THE much vaunted ‘composite dialogue’ process between India and Pakistan has been in a longish doldrums of sorts. As things stand, India’s establishment appears to be in no mood to pursue the dialogue under any pretext – a veritable impasse if ever there was one! Time may be ripe for some stock-taking, if not soul-searching. In the process, it may not be such a bad idea to do a bit of arithmetic if only to find out where the whole rigmarole threatens to take the two countries – and the region – in the interim.
As one recalls, a short while back, bananas, tomatoes and onions were being imported from India by the truckload to get over a purported ‘shortage’ of these items this side of the border. The man in the street may be excused for wondering why is it that time and again it is we who take such precipitate decisions. Why on earth do we not plan in advance? Surely, in the agriculture sector – which should have been our forte – we should never be caught napping. This does call for a bit of introspection, does it not?
An over-the-shoulder reality check may be in order. Not the last time but the one before that, when there was a crises linked to the price of sugar, the planners had allowed the import of sugar from India ostensibly “to stabilize domestic prices”. One can assume that a bright whiz-kid of the same ilk must have got the brainwave earlier to start import of the chilled buffalo meat from that country. Rather interesting how these developments take place! Our planners are a rum lot. There are times when they react precipitately as if the end of the world is nigh; at others they just stay put.
Does the aforesaid not make one wonder how the nation had managed to make do in the pre-CBM days? As one recalls, the people did get by fairly well on the local sugar, tomatoes, bananas and garlic, not to talk of buffalo meat. All of a sudden in the post-CBM period we appeared to be falling short of everything under the sun, even such items as we once used to export.
Has the perspicacious reader ever wondered why India did not feel a bilateral urge to import similar stuff from Pakistan? After all, across the border, they too must feel the necessity occasionally to “stabilize domestic prices”. Or, was it only our skyrocketing economy – ever on the verge of take-off – that felt the pinch? To achieve our declared aim of joining the Asian tigers, we could hardly afford to have a shortage of buffalo meat, tomatoes, garlic or, even more importantly, occasional sugarcoating!
Why is it that at Wagah, the traffic in foodstuffs has been mainly Pakistan bound? May be it is because, unlike the gregarious Pakistanis, the Indians are trained to keep their cravings within bounds. Or, perhaps because their essential needs were being met through the channel of smuggling, in which our nationals have long indulged with abandon. Smuggling is a vice that cannot be fully curbed; it happens all over the world. The sole pity is that our chaps chose to smuggle out capital goods like edible oils, rock salt, cement and wheat in return for such practically worthless produce as ‘pan’, ‘bidi’ and beetle-nuts.
Be that as it may, one simply fails to understand the elusive psyche of our very own liberal pen pushers. They are all for getting things over from India. For instance, one recalls the hue and cry about non-import of Indian films, books and journals. One would have had no quarrel with these demands if only they were not so blatantly one-sided. Why didn’t these chaps also make out a case for reciprocal exports from Pakistan to India? After all, there is such a thing as reciprocity in international relations.
And then, one may justifiably ask those of our nationals who have been clamoring for the restoration of full fledged trade relations with India how they intend to bring about any semblance of equilibrium in the balance of trade between the two countries. One does not wish to pour cold water over their dreams, but one would certainly like to be convinced of the legitimacy of their argument. After all, there is a case to be made in favour of a level playing field.
The fruits this far of the myriad CBMs on and off the bilateral high table have all been reaped by Indian interests. One seeks in vain to pinpoint any CBM that may, ever so indirectly, have brought some benefit to this land. The much–vaunted people-to-people-contact rigmarole degenerated into a one-sided tourist yatra from Pakistan to India. Literally, thousands of Pakistanis (among them a generous sprinkling of ‘begums’; their bags bursting with dollars) made regular pilgrimages to Indian cities to buy jewelry, clothing and the like! Barring members of divided families, there were hardly any reciprocal visits in the opposite direction. Such Indians as did visit came mainly as honoured guests of the government or of our socialites. Pakistan’s economy gained little from their visits. In effect, the people-to-people-contact CBM, like so many others of the ilk, have long lost relevance, if ever there was one. It is about time someone made out a case for reciprocity!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.