Some strategic thinkers and policy makers in South Asia and beyond still believe that Pakistan-India relations are a one-sided game and it is Pakistan that should be more serious in improving its relations with India, even on Indian terms. This strategic misconception has been further strengthened in the post-9/11 scenario because some major powers like the US and EU countries have started terming India as a major world power, quite prematurely. Despite that, India is yet far away from attaining this status. Such a privileged position being accorded to it by the west is basically due to their desire of propping up this poverty-ridden country as a counterweight to rising China and also considering it a major trading and investment market due to its vast population and cheaper labour force.
In the light of the economic indicators of the advanced economies of some major powers such as the US, Germany, France, Russia, China and Japan, it is difficult to consider India as a major power when its economic growth has recently gone down to 4.7 percent of GDP in 2013. It ranks 142nd in the world according to the per capita income (nominal) and its 30 percent population (estimates of UNDP) is living below the poverty line. Also, due to ongoing independence-seeking guerilla movements in seven North Eastern states of India since 1947, and the Naxalite guerilla movement in major parts of India, its future cohesion, stability and integrity remains in danger.
In the real sense India has yet to prove itself as an uncontested regional power in South Asia. This disputed regional status of India is mainly due to its ongoing disputes with almost all its neighbours. Because of the Kashmir dispute, India has remained engaged with Pakistan in a long arms race. Consequently, India become a declared nuclear power by taking the lead in conducting nuclear tests in May 1998 and in the process also compelled Pakistan to become a declared nuclear power. In the light of this established power equation in South Asia and in view of India’s 21st century economic interests linked with the Central Asian Republics (CARs), Russia and West Asia, Pakistan’s future strategic value for India is immense. Hence it does not make sense for Indian policy makers to start declaring India as a major world power unless it builds peace in South Asia by resolving its major disputes with its neighbours including Pakistan. In this regard India should develop tension-free friendly relations with Pakistan as a neighbouring nuclear power. If India resolves the Kashmir dispute in a just manner it will not be a costly bargain for it as compared to the substantial long term gains through the opening up of its trade and energy pipelines to the CARs and Iran through the shortest land route via Pakistan. It is only by consolidating its economic position in South Asia through boosting its economic growth through expanded intra-regional trade and investments that the regional countries will treat India as a major friendly power.
Pakistan’s strategic value for India to meet its objective of becoming a major world power in the earlier part of the 21st century can be better understood if we can visualise India’s future economic and strategic needs, which are linked with Pakistan. In this context it will not be wrong to estimate that for India having a population of over one billion people it will be extremely important to address its huge future energy shortages through imports from the Central and West Asian regions. This will be necessary to meet its industrial needs to attain its aspired future projected growth rates ranging between seven to 10 percent to address rampant poverty and to meet the rising domestic demands of energy for its large population. As estimated by US Department of Energy, India will face huge energy shortages by 2030 since by then its dependence on foreign oil will reach over 90 percent. Since in the east of India there is no major source of energy supply, it will have to import oil and gas from Turkmenistan and Iran. For this purpose the route for the pipelines through Afghanistan and Pakistan will be the shortest and cheapest as compared to the route through Afghanistan and Iran using Chahbahar seaport and then by pipelines to be constructed under the sea, avoiding exclusive economic zone of Pakistan. The same is true for India regarding importing iron ore and other minerals from Afghanistan where it is investing heavily and also for large scale trading of goods with the CARs and Iran. The trade route through Afghanistan and Pakistan will also be beneficial to India for trading with Russia, western China and even with Turkey and the EU countries in a long-term perspective. Therefore to meet its higher military and economic objectives to become a major world power, India will need to fully open up with Central Asia, Russia, West Asia and the Middle East through land routes for which it will need to improve its relations with Pakistan in a major way in the next 10 to 15 years. India can surely do this by resolving all major disputes with Pakistan, including the Kashmir issue, through dialogue in a just manner. Building better relations with Pakistan will also help India in further deepening its relations with the Gulf countries. In this context, although Pakistan can also considerably benefit in economic terms from building better relations with India, it will still be able to wait for a long time to link the development of good relations with India with the resolution of the Kashmir dispute since it does not depend on India to import energy from Iran and the CARs. On the other hand India will not be able to wait for long to meet its future energy shortages by imports from Iran and the CARs through Pakistan for which it will need to improve its relations with Pakistan.
In the light of the above discussion it can be said that Pakistan’s strategic value for India in the next few decades will be much more than the value India would have for Pakistan. It is therefore important for Pakistani strategic thinkers and policy makers to understand India’s real strategic position and its 21st century economic imperatives in the correct perspective so that they do not get misled by its exaggerated power status. This is necessary so that while Pakistani stake holders and policy makers formulate policy options for improving relations with India, they do not underestimate Pakistan’s relative power status and strategic significance for India. In this regard Pakistani perceptions about India’s power status should not be linked with its current weak economic position, being a temporary one, which can be strengthened in a reasonable timeframe by formulating and implementing better economic policies by the current and future governments in Pakistan.
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