Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari gave a refreshing point of view that Pakistan faces regarding its own security, economic development, struggle against extremism and optimism about US intervention regarding relations with India in todays Washington Post. By facing such realities, President Zardari sends a signal that the Pakistani establishment is prime to turn the page of disorder, mismanagement and widespread corruption, especially regarding the long standing appeasement of extremists.
First of all, President Zardari addressed the reality of Pakistan’s need to implement economic growth, especially regarding US assistance. To date, US assistance has been in the form of military assistance and defense contracting which does not aid the people of Pakistan. By having billions in economic assistance earmarked for military assistance, extremists have used this recruit and gain a political footing with the general public by expressing solidarity with the Pakistani people regarding a lack the lack of financial development by the government, extremist rhetoric has gained a foothold within society without actually having to develop the people themselves. The greatest nightmare any extremist group has comes in the form of actual improving the lives of people without the use of force, intimidation and actual implementation of democratic values. President Zardari clearly understands the only way the US can achieve a positive result in the region is through greater economic growth throughout the region. The President stated, “it(economic assistance) would signal to our region that the United States understands the correlation between a healthy economy, a satisfied people and a stable government.”
In another cunning display of preempting India’s refusal of outside intervention regarding Kashmir, President Zardari welcomed the appointment of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke to the region to try and address all the issues adversely affecting relations between India and Pakistan, especially with regarding to the Kashmir Issue. “We hope that the special envoy will work with India and Pakistan not only to bring a just and reasonable resolution to the issues of Kashmir and Jammu but also to address critical economic and environmental concerns.” By mixing both the economic and political issues surrounding the issue President Zardari’s focus shows an understanding that a prospering South Asia as a whole will not only improve relations between the two nuclear powers, but deal a blow to extremists in both countries whose activities have killed thousands in both India and Pakistan over the past decade.
Prior to this revelation, Pakistan and India have always played power politics, and revisited sixty-year-old arguments that continue to hamper the peace process. It will be impossible for India to reject this overture as empty rhetoric since the Pakistani President actually address’ real issue in this op-ed, most notably the water issue which lies at the heart of the Kashmir Issue. “The water crisis in Pakistan is directly linked to relations with India. Resolution could prevent an environmental catastrophe in South Asia, but failure to do so could fuel the fires of discontent that lead to extremism and terrorism.“ There can be no truer statement than this coming from either an Indian or Pakistani leader.
The issue of water rights between India and Pakistan remains the crux of the Kashmir Issue. To lay blame on terrorist and militant activities, old scores dating back to Nehru and Jinnah and separatist activities in the Kashmir region continues to plague relations between India and Pakistan, and fails to recognize that both share these issues, especially with regards to Kashmiri separatist beliefs regarding both countries. President Zardari has admitted in previous statements his understanding that even in Azad Kashmir, or Pakistani Administered Kashmir, there is a belief that Kashmir is one nation and not the property of either India or Pakistan. However, the water issue makes it impossible for India or Pakistan to show the flexibility to admit this reality due to the need of access to the water flowing through the disputed territory, resulting in the oppression of a people who just want to be left alone.
Make no mistake India could have a legitimate role in Kashmir just by allowing some form of autonomy. The Government of India has long claimed that Kashmir has the greatest autonomy of any state in the Indian Union. Unfortunately, the Kashmiri people wake up every day with 700,000 Indian troops occupying lands brutally and without regard for the people who actually come from the soil.
India, like Pakistan, falls victim to false political claims of leadership without actually having to produce any form of economic development for the people and resulting in possible extremist recruitment. The same can be said for the Karzai Government in Afghanistan as well. The resurgence of the Taliban in all parts of Afghanistan with the exception of Kabul rests solely on the inability of the government to actually implement economic reforms that would in fact improve the daily life of average Afghani citizens. By addressing these concerns directly, President Zardari once and for all asserted much needed leadership that the Pakistani people, and all of South Asia for that matter needs, a clear dose of reality.