Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s recent visit to Pakistan was accompanied by the usual sound bites from both sides about their determination to continue the dialogue process for the improvement of bilateral relations through peaceful settlement of outstanding disputes, building up mutual trust, and the strengthening of all-round cooperation. The visit also witnessed the signing of the agreement to liberalise the bilateral visa regime and an MOU on cultural cooperation. The two countries further agreed to a set of measures to facilitate cross-LOC travel and trade. However, there was no breakthrough on any of the outstanding disputes like Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and Wullar Barrage. On these issues, the two sides merely agreed to continue discussions. While the hard-liners in Pakistan decried the progress towards normalisation of relations between the two countries in the absence of any forward movement towards the resolution of Kashmir and other outstanding disputes, the liberal circles were overjoyed over the steps taken by the two countries towards the liberalisation of trade with India. What was generally lacking in this cacophony of commentaries, however, was a sense of realism and a long-term strategy in the management of Pakistan’s relations with India.Currently, there are two divergent schools of thought contending for recognition and acceptance in Pakistan in dealing with Pakistan-India relations. The traditional or conservative point of view assigns the highest priority to the settlement of outstanding disputes between Pakistan and India, particularly the Kashmir dispute. It would synchronise the improvement of bilateral relations and cooperation in various fields with the progress towards the settlement of outstanding disputes. A corollary of this line of thinking was the counterproductive policy of overemphasis on the military build-up at the expense of economic development. The rival and more liberal school of thought focuses exclusively on the promotion of bilateral cooperation in various fields, particularly economic, commercial and cultural cooperation, irrespective of any progress towards the settlement of outstanding disputes.Both of these points of view betray lack of realism and the absence of a carefully worked out long-term strategy in dealing with India. They are based on flawed assumptions and a faulty understanding of the dynamics of power politics. It is not surprising, therefore, that the hard-line approach, which prevailed in the earlier period of Pakistan’s history, neither helped in resolving outstanding disputes nor in improving Pakistan’s comparative position vis-à-vis India in economic, military or political fields. The more liberal approach, which is now in vogue, carries the risk of not only neglecting the settlement of outstanding disputes, but also endangering Pakistan’s security, its independence in the economic field, and its separate cultural identity.What is needed is an India policy which is informed by a realistic assessment of the actual and potential power of Pakistan and India, India’s strategic objectives at the regional and global levels, and the evolving regional and global security environment. An accurate understanding of these factors would enable Pakistan’s policymakers to delineate Pakistan’s own policy goals and the strategy to achieve them. Wishful thinking, cheap slogans or jingoism should have no place in the formulation of an effective India policy best calculated to serve the interests of the nation. Following the nuclear explosions of May 1998, perhaps, the first and foremost demand of realism is the recognition by Pakistan and India of the strategic imperative of peace between them. Neither of them is now in a position to achieve its policy goals through the military defeat of the other. In fact, an all-out war between them is now inconceivable because of the risk of a nuclear holocaust. They must, therefore, learn to live as good neighbours and try to resolve their differences and disputes through peaceful means. This factor has obvious implications for the way we deal with the Kashmir dispute.Secondly, the reality is that India is fast emerging as a major power, thanks to its high economic growth rate which has enabled it to enhance rapidly the strength of its military forces. With the GDP of $5083 billion in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, India is already the third largest economy in the world after the US and China. Pakistan with the GDP of $514 billion in PPP terms is almost one-tenth the size of India and the gap between the two is growing because of the disappointing performance of the Pakistan economy. Pakistan is, therefore, in no position to enter into a conventional arms race with India. It should instead evolve a new and comprehensive security doctrine covering its military, economic, diplomatic and political dimensions to meet the challenges of the emerging regional scenario. Thirdly, we should accord the highest priority to the goal of rapid economic development, as China has done since 1980, to raise the standard of living of our people, to ensure that our voice on important issues is listened to in international forums, to improve our power position vis-à-vis India, and to provide the necessary underpinning for our national security. Our past policy of allocating unsustainably high level of the nation’s resources to defence, while relegating economic development to a secondary place in terms of allocation of resources, has slowed our economic growth, left our people in the clutches of grinding poverty, made us irrelevant to the consideration of important international issues, and endangered our national security. We must reverse this counterproductive policy by raising our national saving and investment rates significantly to accelerate our economic growth. This, in turn, will require an austere style of life on the part of our civil and military elite, the elimination of wasteful expenditure in our public sector, and strict control over our military expenditure which constitutes the largest chunk of our federal budget after debt-servicing.Fourthly, we need to pursue a low-risk and non-adventurous foreign policy to lower the risk of external armed conflicts and to enable us to divert our resources from the military to the goal of rapid economic development. We simply cannot afford Kargil-type adventures. Fifthly, in formulating our India policy we must not ignore India’s well known hegemonic designs in South Asia. It is in the nature of an emerging great power like India to be hegemonic as pointed out by John J. Mearsheimer in his widely acclaimed book, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. We must, therefore, maintain a credible deterrent at the lowest level of conventional armaments supported by an assured nuclear strike capability. Since Pakistan already possesses such a credible deterrent, India will be tempted to achieve its strategic goals vis-à-vis Pakistan through economic and cultural means, rather than through the use of military. We should, therefore, enter into schemes of economic and cultural cooperation with India after a careful analysis of their pros and cons. We must reject any scheme of economic cooperation if it results in the deterioration of our economic position vis-à-vis India, if it has the effect of slowing down our rate of our economic growth or if it allows India to capture the commanding heights of our economy. Therefore, trade with India on a level playing field with due safeguards for the health of our economy is in our own interest. However, we must reject any scheme for the establishment of a South Asia Economic Union, which would have the effect of shifting the centre for decision making regarding our economy from Islamabad to New Delhi, thereby, robbing us of our economic independence. We must also reject any scheme of cultural cooperation aimed at diluting our separate cultural identity, which provided the rationale for the establishment of Pakistan.

The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.Email: