Pak-India trade ties—a myth
S. M. Hali
Narendra Modi was elected as the Prime Minister because the business community reposed confidence in his acumen for promoting trade and commerce. He has been keen to live up to his election campaign promise of improving India’s economy through trade and investment.
As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi had earned the dubious title of “the butcher of Gujarat” for his alleged role in the genocide of over 2000 Muslims in 2002 but his role in establishing Gujarat as a success story in trade and commerce attracted Indians to cast their vote in his favour to replicate Gujarat’s trading experience nationally.
Modi’s home province of Gujarat is known worldwide for its trading shrewdness. Columbia University economist and Indian origin scholar Jagdish Bhagwati affirms that Modi possesses the “Gujarati DNA” of a trader. Modi’s premise is that in the year 1700, India accounted for about a quarter of the world economy. Today, it accounts for about 5% despite having some 17% of the world’s population; thus Modi’s endeavour to reclaim that heritage. India’s 15th Prime Minister has made vocal and visible overtures to the west as well as China to make investments and establish trading ties with India. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s high profile visit to India and Modi’s well orchestrated yatra to Japan and the USA last month are prime examples of this venture.
Unfortunately Modi has a split personality. One side wants to pursue his dreams of taking India to great heights of economic development. The Congress Party’s claims of “India shining” were a sham. The reality is that despite a growing middle class, high-tech centers and shopping malls and newly minted billionaires, the majority of India spends its life in abject poverty. Its per capita GDP is on a level with Pakistan, Yemen and several of the least-developed states in the world, and is just a third of China, a neighbour with whom Modi wants to compete. India has the potential to rise and Modi has the wherewithal to lead the economic revival of India.
Unfortunately, Modi’s evil streak and the millstone around his neck is his anti-Muslim apathy. His party, which he now leads, the BJP still demonstrates aggressive Hindu nationalism which targets Muslims and Pakistan. Modi himself, since his youth has been an active member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Right-wing Hindu nationalist group founded in 1925 that promoted Hindu extremism and a lack of tolerance for Muslims and other minorities in India, including lower caste Hindus. Modi’s party was at the forefront of Hindu rioters who stormed and destroyed the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in 1992.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, himself a trader and businessman, made strong overtures to his Indian counterpart for establishing trade ties when he came to power in June 2013 but his offers were spurned. When Modi took up the mantle of power in May 2014, he took the unprecedented step of inviting all SAARC leaders to attend his inauguration ceremony. Sharif availed the opportunity and was at Delhi to witness the historic event. Instead of meeting Kashmiri leaders on the sidelines of visits to India like his predecessors, Sharif chose to call upon Indian industrialists and business tycoons, inviting them to invest in Pakistan. The future of Pakistan-India relations seemed bright but Modi’s evil alter ego prevailed. Besides making jingoistic and bellicose statements challenging and deriding Pakistan, Modi cancelled the first step in normalizing relations, the Foreign Secretary level talks scheduled for August 25, 2014 on a flimsy excuse. At the UN General Assembly session he made snide remarks disparaging Pakistan and to make matters worse, launched a barrage of heavy artillery and mortar fire across the LOC and Pak-India working boundary, killing a dozen civilians and soldiers, heightening tension but blaming Pakistan for violating the ceasefire since 2003.
As far as trade relations with Pakistan are concerned, the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan organized a four-day expo titled Alishan Pakistan – the second edition of the lifestyle Pakistan exhibition in New Delhi from 11-14 September. At the highly successful exhibition comprising 260 stalls, which received an unprecedented response from the people of India, all products were sold on the first three days of the event. The exhibition showcased Pakistan’s top-quality textiles, including high-end designer wear, furniture and other high quality products. It shows that the average people of India are not interested in a campaign of division and sectarianism. The lifestyle expo was first held in April 2012 in New Delhi.
Unfortunately, the joy of the Pakistani business community was short lived. Indian authorities cracked down hard on the Pakistani traders. As per visa protocols of 2012, both India and Pakistan are bound to give business visa “Exemption from Police Reporting.” All members of the Pakistani delegation were harassed and fined $ 40 per participant for missing Police reporting during the trade exhibition. To rub salt in the wound, no relaxation is being granted by Indian authorities in issuance of visa to Pakistani businessmen. Element of non-cooperation and aggressiveness towards Pakistan is significant in conduct of Indian authorities during the Modi regime.
The campaign manifesto of the BJP outlined a worldview that saw India as a once-mighty trading nation that has lost its way. “India’s contribution to the march of civilization goes back to several thousand years before the Christian era… up to the eighteenth century, India was respected for its flourishing economy, trade, commerce and culture,” the manifesto noted. “India had a much bigger role and presence in industry and manufacturing than any nation in Europe or Asia… India was also one of the greatest shipbuilding nations and consequently had an access to international markets.”
Modi tends to forget that the golden era of trade and commerce where India was a major leader, is the era when Muslims ruled the Indian Sub-Continent. The art of ship building and the discipline of trade and commerce were brought to India by the Arabs. Venting his anger at the Muslims and towards Pakistan will only harm India and deter it from reaching its true potential.
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