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‘Heart of Asia’ Summit: TO USHER ECONOMIC TIES?, By Shivaji Sarkar, 14 Dec, 2015 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 14 December 2015

‘Heart of Asia’ Summit


By Shivaji Sarkar


Amid the noise of the Opposition, the Narendra Modi government has taken an appropriate step to ease relationship with Pakistan. It is a strong statement even as terrorist activities grow in that troubled State. It virtually states that connectivity is at the heart of India for pushing regional economic cooperation.


The ‘Heart of Asia’ meet has ushered in new hopes. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has given a call to Pakistan to counter terrorism with sincerity so that not only peace prevails but the regional market also opens up.


The Nawaz Sharif government was asked to lift barriers on transit trade with Afghanistan and open up the Wagah checkpoint for Afghan trucks carrying goods to India. Swaraj’s call was in sync with the statement of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who also wants an end to Pakistan army’s support to Haqqani and other terrorist organizations ensconced in Pakistan.


Will it end terrorism and give a fillip to the India-Pakistan-Afghan trade? It’s definitely not that easy. Sharif may like what all those assembled at Heart of Asia may have said. And, he gave a bold statement that “An enemy of Afghanistan is an enemy of Pakistan”. But the Pakistan army is simply not ready to accept the reality. It hasn’t changed. What Gen Parvez Musharraf had started at Kargil and the subsequent boost to terrorism, has taken the subcontinent backwards.


So will the thaw continue? With the kind of interest the Pakistan army has in the terrorist groups, their trade in drugs and arms, it will not be easy. So the questions in India and elsewhere are being raised as to why India participated in the supposedly not useful ‘Heart of Asia’ dialogue. During the past few years, the world has seen that more peace is being discussed, more active Taliban, Jaish and other groups have become.


It has also led to the isolation of the civilian government in the troubled State – an objective of the terrorists’ group. India’s presence and assertion at the meet and call for elimination of noxious groups be it Daesh, Jais, Taliban or for that matter any anti-civilization assemblage is appropriate for taking the world forward to the goal of peace, development and connectivity.


There are groups in India, Afghanistan and Pakistan who want closer linkages. Pakistan remains at the heart of the problem. Its isolation by the world powers and continuous chastising has weakened the peace-loving developmental forces. The three countries are spending over two per cent of their GDP in countering the anti-civilization forces. The bickering of the three countries’ governments has caused immense problems for their people who are literally being bled to death.


The Indian effort at bringing these countries closer should be seen as a beginning towards a long-term solution and ushering in of a new connectivity that has the potential of eliminating terrorism from the region – a precursor to the widening of trade linkages and prosperity of the Indian subcontinent, often called South Asia.


This does sound nice to hear. India despite Pakistan not according it the most favoured nation treatment, causing hurdles in transportation of goods to and fro Afghanistan, still has sizable business with Pakistan and Afghanistan. Indian goods are fancied. It also remains the biggest market for goods produced in those countries. The potential for increasing the volume is in the interest of not only these three countries but also it can open up avenues for easy trade to Central Asia.


There is a distant dream of 1970s which wanted the Iranian capital Tehran to connect with Dhaka, Yangoon and Bangkok. Sadly, all these years, the only block and obstacle has been Pakistan for its myriad problems, artificial nationality, and siege by various ultra groups to create trouble in the world. The present dialogue is a mere beginning of a long process. There are dangers too. The enemy is not weak.


Gen Musharraf, in his autobiography, has claimed success in hoodwinking the US to grant almost a trillion of dollars to “fight terror”. He claimed that the US money boosted the tottering economy of Pakistan.  What he does not say is that a sizeable amount of this dole has gone to ISI and through it to Taliban.


That is the bitter truth. Taliban militants receive financial support through the Islamic banking system, worth about $2 trillion worldwide and have posted an annual growth rate of 15 per cent, Pakistani bankers say. Such transactions are made through various channels. Allegations arose in early 2001 that the system aided terrorism, but authorities couldn’t prove any of these, says Adnan Rasool, an Islamabad-based Islamic banking specialist.


Fighting anti-civilization forces is not easy. It has to be fought at different levels across various countries. They want to create different kind of system in the name of Islam and destruction of the existing system, which many Islamic scholars disagree.


It is just not a battle that can be fought by the governments alone. They have to penetrate the system and through the common poorest people in these countries. The governments have to create strong systems of care at every level – health, education, food et al. They have to create jobs to the teeming millions so that they are not weaned away by anti-civilization groups flush with petro-dollars.


Should the world lose hope? No. The beginning has already been made. The goods-laden trucks are rolling out of Wagah to Attari. The odds are great but not insurmountable. The NDA government envisaged closer SAARC ties as it took oath in May 2014. Eighteen months are too short to take it to the climax in a region that sees every step with caution and suspicion.


Nonetheless, the coming of the three governments on the same platform is itself a positive multi-dimensional decision. It aims at breaking the economic and structural collapse of international terrorism and expanse of the regional trade, economic activity and cultural connectivity. A positive beginning has been made. Hardcore antagonists may like it or not, a continuous dialogue is a must for the peace, progress and prosperity of the region. Trade is a natural outcome. Nurtured successfully, it would lead to a new era and GDP of the region would multiply manifold. --- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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