By Shahzad Chaudhry/The Express Tribune
Islamabad January 13: If I were Henry Kissinger, I would write a treatise ‘On India’. Such has been the monumental change in India’s fortunes as a State and a player principally in Asia and broadly on the global stage. Modi may be a despised name in Pakistan, but he has done something to brand India which none before him was able to manage. Importantly, India does what it feels and to the extent she needs. And it all stays kosher. It is an ally of the US; a rub Pakistanis go to town with, complaining relentlessly about the US as its closet patron. We are delusionary and deceptive in assessing our standing and employ double-speak as an art, vilifying the US as a popular pastime while whingeing when it accosts India. Russia is under American sanctions, and none can trade freely with Russia except India which buys Russian oil on preferred terms and then re-exports it to help an old patron earn dollars the indirect way. Two opposing military superpowers of the world claim India to be its ally. If this isn’t a diplomatic coup, what is?
It all comes from one word — relevance. India is relevant to the world, not only in its size and girth but by its footprint and what matters to the world. Consider. It has the fifth largest economy in the world, ahead of the UK. It is aimed to be the third-largest economy in the world by 2037. It is fourth in FE Reserves with over 600 billion USDs — Pakistan currently holds 4.5 only. Its growth rate in GDP matches the best-performing economies over the last three decades after China. She is projected to stay on that path. India has the world’s second-largest army and the third-largest military. It may not be the strongest corresponding to the numbers, but it is on the path to rapidly increasing its capacity and capability. The global list of billionaires has 140 Indians of which four are included in the top 100.
Mittal is a steel giant. Ambanis run multiple interests varying from defence to telecom. Infosys, an IT giant, is a global name. So on and so forth. India stands amongst the top producers in agri-products and in the IT industry. Their yields per acre in agriculture match the best in the world. And despite being a country of over 1.4 billion people, it remains a relatively steady, coherent and functional polity. Their system of governance has withstood the test of time and proved its resilience around fundamentals essential to a resolute democracy. It may not be the most efficiently or equitably run society, but it has held on to anchors which have paved the way for it to solidify what makes a nation. To many it may not be secular enough — its Constitution still is, even if the attitudes of the power wielders are not. Under Modi it has crafted a religious-nationalist plank of its newer assertion and identity. Don’t baulk. World over the trend is of the Right gaining eminence in social attitudes. Pakistan in this realm has its own set of challenges. Importantly, it seems to be working for Modi and India.
India jumped to a 100 billion USD reserves in 2004 from the measly 9.2 she had in 1992. Under Manmohan Singh, India increased its reserves to 252 billion USD by 2014. Under Modi these have galloped to over 600 billion and the GDP is sized over three trillion USD. This is monumental progress which makes India a preferred destination for all investors. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s fraternal brother, announced an investment of over 72 billion USD in India even as we beg her to invest the 7 billion promised for Pakistan. Pakistan’s iron brother, China, pledged 10 million USD in the very latest donor conference in Geneva to help Pakistan out of its financial predicament as well as a looming bankruptcy, as did Pakistan’s favourite whipping boy, America. Somehow, both place an equal premium on Pakistan’s prospects.
And though Indian writers have this propensity to overstate India’s heft and hem there should be no doubt that this century will see Asia defined by the two most dominating nations in economic strength, military haughtiness and political impact — China and India. The gap between Pakistan and India is now unbridgeable. India has broken free of the shackles that kept her tied in South Asia and hyphenated in global perception with Pakistan. Beginning with Rajiv Gandhi to Modi there has been a clear distancing of Indian foreign policy away from Pakistan. That turns India into more Asia than just South Asia and a clout which is far expanded. The world has taken note and regardless how much we play China vs India as a sorry paradigm for face-saving both are now above 100 billion USDs trade that binds them with a common aim to quickly move to 500 billion. Those who trade at that level never graduate beyond sticks and clubs, even if spiked, and whatever the savagery of their brawl. It is time to smell some real leaves.
One hates to admit it, but Pakistan was politically outmanoeuvred by India on Kashmir by rescinding Article 370 of its Constitution which gave a special if not disputed status to the region. Her gradual mutation of the demographics in her favour continues unabated. And as the older generation of the defying Kashmiris bows out the young view issues far less weighed by emotive persuasion. In combination with the unmatched density of military presence over decades, the new normal has practically established newer realities. And while Pakistan’s principled stance may just remain the same, a workaround shall have to be found to factor in newer realities and graduate policy to benefit from this immense economic activity taking place in the neighbourhood. Placing artificial restraints on what can be a moment of deliverance to the rapidly impoverishing people of Pakistan is failing them with the bankruptcy of thought. We are better only when stabler and economically buoyant. Time to shed the rhetoric.
India’s global footprint is remarkable. She is invited to the G7 and is a member of the G20. It is leading a movement of the global South to represent what is critical to equitable progress in times of climate change, pandemics and technology intrusion. It has a blueprint for establishing its own domain on the foreign policy front and sticks to it assiduously. She may seem arrogant and haughty at times triggering aversion but feels she has the space to assert her presence. It is a fine line but her foreign policy apparatus treads it skillfully. Modi has brought India to the point where she has begun to cast a wider net of its influence and impact. Pakistan has been skillfully reduced to a footnote in this Indian script. It is time to smell some real leaves.
It is time to recalibrate our policy towards India and be bold enough to create a tri-nation consensus, along with China, focusing on Asia to be the spur for wider economic growth and benefit. That alone will turn geoeconomics into a strategy. Breaking away from convention and boldness in conception can address this newer paradigm. Or we may be reduced to the footnote of history.