New Delhi - Gas pipeline projects from Iran or Central Asia can increase inter-dependence between India and Pakistan and compel both the countries to cooperate even under compulsion, believes Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.
“We have not backtracked from the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project plan. Pakistan will benefit from the project as it will get cheap gas rates .But investment in such a mega project requires guarantees as the ones who makes such a heavy investment needs assurances to rely on,” the Indian minister told a select group of Pakistani journalists here at his office.
“If the people of Pakistan need anything from here like electricity or gas and if we are willing to provide the same then who will benefit from it?” Khurshid asked. “Exports are very important for your economy; we have opened this corridor for you. But Pakistan has to act on this,” he asserted.
Pakistan, he said, was set to benefit more if it extended Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trading status to India. “India will also benefit,” he added. “If both the countries keep on increasing contact points, and confidence building measures, people on both sides will start believing that this cooperation is mutually beneficial,” the minister emphasised.
“India can offer goods to Pakistan on cheaper rates that are rerouted through Dubai. We should start the Attari-Wagah trade. We have completed infrastructure on our side for this section of the border trade route, your side is still incomplete,” Mr Khurshid said. But he sees the bilateral trade and commerce going forward and despite pointing indirect fingers towards the Pakistani bureaucratic hurdles, he acknowledged political resolve shown by the PML-N government under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Asked about any timetable for resumption of India-Pakistan composite dialogue, Mr Khurshid seemed noncommittal about any timeframe, saying: The dialogue is not conditional, but the right atmosphere is not there. “There is no invisible force in India which can derail the process,” he asserted, pointing indirectly towards the powerful military establishment in Pakistan which has its own safeguards when it comes to improvement of trading, social and cultural ties with India, minus headway to resolve the Kashmir issue.
Terming Kashmir a sensitive issue, Mr Khurshid said India would want to resume composite dialogue at the earliest but every prime minister has to make openings taking the people along. “No government can take these decisions alone, fearing it might backfire. Remember the Musharraf-Vajpayee episode… If firing incidents across the border will happen, irrespective of who initiates it, people will say why are you resuming talks in such an atmosphere? The two countries would have to take these decisions with caution,” the minister said sharing his take on the issue.
As the Indian politics resonates with a debate on chances of Opposition BJP’s prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi finally grabbing the seat of power in Delhi, ask any Indian official from top to bottom, and they will happily talk about the olive branch Premier Sharif has extended to India after the last May elections.
Pakistan, it is generally believed, but won’t be uttered openly, is an important opening point for Afghanistan and central Asian trade, and even beyond that, uptill Iran and Turkey. But, it is a major irritant too. India-Pakistan cooperation on Afghanistan is still elusive because of mistrust on both sides, amidst seemingly less chances of any interaction on this issue where geostrategic designs clash. Certain sections in Pakistani society see Indian presence, defence and infrastructure projects in post 9/11 Afghanistan something directed against their country.
Strictly speaking about Pak-India ties, the three month plus Line of Control (LoC) tensions in Kashmir were a dampener for India in post Pakistan elections scenario even when Sharif was in power. Indian side sees the outcome of Pak-India DGMOs meeting as positively good, but the recent occurrence of cross-border firing coupled with suspension of trade as a result of arrest of a Pakistani truck driver on charges of narcotics smuggling, have again put a question mark on the warming up of relations between the South Asian neighbours.
But Premier Sharif was quick to send his brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, to kick start the process again. Pakistani commerce minister’s visit was also welcomed. Realising quickly the importance of Shahbaz Sahrif as an all purpose Number Two in Pakistani governance structure, Indians are positive but cautiously optimistic. Shahbaz has sent the message across, stirred emotions, but the Indian side wants to see concrete results, fearing hawkish elements across the border might be up their sleeves to come up with yet another body blow to the whole CBM process. Terrorism incidents like Mumbai attacks are still a big concern. It has left deep scars on Indian mindset as far as Pakistan is concerned.
“Management of elements behind terrorism – non-state actors – has been very poor in Pakistan. Now the same groups have turned inward too, and Pakistan complains of terror attacks,” Mr Khurshid noted, adding “much suffering has been inflicted on India in the past through terrorism”. Mr Khurshid, however, narrates fondly what Sharif has during the past weeks and months told Indian leadership. Sharif perceives, the minister claims, that people in Pakistan are changing their mind. “Prime Minister Sharif has told our PM that the new generation in Pakistan is shunning away the old patterns of thinking. Youth in Pakistan want to live a prosperous life,” Khurshid stated.
Responding in the same coin, the minister informed, Indian PM Dr Manmohan Singh reached out to the new Pakistan government. “It is the deepest desire of the Indian PM to visit Pakistan before the Indian elections. But the pre visit atmosphere has to be conducive for such a visit,” he added.