by Zafar Bangash (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 12, Jumada' al-Ula', 1438)
India’s unrelenting hostility to Pakistan has led to precious resources being diverted to weapons and defence, holding back development in other vital fields. But now the China Pakistan Economic Corridor will prove a game changer for the region putting Pakistan at the centre of this economic transformation.
A summary of Zafar Bangash’s thoughts below was presented at the International Seminar on Kashmir held on January 5–6, 2017 in Islamabad. The Young Parliamentarians’ Forum, a grouping within the Pakistan National Assembly, organized the seminar.
Relations between India and Pakistan have been tense since the two countries emerged as independent states in August 1947. At the root lies India’s refusal to accept Pakistan’s creation and, therefore, its existence; and India has done everything ever since to undermine Pakistan. India’s invasion and illegal occupation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in October 1947 — it continues to this day with disastrous consequences for the Kashmiris as well all other people residing in the region — is part of New Delhi’s refusal to accept Pakistan’s existence.
No country is an island unto itself; every state is dependent, to some extent or another, on others for its well-being. It is all the more disconcerting that India and Pakistan should have such poor relations for so long. Unlike individuals, states do not decide who their neighbors can be. This forces them to exercise a modicum of civility in relations with each other and to try to live as good neighbors. Some states, however act as bullies in order to play the role of hegemon.
In the South Asian region, one country — India — fits the description of the big bully even though it is neither a major economic or military power despite much drumbeating by New Delhi about its prowess. It is also the only state in the region that has either fought or threatened war against every neighbor. This is hardly the kind of conduct that would qualify it as a civilized state.
India’s conduct is akin to Zionist Israel that too is notorious for belligerence and aggression against its neighbors. Not surprisingly, therefore, the two regimes — Hindu India and Zionist Israel — have close relations politically, economically, and militarily. India can perhaps more accurately be compared to Nazi Germany. If it persists in such conduct, it is more than likely that it would face a similar fate.
In addition to external relations, the fundamental functions of state include socio-economic development of the society and peace and security for the people. These are essential if people are to realize their full potential to grow and prosper. On this score, both India and Pakistan have been held back because of the unresolved dispute over the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
It must be acknowledged that India’s is a growing economy. An estimated 300 million consumers have surplus cash. This is what attracts Western countries to India, even as they turn a blind eye to its many egregious crimes, both against the Kashmiri people as well as against religious minorities such as Muslims, Christians, and others residing in India. While India’s economic growth may be considered a positive aspect, there are other considerations pertaining to India that are often — and perhaps — deliberately overlooked.
Let us briefly consider them. India is the world’s second biggest importer of weapons. In August 2016, New Delhi announced plans to import $223 billion worth of weapons in the next 10 years. At 1.3 million, it has the second largest standing army in the world. India’s defence budget at $52 billion is more than five times that of Pakistan’s. The question, however, is whether a growing economy and burgeoning military budgets automatically translate into superpower status or even a regional hegemon?
There are other realities of India that are worthy of note. It has nearly 500 million people who live in absolute poverty. A rigid caste system condemns hundreds of millions of people to a life of degradation and humiliation. There are more than 200 million Dalits who are treated worse than slaves and forced to do the dirtiest of jobs. There are few prospects for a Dalit child — boy or girl — to grow out of this poverty trap and religiously sanctioned apartheid.
There are 549 million people — nearly half of India’s total population — who do not have access to toilets. Similar or larger numbers of people are without access to clean drinking water that result in many people, especially children, being afflicted by water-borne diseases. During the 2014 parliamentary elections, one of Narendra Modi’s election promises was to build 50 million toilets across India during his first term as prime minister. This is one promise he is nowhere near fulfilling.
The South Asian region also faces an acute problem of environmental pollution and degradation. Some of the most polluted cities in the world are in this region. Among them are Beijing, Delhi, and Lahore where smog levels are dangerously high. Such pollution has a severe impact on people’s health. It is not surprising that respiratory problems have risen alarmingly.
West and South Asia has enormous potential for development. Three countries in particular — Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan — are endowed with enormous natural and energy resources. Further to the west lie the Central Asian Republics (the numerous “-stans”) that are also rich in natural and energy resources.
In recent times, ambitious regional plans for economic development and integration have been announced. These include the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as part of China’s grand New Silk Road Project. This is aimed at connecting the Eurasia landmass through a network of roads, rail, and pipelines. CPEC has been referred to as a “game-changer”; it is in more ways than one but it needs to be implemented with careful planning by the countries involved, especially Pakistan. Once completed, these projects would yield enormous economic benefits for all the countries involved.
There is a tectonic shift in the global order. The World Bank estimates that China’s GDP will surpass that of the US by 2028. It may come sooner. Related closely to the economic shift is also a major shift in global politics. The era of the sole superpower or hegemon is over. Recent developments clearly point to this and can be seen in places like Syria where the US-NATO-led destabilization and war were successfully confronted and defeated.
The centre of gravity of politics and economics has, therefore, clearly shifted to West Asia. Pakistan is ideally situated to benefit from this because of its strategic location. It is the gateway to Central Asia. When fully operational, the southern port of Gwadar will play a vital role in the economic transformation of the region facilitating shipment of some 300 million tons of goods annually.
Currently, Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan are somewhat strained. Unfortunately Afghan rulers have not shown the kind of maturity that is expected in relations between states. As a landlocked country, Afghanistan is dependent on Pakistan. Leaders on both sides need to work on this for the greater good of their respective populations.
It is however, India-Pakistan relations, or lack thereof, that are holding the region back from realizing its true potential. Some countries become intoxicated by the possession of a vast array of weapons. There is ample evidence to expose the fallacy of such thinking. While arms and standing armies are necessary to defend a country, in the final analysis these alone do not determine the outcome of a struggle. If the preponderance of weapons were a determining factor in war, the French would still be in Algeria, the Americans in Vietnam, the Russians in Afghanistan, and Israel in Lebanon.
While discussing Pakistan-India relations, we cannot overlook the presence of nuclear weapons by both states. There are five nuclear powers in the immediate neighborhood: India, Pakistan, China, North Korea, and Russia. Nuclear bombs are frighteningly destructive weapons. Their use and, therefore, the nuclear fallout would not be confined to physical boundaries. Potentially hundreds of millions of people could be killed or maimed.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and in the last two decades, Iraq, where US forces used depleted uranium in places like Fallujah and Ramadi, provide ample evidence of their destructive impact. Incidents of cancer, leukemia, and deformed births have escalated alarmingly in Iraq.
While the use of nuclear weapons is frightening, countries faced with an existential threat or annihilation may be forced to use them as a last resort. India’s massive militarization poses an existential threat to Pakistan. The Indians may argue that these are meant to defend India against a rising China; empirical evidence suggests otherwise. The last time India grappled with China was in November 1962. Since then, while it has not dared to confront China, its military might has been repeatedly used against Pakistan and other smaller neighbors.
So the question must be asked: what is to be done? We come back to the fundamental issue that acts as a huge barrier for the realization of the full potential of this region as well as threatens peace and security: the unresolved issue of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Instead of treating the symptoms, the root cause of the problem must be addressed.
No amount of Indian parroting of the line that Kashmir is its “integral part” can make this a reality. Nearly 70 years of Indian military and police brutality including forced disappearances, rape of thousands of women, the murder of nearly 100,000 people since 1989, as well as mass graves have not dampened the spirit of resistance of the Kashmiris to overthrow the yoke of Indian imperialism. This desire has manifested itself repeatedly in massive protests. The current spate of protests that erupted in the immediate aftermath of the extra-judicial killing of a young charismatic freedom fighter, Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016, reconfirms this fact.
Survival is a strong instinct not only in humans but all living creatures. To live in freedom and dignity is an equally strong desire of all humans. The Kashmiris are no exception and cannot be denied this fundamental right. As long as India maintains an army of occupation of 700,000 augmented by tens of thousands of armed constabulary and police forces, there will be protests in Kashmir and instability in the entire region. Situated at the top of the world, continuing turmoil in the State of Jammu and Kashmir could lead to a nuclear exchange with frightening consequences.
India has a choice to make: does it want to be part of history or be left behind by it, as others — notably China, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan the Central Asian republics, and beyond that, Russia — forge ahead with strong economic ties bringing prosperity to their respective peoples?
Since Pakistan is a Muslim majority state, there are certain special responsibilities that devolve on it. The Qur’an tells us that all Prophets of Allah (a) came to deliver the same message: the Oneness of Allah (swt), that He alone deserves man’s conformity, and that He alone is the souce of social justice in society. It is worth noting that in the Qur’an, more than twice as many ayat (verses) deal with huquq al-‘ibad (our responsibility to fellow human beings) than with huquq Allah. Our Lord and Creator communicates to us the importance of our social and moral responsibilities.
Islam’s message is one of peace based on justice. Without justice, there can be no peace in society. This is also what every prophet emphasized; many suffered in the process. Musa (a) was sent to confront the Pharaoh to release his people from bondage. ‘Isa ibn Maryam (a) overturned the moneychangers’ tables in the temple because they were exploiting people. For 13 years, the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) and his followers suffered torment and abuse in Makkah. Some were tortured to death ultimately forcing the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions to flee because his Makkan foes plotted to kill him. Yes, he had to flee the city of his birth. Eight years later, when he returned to liberate Makkah, he did not lay it to waste, nor did he execute his vanquished foes. He forgave them all.
There is, however, an important point to keep in mind: forgiveness has little meaning when one is weak and powerless; it becomes meaningful only when one has power and the ability to punish or inflict harm. This is what the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) demonstrated. At the end of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela showed similar magnanimity when apartheid finally ended in South Africa. Instead of exacting revenge from the white tormentors of Africans, Mandela chose the path of forgiveness by opting for Truth and Reconciliation. What this meant was that the former oppressors were asked to confess to their crimes in return for forgiveness.
As the socioeconomic and security implications of the tense relations between India and Pakistan are considered, it is imperative for Muslims, especially those residing in Pakistan, to consider the weaknesses within. The secret of Muslims’ success lies not in the possession of vast amounts of weapons or even huge economic resources. Ultimately, it is the moral character of Muslims that determines their station in life. It was the transformation of the early adherents of Islam in Arabia from savages into the most upright human beings on earth that enabled them to give the world a civilization that lasted more than 1,000 years.
Similarly, it was the moral character of Muslim traders that inspired the people of what are present-day Indonesia and Malaysia to embrace Islam. Not a single Muslim soldier had ever set foot there. Equipped with the same moral fiber, there is no reason why Muslims cannot achieve greatness again and bring peace and security to an errant humanity.
To reiterate, at the root of the problem in the region is the unresolved issue of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Its just resolution will unleash the socioeconomic potential of this region of more than 1.5 billion people. Without it, the region will remain mired in conflict and, therefore, poverty.
What judgement history renders will be based on the choices people, especially decision makers make. History neither waits for anyone nor spares anyone. It is relentless in its judgement. We hope we make the right choices to achieve positive results.