Improving India-Pakistan relations seemed to be furthest from Rehman Malik’s mind when he came to Delhi last week. Instead, with elections due in Pakistan by May 2013, Malik seemed to be playing to the gallery of hawks in his country with his outrageous statements on the Kargil War and the Mumbai attacks.
Malik’s comments also took the limelight away from a bilateral development that both countries should be proud of: The operationalisation of the new visa regime between India and Pakistan which will give many, especially the aged, a chance to resume their contacts across the border. So while the people-to-people part of the relationship progressed, in typical South Asian style, the leaders played spoilsport.
The Malik visit has turned into a mini-disaster for India’s ruling coalition, squeezing its political space for furthering the peace process.
But for Pakistan, Malik’s attitude has more dangerous long-term consequences.
It is clear that at least till the next elections, Malik and his government will not act on extremists like Hafiz Sayeed based on evidence that India has provided, and which Malik dismissed as mere “information.” But the myopia of this populist strategy becomes evident when viewed through Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, a recent report of the Atlantic Council and the U.S.’s National Intelligence Council.
The report predicts that by 2030, India’s economy will be 16 times larger than Pakistan’s. With Pakistan’s population growing faster than India’s, the average Indian will be three times richer than the average Pakistani. Pakistani politicians should remember what happened between East and West Germany, when the wealth gap between the two contiguous countries became all too apparent; the eastern state could not stand alone.
The implications of the widening prosperity chasm are not pleasant for India either. Illegal immigration, more hostile acts across the border, more infiltration in Jammu and Kashmir, more pressure on shared resources like river water will add to India’s headache. But India will also have greater resources to deal with these problems.
India’s military budget is currently eight times that of Pakistan; if both countries maintain the same percentage of GDP for defense, India will outspend Pakistan by about 13 times on its defense by 2030. India’s strategic clout – in global realpolitik everyone likes a rich, powerful friend rather than a weak, violent one – will only exacerbate the power gap between the South Asian neighbors.
The Pakistani political elite have very little time to reform – the country’s youth bulge is already a ticking time bomb. With a median age of 21, and the economy barely growing at 3%, millions of jobless young Pakistanis are likely to further gravitate towards extremism. An ambitious army chief may find the situation just perfect to step into a presidential role, and sideline the political process yet again.
To avert this situation it is in the interest of Pakistani politicians to foster more economic linkages with a growing India, to show boldness and vision in normalizing bilateral relations.
With their false bravado on Indian soil, leaders like Malik are failing their country.
Sambuddha Mitra Mustafi is a Senior Researcher at Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations.
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