Sunday, May 12, 2013

dna edit: Nawaz Sharif has the golden opportunity to bury the hatchet with India

May 13, 2013,LAHORE

India should be happy at Nawaz Sharif's spectacular victory in the Pakistan general elections. It will now engage with a democratically-elected government to try and resolve all outstanding issues involving the two countries. Though the Pakistani army continues to be a powerful entity and a threat to democracy, its role can be limited if both New Delhi and Islamabad can devise ways and means to conduct their affairs without allowing the army to interfere.

Unlike Asif Ali Zardari who had given the army a free hand to dictate foreign policy, Sharif, having already paid the price when former General Pervez Musharraf was the army chief, will use the power of a popular mandate to keep the military at bay.

With its traditional ally, the US, preoccupied with its own economic crisis following the global meltdown, Pakistan should now turn towards India for obvious reasons. A superior economy, India can provide a cure to a moribund Pakistani economy grappling with dwindling foreign reserves, balance of payment crisis, weakening exchange rate, fiscal mismanagement and liquidity crisis. In May, Pakistan has to shell out $533 million to the IMF as repayment of a loan it had taken to shore up its economy. There is acute unemployment — a cause of serious concern for a country where 103 million people — or 63 per cent of the 180 million population — fall under the age of 25. The country is also reeling from severe power shortage.

A stable and prosperous Pakistan is in India's interest. Increased trade between the two countries could be the first step to boost relations. At present bilateral trade stands at less than $3billion. According to a report by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a normalised trade regime would see that figure soar to $40 billion. Pakistan can initiate the process by granting India MFN status. During his visit to Islamabad in April, the president of Indo-Pak Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IPCCI) SM Munir had said that non-tariff barriers were impeding businessmen from both countries.

Both Sharif and Singh have an opportunity to turn the wheels of history and defeat the fundamentalist forces in both countries. Since the time of independence, India and Pakistan have paid the price for the animosity kept alive by rabid elements across the border. The two governments now need to demonstrate the will to work towards lasting peace.
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