Sunday 17 July 2022

A prosperous, stable South Asia needs India (The Sunday Guardian)

 Barring Bhutan and India, every other country in what is termed South Asia has succumbed to the snare of loans from the PRC for projects that fail commercial tests of viability. Now that Shahbaz Sharif has taken over as Prime Minister of Pakistan, he is contacting country after country to provide assistance to an economy that is nearing the stage of meltdown. The problem he is facing is what has at last been understood by his predecessor Imran Khan, which is that it is the army that is draining Pakistan of its economic viability. The generals have from the 1950s claimed an outsize share of national resources in order to protect the people of the country from a non-existent threat, that India wishes to take over Pakistan. The country born out of the partition of India does indeed have some political leaders who are not linked to the extremist ideologies of the parties committed to converting Pakistan into a larger version of Afghanistan. Were such leaders to have united in the past, it may have been possible for them to throw out the post-Zia military commanders who are committed to Wahhabism, and replace them with those who are professional soldiers rather than religious zealots. Only after he has been removed by the military from office has former Prime Minister Imran Khan become a foe of the generals. The reality is that the Two Nation theory on the basis of which Pakistan was created is an absurdity. Hindus and Muslims are not two nations, they are in India at least joined together to ensure that the country prospers. GHQ Rawalpindi, has, through its networks, sought to spread hatred of India among the Buddhists of Sri Lanka and the Muslims of Bangladesh. If the logic of the Two Nation theory is followed, each faith would constitute a separate nation, a formulation that was used in Pakistan to drive out almost all Hindus and Christians from that country, together with the Sikh community. Fortunately, as seen in recent agitations in Sri Lanka, Buddhists joined hands with Muslims, Christians and Hindus to oust the Rajapaksas from government. Rather than the division that is at the root of the Pakistani state, it is unity of people around common issues that is central to progress and democracy.

Unfortunately, Imran remains a friend of the extremists. What perhaps goes unnoticed is that Imran Khan is the favourite of those lower down the chain of command of the Pakistan military, who seek to return to the days of Zia-ul-Haq, when the spreading of Wahhabism became the dominant motif and operational focus of GHQ Rawalpindi. The ousted PM’s popularity in the lower ranks helps explain why thus far, the top brass of the military have hesitated in using the time-tested instruments of corruption cases. Given the record in money-making of Shahbaz Sharif, once the generals understand that he too is incapable of unlocking the purses of western nations, he is destined to follow the path of his brother Nawaz and be hit by a volley of corruption cases so as to distance the public from him. India, especially under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is a target of GHQ Rawalpindi together with the PLA, and so long as such hostility continues, Pakistan will continue to slide towards chaos. For unless the country accepts the finality of Kashmir’s accession to India and normalises relations with its neighbour to the east in the manner that an increasing number of West Asian countries have, its economy will not step back from the quagmire that it is in. The toxicity of reliance on the PRC that supersedes cooperation with India has been shown by the Sri Lankan crisis. What is needed is for countries in South Asia to work together with India rather than assist other countries against their largest member state. Bangladesh is an example of the revving up of the economy that such ties bring. A South Asian common market that has the Indian rupee as legal tender together with the local currency would ensure that the region prospers. Those that are willing should go ahead. The rest will follow in time, once they see the benefits of cooperation with the largest economy in South Asia. What is happening in Sri Lanka is a wake-up call pointing to the risks involved in cosying up to an authoritarian power. Across South Asia, the Sino-Pakistan lobby is seeking to foment divisions and generate chaos. A closer relationship with India would provide a vaccine protecting against that.

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