The Guest Column

7th June 1996

Pakistan:a balancing force in South Asia

by Dr. Stanley Kalpage

To those who remember with horror the traumatic events accompanying the partitioning of the British Raj on the subcontinent and the creation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the present troubles between Pakistan and her giant neighbour, India, are not surprising: they seem inevitable. Only the passage of time can erase those agonising memories and heal the wounds. Indian leaders, who had earlier resisted the excision of parts of what had been India, united under the British for more than a century, agreed to partitioning only when it became clear that independence from the British would otherwise be indefinitely delayed. Pakistan is a member both of the Commonwealth and of the Non-Aligned Movement and an important component of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC).

Pakistan-Sri Lanka relations

Sri Lanka's bilateral relations with Pakistan have been consistently warm and friendly. At the United Nations, Sri Lanka and Pakistan co-operate closely. In the Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly on the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace, an identity of views exists. These seek to promote pragmatic working arrangements to ensure peace, stability, security and development in the Indian Ocean region, in the light of the changed international situation. In another Sri Lankan initiatve, the Indian Ocean Marine Affairs Co-operation (IOMAC), Pakistan has participated readily and with enthusiasm. Whenever the Kashmir issue erupts in the General Assembly and in its Committees and other UN fora, Pakistan always appreciates Sri Lanka's reluctance to take positions that would only sopil relations between Sri Lanka and either of her two big neighbours.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali, on a recent visit to Sri Lanka, is reported to have said that he had requested Sri Lanka to use its good offices with India to help solve the Kashmir issue. Sri Lanka's good relations with both India and Pakistan, and their continuance into the future, makes it necessary that, rather than try to mediate on the rights and wrongs of the issue, we promote measures to build confidence and trust between India and Pakistan. Sri Lanka can point out to both these friendly countries the kinds of actions which will be inimical to and hamper good relations.

The Kashmir issue

The circumstances under which the Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir came to accede to India, with Azad Kashmir becoming a part of Pakistan, are well known and are now referred to with different emphasis by the protagonists. Kashmir has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan since 1947, and there is a UN Security Council resolution as well as a UN peace-keeping force along the border Line of Control. The current tensions, however, date back to 1991, after the end of the cold war and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. Armed insurgents in Jammu and Kashmir demanded self-determination and independence. India's response was to send in troops to quell the insurgency.

The United Front govenment of Prime Minister Deve Gowda has promised 'maximum autonomy' to Jammu and Kashmir. The dissidents in Kashmir seemed to have been in a mood for compromise in recent times. Unfortunately, the elections to six Lok Sabha seats in Indian-held Kashmir along with the general elections in India, seem to have created fresh problems. The three rounds of elections are reported to have been held with military force used to coerce people to vote. Although some Indian sources deny this. This futile exercise if correct, is all the more regrettable when, elsewhere in India, the gigantic task of holding elections was carried out so successfully by the Elections Commission. The message that India wanted to send to the world of the willing participation of the Kashmiri people in the elections would have been lost as a result of the tactics alleged to have been used by Indian troops throughout the Kashmir valley. The dispute over Jammu and Kashmir casts a long shadow over regional co-operation.

Pakistan and her neighbours-SAARC

Pakistan's partipation and co-operation in SAARC makes a significant difference to peace, stability, harmony and development in the South Asian region. Pakistan is strategically situated in a unique geo-political location at the cross-roads of the newly independent and largely Moslem, Central Asian States, the Gulf Region - providing access to and from landlocked central Asian countries - and South Asia. The presence of Pakistan brings to SAARC a balance which offsets an otherwise unbalanced geopoloitical configuration.

The enormous success achieved by regional organizations such as the European Community and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), is in contrast to the relatively slow pace at which SAARC is moving. The seven countries of the SAARC region occupy a total area of over five million square kilometres and are home to more than a billion people constituting one-fourth of the world population. One of the main obstacles to the growth of SAARC is Indo-Pakistan rivalry and friction and in particular the dispute over Kashmir. As Minister Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali said, a solution to the Kashmir issue "will open the gates for many wonderful things to happen. The entire region would enjoy the dividend of peace. SAARC will truly take off as a powerful regional organization".

Suspicion and mistrust are at the core of the relationship between Pakistan and India. Each considers the other to be a threat to her own national security. The armies of the two countries have gone to war on three occasions, in 1948, in 1965 and in 1971; on the two earlier occasions over Kashmir. In 1971, the Indian armed forces intervened to help East Pakistan to secede and to form the independent nation of Bangladesh. Both India and Pakistan believe that only a balance of military power could prevent aggression by the other. Hence the intense competition to acquire ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. Neither Pakistan nor India are signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which was indefinitely extended in 1995. India has refused to sign the Complete Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) being elaborated in Geneva, explaning that she stands for a complete ban on all weapons of mass destruction everywhere and that the ban on nuclear testing would only give those who have already acquired nuclear weapons an undue advantage. And unless India signs the CTBT, Pakistan will probably not.

Relations with the big powers

During the period of the cold war, Pakistan was an ally of the United States and a part of the US strategic defence network against communism. Pakistan received military aid from the US, while India on the other hand worked closely with the then Soviet Union, with whom she had a Friendship Treaty. Throughout the decade-long invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, Pakistan stood by the Mujahedeen and helped to stall communism. Millions of Afghan refugees streamed into Pakistan and about 2 million of them still remain. Pakistan's relations with China have always been close and cordial and this too has caused India to be somewhat apprehensive.

Pakistan's relations with the United States became strained after the cold war when the US, in terms of the Pressler amendment, refused to sell arms to Pakistan until she had agreed to curb her nuclear programme and to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region. This has now been rectified by the Brown amendment, which has returned to Pakistan the funds that were lying in the US for planes that had been ordered but were not delivered.

Economic development

After decades of military rule, Pakistan is committed to parliamentary democracy. Pakistan's Harvard-educated Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, heads a coalition government of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) with a section of the Muslim League. In recent tours abroad, Bhutto has spelled out the vision that guides the policies of her government-free market policies to develop her economy and foreign investment for developing infrastructure and communications programmes.

After years of stagnation, Pakistan's economy is once again on the move. Her biggest problem is the still high rate of population growth which, at around 3 percent, is one of the highest outside Africa. Religious leaders are usually against family planning but, speaking at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo on 5 September 1994, Benazir Bhutto said, "The followers of Islam have no conceptual difficulty in addressing questions of regulating population in the light of available resources. The only constraint is that the process must be consistent with abiding moral principles. Islam aims at harmonious lives built upon a bedrock of conjugal fidelity and parental responsibility". The low literacy rate in Pakistan is also being tackled; primary education programmes are directed towards raising the literacy rate of 36 percent, one of the lowest for the region.

The Bhutto government proudly proclaims that its economic policies are consonant with the proposals of the IMF and the World Bank. A three-year structural adjustment programme is in progress. The Bank and the Fund in turn consider Pakistan to be 'a model of development'. In view of the reluctance of developing countries generally to be led by the mulitateral funding agencies, the Pakistan experiment will be closely observed.

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