Skip to main content

OP-ED: Business as Usual

Published in Global Affairs / March 2017. Written / Sep 2016.

Third world nations that remain daggers drawn have yet to ascend to that stage of nirvana marked by regional cooperation and economic reforms; the kind that defines Sino - US relations for instance. Former US ambassador to China described their emerging relationship as “controlled enmity.” It had remained on course despite Washington’s concerns over the militarization of South China Sea, or indictment of Chinese hackers by a US court. The world’s biggest economy and the largest US foreign creditor and the superpower had learnt to prioritize and steer their relations towards a semblance of normality.

No one really knows which direction they will take under a Donald Trump Presidency. But economic considerations trumped personal differences at the time. And now judging from the list of banned nations devised by the White House where some obvious names have been pointedly left out – at least for the time being, it still appears to take precedence over security concerns.

South Asian nations operate differently. Common grounds they have aplenty - common foes too. Yet, Kabul bickers over trade routes and refugee repatriation while India threatens to renege on water treaties (which would be an open declaration of war) amid dubious declarations of ‘surgical strikes’ in Pakistani territory. And Islamabad’s misgivings about the ever expanding Indian footprint remain in place especially after India ratcheted up the propaganda against Pakistan and war hysteria in the region. They have spent seven decades stoking the flames of resentment while keeping old flashpoints in place. Here fronts multiply on a dizzying scale, followed by attempts to reach for the nearest nuclear arsenal to resolve differences. It has never been a healthy relationship.

Such conflicts color their policies and keep them in a negative holding pattern. While Pakistan and Afghanistan were embroiled in yet another feud over the transportation of consumer goods, India went on the warpath after the 18 September 2016 attack on its army base. No evidence had been provided that tied Pakistan to the terrorists before their relations went south. The subsequent war of words between Pakistan and India over the Uri attack quickly escalated, leading to an exchange of fire across the line of control. Trade talk took backseat. Nuclear war became the lead headline.

The ties binding Islamabad, Kabul and Delhi are flimsy, and break easily. The Afghan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement – APTTA was signed in 2010 and meant to regulate bilateral trade between a landlocked Afghanistan and its Pakistani neighbor. It gave Kabul access to Pakistan based seaports and dry ports including the Wagah border to import duty free goods. The wordings that allow one-sided trade from Afghanistan to India via Pakistan and prevent Indian goods from reaching Afghanistan created a fresh unpleasantness.

Afghan President Muhammad Ashraf Ghani threatened to return the favor by blocking trade routes to Central Asian nations for Pakistan. Afghanistan does not have much leverage at the moment so the loss of these Central Asian transit routes may not register on an economic level. But the loss of goodwill manifests itself in Kabul’s pivot towards India through the establishment of an air corridor proposed by Afghanistan and India – the acrimonious language by its President and the general air of suspicion that clouds the Af-Pak relationship.

The eastern front is no better. The retaliatory firing across the LOC (Line of Control) and failed attempts to breach the parameter from Indian side had been presented as surgical strike on Pakistani militant camps by Modi to mirror the OBL raid, which is a stretch, even for India. The collateral damage as a result of a firefight was the only sign that something was afoot.

Their respective stock market plummeted in the wake of the stand-off. They then attempted to stifle the few avenues left standing by banning each other’s cinema and actors. Cable TV’s came under pressure to follow suit. And celebrities were shamed for not taking sides.

Pakistan - India trade accounts for less than half percent of India’s global trade. Their economies will not be crippled given that trade stands at $ 2.61 billion dollars as of (2015-2016). But the commotion at the border that allows India to sweep its human rights record under the mat distracts from more pressing matters – that includes regional economic uplift and counter terrorism efforts.

There is no easy fix for the endless provocations emanating from the neighborhood. Economic and security cooperation between Pakistan - Afghanistan appears to be a pipedream under the circumstances. India wants a slice of the APTTA/ PTTTA pie and there had been suggestions of a trilateral transit trade.

But India by its own admission is also playing the long game. It seeks a higher power differential outgunning Pakistan in military, economic and diplomacy by 2025. All its energies are therefore directed at isolating Pakistan. But a few interesting developments have happened since then that put Islamabad on surer ground. Namely, the BRICS summit where China and Russia refused to denounce Pakistan; Pak-Russian rapprochement and joint military exercises by former Cold War adversaries on Pakistani soil.

Meanwhile, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan remain deadlocked. What would the landscape be like should these three nations ever decide to partner up for commerce instead of finding themselves engaged in a zero sum game? Perhaps they are then less likely to think sabotage, with major investments on the line. Or burn cultural bridges that took years to build and devise strategies to undercut the opposing players in the bid for the brass ring. China, despite the relationship woes with its neighbor happens to be India’s ‘largest trading partner.’ The Indo-China trade is reportedly $100 billion dollars (2015).

The region that had been reverberating with the drumbeats of war has no safeguards in place to check neighbors with hegemonic designs or encourage conflict resolution. An economic stake may assure that both nuclear nations would perhaps think twice before dusting off war slogans to appease national honor and push each other to the brink of an Armageddon to assuage wounded pride or imagined slights.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

VIEW: Of Clarion Calls and Golden Statuettes / By Afrah Jamal

First Published in Daily Times /Saturday, March 17, 2012

Elegiac laments for a fading film industry are interrupted midway with news that could give the documentary film medium at least a new lease of life. It owes its resurrection to a young filmmaker, who mined troubling sound-bytes overheard in theatres where war, injustice or social disparity reigns supreme. Clips aired at the third Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) held earlier this year provided glimpses of her work, including the internationally acclaimed ‘Saving Face’. At the time, she had an Emmy stacked away for one documentary and was just weeks away from winning an Academy Award for another. At the time, she had been relentlessly crusading to rid societies of those anachronistic practices (among other ills) that weigh them down in the modern world. And — despite these glittering credentials — her work was largely unknown amongst Pakistanis.

The young Oscar nominee who took the stage that day would soon be the face of a bur…

BOOK REVIEW: DIARIES OF FIELD MARSHAL MOHAMMAD AYUB KHAN 1966-1972

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
PUBLISHED IN THE POST AUG 29, 2007

Books allow people to have their say. Diaries express what they actually meant. Therefore, every prominent personality must stray from the path of political correctness and leave behind a diary. One way to regain an insight into the defining moments of our history post ‘65 War would be through the diaries of Pakistan’s first military ruler and first C-in-C, Field Marshal M. Ayub Khan, who also authored the book, ‘Friends. Not Masters’. The personal lives of public figures are always intriguing; while their contemporaries indict/acquit them on consequences of their actions, diaries give individuals a rare shot at swaying the upcoming generation of juries. Recorded during the uneasy calm before an inevitable storm brewing on the Eastern horizon and Indian front, the entries, spanning 7 years from September 1966 - October 1972, are replete with shrewdness and candor of a narrator who observed the events initially as a key player…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.


Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…

SERIES REVIEW: THE HEROES OF OLYMPUS / Rick Riordan (2013)

First Published inDaily Times / 5 Jan 2013

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Demigod fans who bade farewell to Percy – (son of Poseidon) & the Olympian franchise a few years ago must have wondered what the writer was up to as they came across a ‘final’ Prophesy conveniently left unresolved at the end of the saga.

The Last Olympian’ concluded the five part series wrapping up Percy Jackson & his merry band of demi-gods' extended arc with a high-octane finale and an emotional send-off. Though Rick Riordan had moved on to explore Egypt in ‘The Kane Chronicles’, he wasn’t done with Olympus, its ever shifting centre of power or its hoity-toity god population for that matter.

The cryptic warning heard in the final pages is used to establish the credentials of this spin-off. The gods return in the ‘Heroes of Olympus’ series - distant as ever and in Roman form heralding a brand new dawn with the promise of new crusades, a shiny new quest, fresh faces and an ancient threat. And Percy is b…

BOOK REVIEW: No Easy Day : The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden

First Published by Daily Times / Oct 06, 2012

Authors: Mark Owen & Kevin Maurer
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Published under the Title:Signed, SEAL(ed) and Delivered



The men who paid Pakistan a hurried visit in the dead of the night typically do not leave calling cards. Or talk shop with strangers. And they are expected to shun the limelight. One broke the commandment recently. As a member of the SEAL Team 6 — Naval Special Warfare Development Group or DEVGRU, Mark Owen (not his real name) had been in the downed ‘helo’ (helicopter) — the one Pakistanis discovered lying in their backyard.

His book provides a valuable timeline of events leading up to ‘Operation Neptune Spear’ in Abbottabad (or ‘Abababa’ as they insist on calling it), cutting through the official haze. With 13 consecutive combat deployments to his credit, the author paints a group portrait of America’s finest that had been handpicked for the job in an attempt to overturn the media-created hype. He calmly reasons, “If my com…

VIEW: WOMEN in the PAF: AN ENSEMBLE CAST

PUBLISHED in HILAL (Pakistan Armed Forces Magazine) Feb 2010

By Afrah Jamal

Progressive - Conservative - Contemporary - Professional; separately these terms could apply to any service; together they were reserved for just one - the PAF.

Pakistan Air Force has kept in touch with its roots through its glorious traditions and kept up with the changing times with innovative thinking. Oftentimes, traditions that made it stand apart have also stood in the way of, well - progress. Consequently, the service nimbly skipped past the one proposed change that was going to have a profound effect on the lives of countless young girls and would forever alter the way society perceived their womenfolk.

Before 1994, Lady Officers were a rare sight in the PAF. So rare in fact, that when male cadets donned wigs to represent the female species in annual variety shows, nobody wondered why. By 2010, women have become an indispensable part of the service. While, PAF was no stranger to a woman in uniform, a f…