pull its weight the way China or the US does.

This is its chance to have a positive impact on the region. Instead of trying to establish success by ruining its backyard via mini-wars and the promotion of insurgency, a la Russia, India would be helping to save its neighbours and the Subcontinent itself, starting with its antithetical little brother, Pakistan.

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