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ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Thursday presented a strong case for engagement with neighbouring India, asking whether it serves Pakistan’s interest and objective to have practically cut all engagements with New Delhi.

Addressing the 49th Foundation Day of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), the foreign minister emphasized the need for economic integration between Pakistan and India at such a level where neither state would be in a position to take extreme positions.

“If at that point in time, we had achieved economic engagement with India and our economic engagement on both sides had been to such a level that perhaps we would be in a position to more effectively influence Indian policymaking. If India’s economic integration with Pakistan and Pakistan’s economic integration with India was at such a point, perhaps neither state would be in a position to take such extreme positions,” he stated.

Unfortunately, he added by lamenting that “if we follow “cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face” and if we don’t have that economic engagement, then perhaps we’re in a position where we are less able to impact and to affect Indian policymaking.”

Bilawal sees ‘very limited’ prospect of India dialogue

“Whatever I think about the government of India and their policies- and we have very strong feelings on that, if I’m talking to them through the media, through press conferences and press releases and statements and not talking with them, then am I able to effectively impact any sort of change? Forget about the government, if it’s our principled decision that I will not, which I don’t think has ever happened in the history of the course of time and man, that a state even in times of war not communicated,” he added.

The foreign minister pointed out that Pakistan has issues and a long history of conflict with India. “Today, where we have serious disputes, the events of August 2019 cannot be taken lightly. The attempted undermining of the internationally disputed status of Indian-occupied Kashmir; the beginning of a process to undermine the Muslim majority and artificially empower the minority are such important issues for us that indeed we have to take them up in the most serious and most aggressive manner,” he added.

Indeed, it is an incredibly significant assault on the rights of the people of Kashmir, he said and also referred to the delimitation commission in May in occupied Kashmir; the Islamophobic remarks of the BJP’s leaders, adding that all of that creates an environment in which engagement is very difficult for Pakistan, if not impossible.

“I’d like to leave a thought for you to think about as we are talking in a think tank, that does it serve our interests or do we achieve our objectives, whatever they may be, be it Kashmir, be it the rising Islamophobia, be it the Hindutva supremacist nature of the new regime and government in India, does it serve our objective that we have practically cut all engagement? That I, as foreign minister of Pakistan, as the representative of my country, not only don’t speak to the Indian government but I also don’t speak to the Indian people,” Bilawal added.

He further asked as to whether it is the best way to communicate or achieve Pakistan’s objective? “We don’t have a trading relationship with the East and many would argue that absolutely, we should not, given these outrageous assaults on our principled positions, it would be inappropriate for Pakistan to take a step. Others would argue that this is just a continuation of the thought that we cut off our nose to spite one’s face,” he added.

The foreign minister also emphasized engaging with the people of India, saying “if we engaged with the government and state functionaries that has its own benefits, but if we engaged with the Indian media and the public, surely we would be in a better place to advocate for Pakistan’s cause and position, to expose the abuses of their government directly to their people.”

Surely, he added that talking to the people and engaging with the public serves the interests of Pakistan, that despite the hyper-nationalist nature of Indian media, are we going to seed that space to them and them alone?

“Or do we not believe that no matter what policy or whatever position the government of India may be taking, surely we don’t blame the people of India, who we share thousands of years of history with, for every single decision of their government. I believe that these are serious topics that think tanks such as yourselves have been talking about, but it’s time for us to seriously get thinking about it,” he added.

Bilawal added: “We, as Pakistanis have to understand where we stand at this point in time. We are at a crossroads, at an extremely difficult crossroads of human history, we faced a once-in-a-hundred years’ pandemic which is yet to be over, people are still dying and global health is still at risk.”

Our neighbour to the north is China, our all-weather friend, he stated, adding that whether we like it or not, we will never be able to change the fact that India is also our neighbour and on the other side, we have Iran, and of course, Afghanistan.

“So, it is very easy to see that the development of global geopolitical events has had a direct impact on Pakistan, but, have we been conducting ourselves in a way that engages with these challenges and sees them not only as challenges but also an opportunity? I don’t think we have been, or if we have been, I’m sure we have been trying to but there’s a lot more potential which is just waiting to be unlocked.”

“Diplomatically, economically, culturally, and politically, we believe that engagement is the answer. When I say that we’re cutting off our nose to spite our face, I mean that if we’re not even going to try and engage on the basis of one issue or the other, then how can we hope to impact or change the course of events?” he further asked.

Talking about the global great power conflict, he said that like in the past, Pakistan can play a role to mitigate and avert rather than increasing conflict, tensions by playing as a bridge to enhance engagement.

He added that Pakistan’s relationship with China and its people will continue to grow from strength to strength. “We are committed to our economic engagement, we have achieved quite a lot through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and there’s much more for us to unlock as far as economic potential is concerned,” he added.

“If the development of global events takes the trajectory as we see today, then it surely doesn’t serve Pakistan’s interests that a great power conflict breakout in our neighbourhood and the consequences for that, for our people and our region have significance,” he added.

In the past, he added that Pakistan has not played the role of an aggravator in such a conflict; in fact, Pakistan has played the role of a bridge in the past, between the United States and China and establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.

He added that Pakistan still has the potential to play the role as a bridge between great powers “rather than a divider”. “That requires engagement; it requires engagement with the United States as well. Our relationship with the United States has also been heavily tinted by a specific security lens,” he pointed out.

Bilawal further stated that Pakistanis are so well-positioned, “if we engage with our overseas communities, if we engage with our intellectual capital, and if we engage with the United States not just as a country but as a people, to put across our point of view and provide not only economic opportunities for our people but to play a role in reducing rather than increasing the tensions on the world stage.”

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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Murtuza Ali Babrawala Jun 17, 2022 08:17am
FM Bilawal is talking sense in engaging with India but he would be able to implement or atleast allow people to people engagement as it was prior to August 2019. Pakistan and India would be better off if they talk and trade. This continued state of tension is in no ones interest and does not help in solving economic problems facing both countries.
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Anwar Chaudhry Jun 17, 2022 02:53pm
I do agree with him.
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