The cost of economic imprudence

On his return from China, where Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the Minister of Foreign Affairs had gone to rally support against India’s unilateral decision to scrap Kashmir’s autonomous status, he held a press conference at Azad Jammu and Kashmir to lay bare the international perception on Kashmir vis-à-vis India.

He talked of India’s economy, which is the seventh largest in the world. He told us that the western and Arab countries are India’s investment partners on a reciprocal basis. He informed that the Gulf countries have invested in India to the tune of $100 billion. In this background he was convinced that Pakistan’s appeal at the United Nation’s Security Council could go unattended; therefore, he asked the people to keep their expectations low and stop living in a fool’s paradise.

So the take home lesson is that Pakistan’s Kashmir cause lacked the strength derived from economic prudence. On which our focus has never been clear.

Qureshi’s statement rightly triggered question on the frailty of Pakistan’s diplomacy on Kashmir all these years. A few others culled from past the advice they had been passing on to Pakistan to come out of India centricity and improve its economy, lest it becomes isolated. Others took aim at Pakistan’s policy makers for turning the country into a footling in the hands of the US to accomplish its security needs. Still many blamed our policy of matching India’s nuclear muscles -- the mother of all evils. To them the badge of nuclear power has not improved our image at all.

The question is why in spite of committing gross human rights violation on communal lines and having a strikingly high percentage of people living in poverty, India has managed to earn a promising image of itself. United Nation’s Human Rights Commissioner has released two consecutive reports, in 2018 and 2019, on human rights violations in Kashmir. And yet all the five Security Council’s members are standing behind India.

Although India has progressed significantly during the second half of the twentieth century, its growth in key human development areas has remained stunted. Even today India’s adult dropout rate is 58 per cent. According to the Multidimensional Poverty Index Report (2019) prepared by United Nations Development Program and Human Development Initiative, India has 364 million poor and destitute people --- the largest for any country. The MPI monitors three key social indicators: health, education and living standards.

In an article published on the website, its Managing Editor, Richard Mahapatra has reported that “because of lack of resources and social discrimination a chronic pattern of poverty has set in among India’s socially marginalised groups because of which close to 111 million people in India would remain poor forever.”

What it is that makes India the darling of the west and the Gulf countries, especially when the former’s economic policies have been unable to transform growth into equitable and blanket development.

The answer lies in India’s foreign policy, which has largely been prejudiced against any external intervention into its strategic interests. From opting to support the nonaligned movement to becoming US’s strategic partner to balance China’s rising power in the region, India’s policies provided a stable and profit driven milieu to the foreign investors. Nehru’s protectionist trade policies had been instrumental in establishing India’s industrial base, building upon which the future governments introduced market liberalisation reforms, which strengthened the competitiveness of the Indian economy internationally. This trajectory gradually led India to a stature where it got itself among the 20 great economies.

The corporate world wags its tail where its economic interests are served best. Though India, since the Bahartya Janta Party’s rule, has been using terror as a tool to marginalise minorities, its narrative about Kashmir in the crosshair of terrorism has sold like a hot cake. It is so because the cost (weighed in market value) to set aside India’s narrative is much higher for its economic partners to afford.

Power in the contemporary world has shifted in favour of economic dominance rather the nuclear preponderance that once held sway. Failing to assess this shift has actually pushed us on a back foot on the issue of Kashmir.

After the Pulwama attack, when China pulled its support from Masood Azhar paving the way for the Security Council’s Resolution to announce him as an international terrorist, Pakistan was advised by his all-weather friend [China] to move on and focus on “development”. Because of the opaque policy structure of the security apparatus one cannot know how far this advice has been adhered to. Since Kashmir has been handled all these years from Rawalpindi rather than the Foreign Office, the buck ideally stops at the former to answer as to why Pakistan is not being heard when so much has been sacrificed in the name of Kashmir starting from 1948 to 1965, and 1999 -- --beside other intervening episodes.

There is only one solution for Pakistan and that is to breakout of its economic stagnation. This long walk to freedom -- -from debt economy --- -would require a clean and a nationalist leadership. Any leadership disposed to raising its stature within its own rank and file will only perpetuate the present situation where we are neither heard nor taken seriously on any issue, leave alone Kashmir.
Let’s hear China at least for a change!

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