APTTA: A new initiative in regional cooperation? - II
Posted on 11 months ago
It is also pointed out that Pakistan's local industries will be badly affected by Indian goods entering Pakistani markets. Moreover, according to some critics, the agreement is said to be signed at the instigation of Washington in order to entrench India into the region and draw benefit from Afghanistan and Central Asia.
The observation that in case MFN status is granted to India, Afghanistan shall become less independent on Pakistan is not a balanced view. Afghanistan is an independent, sovereign country and it is up to that country to choose or make friends as it deems best. Any government which comes into power in Afghanistan will have to develop working relations with Pakistan due to the former's landlocked status.
The apprehensions that under the guise of transit trade with Afghanistan and MFN status with India, arms, ammunition and equipment could be supplied to problem area such as Balochistan and FATA. But these could be adequately checked by making APTTA rules more stringent and extending the writ of the state rather than throwing the baby along with bath water.
Should India be interested in exploitation of nearly $3 trillion worth of mineral deposits in northern and eastern Afghanistan and consolidation of economic investments gains in Afghanistan, Pakistan too could do the same and perhaps more effectively - being a proximate neighbour with greater interdependency. About 70,000-80,000 Pakistanis are working there and nearly 1.7 million refugees are still in Pakistan. Substantial goodwill exists there and India is not eight feet tall there.
Pakistan wants to have normal trading relations with India and correct political relations with other immediate neighbour: one does not have to strive for intimate relations till political disputes are untangled.
MFN agreement should lead to domestic, regional and international goodwill. This is a pressing need of the time. In fact, trade is already taking place between India and Pakistan and Pakistan and Afghanistan: only it stands in need of being regularised and properly monitored for mutual advantage.
Pakistan has to be sensitive to the concerns of other SAARC members e.g., Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka as strongly feel that they are forced to become hostage to India-Pakistan rivalry and disputes. They complain that political differences between big South Asian neighbours should not affect regional cooperation and economic regional cooperation that is envisaged by SAARC. In this regard, Bangladesh which is surrounded by India, is very keen on promoting SAARC's performance as it was responsible in founding the organisation in 1985 in the first place.
Moreover, India-China trade has risen to the tune of $60 billion and may spike to $100 billion in the next few years despite their lingering border dispute. Should normal relations occur between India and Pakistan, this could also improve the trading panorama. Even if per chance terrorist attacks are undertaken by some undesirable non-state actors to stymie the process greater stake established by parties through trade and investment would act as disincentive in rupturing relations or opting for open hostilities. In fact, despite provocations some uneasy peace between India and Pakistan has been prevailing in post-Kargil and post-Mumbai periods. Both countries shall realise their stakes in peace as nuclear powers once web of interdependence is created through economic interaction.
India-Pakistan normalisation and trade is logical outcome of Pak-Afghan relations. Russia, India and Iran are also interested in trade with India through Pakistan. With increased investments and setting up of gas pipelines and other economic activity interdependence shall be created and stability to the region imparted.
On the issue of India's route for Afghanistan and quest for Central Asian markets other regional countries are also vying for it. Pakistan too should do the same. China is already investing heavily in Afghanistan. In fact, Afghanistan is a big country that needs trade, investment to return to a normal peaceful nation.
There is a big captive market awaiting Pakistan. In FY 2010 Pakistan exported to Afghanistan goods worth $1.2 billion and in 2011 $1.7 billion. India is the second largest partner with $600 million. Informal Afghan-Pakistan trade has climbed to $4 billionn as Pakistani goods are more in demand due to proximity. Pakistan's aid to Afghanistan is about $330 million - mostly focused on education, health and transportation.
Some observers in frustration lament the lackluster performance of SAARC and suggest a new organisation. In fact, creating new organisations do not help as they spawn more bureaucracies and red tape. It is necessary to bolster the existing ones and make them more functional by removing their weaknesses and limitations. It takes a long time to build institutions capacities and organisational work ethos.
In conclusion, ideal and absolutely friendly relations can never materialize amongst the best of neighbours and friendliest of nations. Pragmatically, normal working relations with neighbours and the outside world should be practicable and possible. Transit arrangements provide leverage and stake to regional partners.
For the first time Pakistan's Army Chief General Pervaiz Kayani while visiting Siachen on occasion of buried Pakistani soldiers following the avalanche in May 2012 said that Pakistan's security lay with other things besides military only.
Major political parties are generally on board on Pakistan's MFN and APTTA agreements. Chambers of commerce and industry have generally welcomed this move. Civil society has gone along with it but there is resistance from religio-political groups, conservative parties, security agencies and assorted industrialists. President Zardari went to India after due briefing from those who matter in decision making in Pakistan.
Ideally, Pakistan's strategic salience should flow from its own economic strength. Radiation of power comes from economic robustness and transit advantages. Small states such as Singapore, Kuwait, South Korea, Holland, and Denmark attest to the power converted by turning themselves into economic hubs for trade and development. Today, Germany's banks are saving decrepit Eurozone economies what the German tanks under Hitler could not perform during World War II.
Closer at hand, China's peaceful development despite differences with Taiwan, Japan and India are eloquent reminders to the importance attached to trade, business and investments. This policy is followed by Turkey with zero "neighbourhood policy" and the longer it is delayed problems tend to multiply. Geography is a hard reality and cannot be bypassed.
Encouragingly, the political ice in South Asia seems to be slowly melting. A national representative Gallup poll conducted of 2,200 men and women revealed that 67 were favourable to trade with 29 per cent opposed to it and 4 per cent unsure. Not only trade but joint investments, business exchanges, tourism, health, culture, sports and education will help supplement the process. It is a "win-win" situation for Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.
However, transit trade will inevitably face initial problems of unfavourable returns. By test and trial, benefits could be drawn from APTTA and MFN with India. As a Pakistani businessman stated, we want the "Line of Control" to be converted into a "Line of Cash''. But this cash should benefit the deprived and poor peoples of South Asia and not the businessmen alone.
comments powered by Disqus
More Opinion NEWS
- A game changer in Pak politics
- Free media: blessing or curse
- Dar may link economy with politics
- Democracy,terrorism and uncertainty
- Prospects of Sino-Afghan cooperation
- Major challenges facing new rulers
- Janata Party neither united nor untainted
- Pakistanís electoral equation
- Taliban are inside our hearts
- Lets close fronts and make peace