Thursday, January 22, 2004

Swords into Ploughshares?

This Guardian article profiles Major General Mahmud Durrani of the Pakistani army, who has supposedly been working to get his country and India talking about a peaceful resolution of issues that are outstanding between, not the least important of which is Kashmir.

The major general's analysis is that the rivalry between the two countries can be geographically located in Kashmir, the Muslim majority state that has been cleaved into two by India and Pakistan. But his insight is that it is the terrain and relief of people¹s minds in both the countries that needs to be changed if peace is to come about.

"Look, I was a soldier, and in the Pakistani army there was a saying that the only good Indian is a dead one. But I have met Indians and I know that all the adjectives that we used about them, they used about us. Yet none ­ that we were devious, sly, dishonest ­ appear to be true."

Maj Gen Durrani's road map to peace, called The Cost of Conflict and the Benefits of Peace, was published just after the Kargil war in 2000 when both countries fought in the world's highest battlefield. It accurately foretold of the detrimental effects of creating a cold war mentality in south Asia. Large defence budgets gobble up money needed for development ­ desperately needed in both countries where tens of millions of people go hungry and even more cannot read or write. The antagonism of both nations has meant that the advantages of regional trade have never materialised ­ as both sides in the past have imposed punitive tariffs on each other.

Official trade between two nations that share a common culture, history and a mutually intelligible language, is paltry. Officially, bilateral trade between India and Pakistan was $200m (£109m) last year, but many analysts put the real figure at around $2bn if India-Pakistan trade routed through third countries is counted. If the barriers come down, the figure could easily top $5bn in a few years, bringing much-needed jobs to both countries.

"We would welcome Indian investment," says Hafeez Shaikh, Pakistan's privatisation minister, a former World Bank economist. "We hope to negotiate all the duties and restrictions between India and Pakistan by 2006."

There's more than a little fluff in this article: one hardly needs to be a strategic genius to understand that Kashmir constitutes the largest bone of contention between India and Pakistan, while the understanding that development efforts in both countries (particularly in Pakistan) were being stymied by outsized defence expenditures dates back long before General Durrani's book came out. Still, the fact that a Pakistani general is willing to go on record as an advocate of peace in the subcontinent is a noteworthy development.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of the upcoming meeting between the Kashmir separatists and the Indian government (in the person of L.K. Advani.) Still, I can't see that all that much can be expected from all these talks. The brutal reality is that Pakistan needs peace a lot more than India does - the military burden is heavier for the Pakistanis than it is for the Indians, and the benefits of restored trade links would be much greater proportionally for the Pakistanis than it would be for an India that is already growing quite nicely; then there is the negative fallout from the ongoing revelations about Pakistan's nuclear proliferation activities to consider. India holds all the cards, and the sort of surrender that Musharraf's government would need to undertake for the sake of peace would be too much for him to go along with and stay alive - not that his days aren't already numbered as they are. In any case, even if Musharraf were willing to play the martyr for peace, it is almost a certainty that any new Pakistani government would simply break off talks and resume the Kashmiri "jihad."