Foreign policy inertia in Pakistan seems difficult to overcome in the foreseeable future. The obstacles to shift the course of India policy strategically are simply too many and too deeply embedded in the structures of Pakistani politics. Pakistan’s security quagmire, economic crisis and regional isolation have, indeed, deterred the military in recent years from intervention in politics and adventurism in the region. The military depends on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to rescue Pakistan economically and diplomatically, and needs his support for combating domestic sources of insecurity.
Sharif’s success in turning a new leaf in relations with India also hinges on the corresponding willingness of Indian leadership. Ever since the Composite Dialogue resumed after Mumbai attacks, it has acted pragmatically, together with Pakistani counterparts, not to let mutual security reservations derail progress in trade and economic relations. This is despite the fact that India does not have as much incentive for the purpose as Pakistan does, especially in comparative economic terms. For the same reason, especially the fact that their regional trade, investment and energy interests growingly converge, India and Pakistan will need to find a common ground in Afghanistan. This is where the US and China, given their close ties with the two countries and deep interest in regional stability, can play a contributing role.
However, the long-term responsibility for re-charting Pakistan’s India policy ultimately lies with its leadership. Consolidating trade and economic relations with India will be instrumental in eroding the military’s paranoia with the Indian threat and its ideological underpinnings. Sharif’s credible, unhampered quest for the purpose may go a long way in building institutions in trade, economy and politics that reduce insecurity, mistrust and ideological enmities and eventually show that promising gains trump painful losses.
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