Since becoming India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh has made several attempts to improve relations between Pakistan and India. There have been recent signs that his efforts were showing results. However, the fact that Osama bin Laden had been hiding in Pakistan for an undetermined amount of time might hamper his efforts. India has long accused Pakistan of aiding and abetting terrorist groups. The accusations were validated and became more pointed after the 2008 Mumbai attacks which killed over 160 people and wounded 250. The Mumbai attackers received their training in Pakistan.
The fact that bin Laden had been hiding in Abbottabad, Pakistan, an hour’s drive from Islamabad, confirms the view held by many Indians that Pakistan’s efforts to confront the enemies of India and the United States is a shell game. With the killing of bin Laden by American commandos, Indian officials are renewing their demands that the Pakistan government brings to justice those connected to the Mumbai attacks.
“We believe that the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attack, including the controllers and handlers of the terrorists who actually carried out the attack, continue to be sheltered in Pakistan. We once again call upon the Government of Pakistan to arrest the persons whose names have been handed over to the Interior Minister of Pakistan as well as provide voice samples of certain persons who are suspected to be among the controllers and handlers of the terrorists,” India’s Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said in a statement released shortly after bin Laden’s death.
Despite mistrust between Pakistan and India following the Mumbai attacks there has been some progress towards normalizing relations. Earlier this year, the foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India made a point of meeting during a regional conference in Bhutan. Additionally, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Gillani and Prime Minister Singh sat together during a cricket match in March. To many Westerners, “cricket diplomacy” would be a non-event but the sport is hugely popular with many Indians and Pakistanis so the mere fact that this occurred was newsworthy. It is estimated that close to a billion people watched the cricket World Cup semifinal match. Indian college student, Ravi Ansal, put the context of the match this way, “We do not have any animosity towards the Pakistan team…They are a fine team and, if India go on to lose the semifinal, I will cheer for Pakistan in the final.”
By all indications the “cricket diplomacy” did produce its intended result. “The dialogue process between Pakistan and India has resumed and our Prime Minister had a very good meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Mohali and we have decided to make determined efforts to move the relations forward across the board,” President Zardari was quoted.
However positive some steps have been a long-road lays ahead for Pakistan and India for normalized relations. Long standing disputes over settling the fate of Kashmir, the Indus waters agreement and a number of other issues are contentious. India and Pakistan have fought three wars and Indian distrust of Pakistan undermines a permanent resolution of tensions. Especially difficult to overcome is the persistent distrust felt by India’s political establishment that Pakistan’s military cannot be trusted in any negotiations.
“It is now obvious that at least from 2005, he has been living comfortably in the middle of a Pakistani garrison town, surrounded by the Pakistani military,” said Gopalapuram Parthasarathy, the former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan. Parthasarathy continued, “Nobody would believe that the Pakistan military would not have known he was there.” Despite these hurdles, trade would appear to be the most obvious avenue to pursue for better relations between Pakistan and India.
While there are often calls for better relations by both Pakistan’s and India’s governments, unsettled disputes and mutual distrust could be overcome by improving economic trade between the two. Once better economic ties are developed other issues could be addressed. Improved economic ties between both states hold promise. Despite India and Pakistan’s membership in the 2006 South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA), trade between both states is relatively small. Exports and imports in 2008 totaled approximately $2 billion USD, which is an improvement from $500 million USD in 2000.
The Peterson Institute’s Mohsin S. Khan points out that because a number of obstacles remain in place for normalizing relations (trade tariffs and barriers, red tape and political opposition), improved economic ties between India and Pakistan appears unlikely in the short term. Khan suggests that if these obstacles can be resolved, “India-Pakistan trade could increase up to 50 times its current level. A more recent study, using the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) gravity model, shows the potential of formal trade between India and Pakistan is roughly 20 times greater than recorded trade. This means that at 2008 trade levels total trade (exports plus imports) between India and Pakistan could expand from its current level of US$2.1 billion to as much US$42 billion if the ‘normal’ relations estimated by the PIIE gravity model for trading partners were to hold for the two countries.”
Besides direct economic benefits, increased trade between Pakistan and India would have ancillary benefits such as lowering tensions and avoiding future conflicts. The European Union model is a good indication that if economic ties are improved then the likelihood of another military conflict is diminished. The killing of bin Laden who was hiding out in Pakistan with tacit or explicit approval and the fact that bringing everyone involved in the Mumbai attacks to justice has yet to be accomplished makes normalizing relations uncertain. The two countries were slated to hold trade and business talks. Before the American operation in Pakistan, their commerce secretaries where prepared to meet. The last such meeting was in 2007 and the meeting on April 27-28 between Rahul Khullar and Zafar Mehmood was expected to allow each secretary to become reacquainted. Further, the goal of the talks was, “to open up trade and move it to a firmer footing,” according to an unnamed official.
Improved Indo-Pak relations would benefit the United States’ mission in Afghanistan. Pakistan currently has a significant troop presence along the Pakistani-Indian border and this presence became more significant following the Mumbai attacks when Pakistan reallocated thousands of troops in anticipation of hostilities that never arose. By normalizing relations, Pakistan could reallocate troops to the Afghan-Pakistani border in order to stop the flow of militants from Pakistan into Afghanistan.
Following a trip to the region, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) suggested a net result of normalized relations, “We would be able to draw down our troops [in Afghanistan] and reduce the drain on our own budget. It would also provide us with not one, not two, but three good trading partners going forward and provide a counterbalance to China, if needed.”
However, it remains to be seen how much domestic support there is in either country for normalization. The national identities of both states are connected with having external threats. But despite this, the need for normalization outweighs any uncertainties connected with better relations between Pakistan and India.
The United States also needs to be more assertive and encourage both sides to reach out to each other more often. The United States should encourage Pakistan to grant most favored nation (MFN) status to India. This would have larger ramifications such as building good will and reducing animosities. Importantly, the United States should not jump to any conclusions about what Pakistan did or did not know about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts. Already, many on Capitol Hill are encouraging a reevaluation of the strategic relationship between Pakistan and the United States in light of the mission that killed bin Laden.
However, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee cautioned about jumping to any conclusions, “This is one of those love-hate relationships with Pakistan…We’ve got to be careful. We still need them, I think, and they need us… Frustrating? Absolutely. Are they gonna be the best partners we’ve ever had? No. Do we have to have them? I think we do.” If lawmakers persist and cut off further aid to Pakistan this could have the reverse affect of encouraging the Pakistani government to look the other way and allow a greater flow of Taliban and other militants to flood the Afghan-Pakistani border to fight NATO and American troops in Afghanistan.
Clearly, the United States must tread carefully and avoid jumping to premature conclusions about what Pakistan knew about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts. Further, as Rep. Rogers points out, in reference to the global war on terror, Pakistan has been crucial in assisting the United States on several fronts. “Over the last 10 years, [there are] 600 people they’ve assisted us in arresting in the settled areas of Pakistan. And they’ve sent troops, army troops, into the tribal areas at our behest, and they’ve taken thousands and thousands of casualties,” Rogers told Politico.
In the context of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. The U.S. will be able accelerate the removal of its assets if normalized relations between Pakistan and India can be achieved. Further, Afghanistan poses a regional threat to Pakistan and by extension India so therefore it is in India’s as well as Pakistan’s interest to insure that Afghanistan becomes a stable regional state. Finally, the greatest obstacle to normalized Indo-Pak relations will be building trust.
The first positive step would be to bring to justice those connected with the Mumbai attacks even if they are connected to the Pakistan government. This would include insuring that Lashkar-e-Taiba is targeted by Pakistan. Lashkar-e-Taiba was implicated in training and assisting the Mumbai attackers. Overriding any previous progress on Sino-Pak normalization talks is the U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden. While India will undoubtedly continue to urge Pakistan to do more to hand more Mumbai conspirators over for justice, a litany of issues also needs to be addressed. Namely, resolving Kashmir and improving cross border economic integration.
An Indian source familiar with reengagement efforts told The Times of India that bin Laden’s death will not derail engagement with Pakistan. “Our talks with Pakistan will continue…We have to engage them on all issues. There is no alternative,” said the government official.