Early this month, the world woke up to the stunning news of arch enemies Iran and Saudi Arabia shaking hands and restoring diplomatic ties, thanks to mediation from China.
The handshake happened on March 10 in Beijing between top representatives of the Iranian and Saudi regimes in the presence of a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee.
The handshake signified a strategic and economic victory for the three countries and foreign policy experts scrambled to examine the implications of this development. Undoubtedly, the peace deal will lead to greater trade and commerce between Iran, China and Saudi Arabia. Peace with Iran will help Saudi Arabia further advance its economic and social reforms. China and Iran—a pariah state for the US—will strengthen their ties and, finally, China emerges with a larger stature in world politics.
Peace and economic progress go hand-in-hand just as war and animosity between nations result in economic ruin and stunted growth.
Very recently, the celebrated poet and Bollywood lyricist Javed Akhtar tried to drive home this point during his much publicised visit to Pakistan. Speaking of the spectacular progress made by India in the last 75 years, Akhtar said, India has done well but could have done even better had there been peace and cooperation between India and Pakistan. He then opened our eyes further when he said that it is regions which make progress and not nations in isolation.
He cited the example of entire regions such as North America, Europe, East Asia and large parts of the Gulf which have prospered together. The warring nations of Europe fought two world wars in which millions died amidst widespread devastation. But today, Germany stands united; Europe has the European Union and a single currency and one can travel freely and effortlessly across countries in Europe.
Among all the regional trading blocs, the European Union with 28 member nations is the most successful with a common currency and a single market across Europe. The ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) has 10 nations of East Asia as its members and has been credited with bringing prosperity to nearly 700 million people in East Asia through regional trade and cooperation. Canada and the US have the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) along with Mexico; and likewise, every region in the world, be it Africa, South America, Central Asia, Indian Ocean Rim or the Gulf has a regional trading bloc.
Although South Asia has the 9-member SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Maldives, bilateral disputes, internal conflicts and weak economies have constrained the free flow of trade and commerce. The normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan could go a long way in paving the way for greater cooperation, socio-cultural exchange, trade and commerce.
If the nations of South Asia want to prosper and do even better, what they need is peace, stability and economic cooperation in the region. There are numerous studies and statistics to show how South Asia can prosper through trade and commerce if only the leaders of India and Pakistan start speaking the language of cooperation rather than conflict.
The people of India and Pakistan also need to understand that geopolitics gets complicated when vested interests have the upper hand as is the case in the South Asian region. For example, the noted Pakistani-Swedish political scientist Prof Ishtiaq Ahmed has pointed out how the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan was aided and abetted by the British colonial power as it wanted to create a buffer state between India and the communist Soviet Union. In the following decades, the Pakistan military became all-powerful when Pakistan became an important ally of the US throughout the Cold War years, especially to drive out the Russians from Afghanistan. Driven by its antipathy to India, it then entered into a strategic alliance with China and also fancied itself as a leader of Islamic nations.
The misadventures of the Pakistani military over the last 75 years have been ruinous having led to the partition of the nation with the creation of Bangladesh, and an economy that lies in tatters today. Now in the throes of an economic crisis, a number of scholars in Pakistan have realised that it was suicidal of their leaders to wage four wars against India and promote terrorism across the border.
Loose talk in India about reclaiming Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) is equally foolish, unproductive and self-defeating.
The Iran-Saudi Arabia peace accord is a major breakthrough and the world is waiting and watching to see what emerges from this accord. Whatever be its fate, there are valuable lessons to draw, yet again, especially for India, Pakistan and the whole of South Asia.
Abhay Vaidya has worked as a senior journalist with a number of leading publications. He is now director at a policy research think tank in Pune
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