Why Pakistan is talking about dosti with India

The business community in Pakistan on Wednesday requested Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif to shake hands with India. Even politicians like Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Chief Minister of Pakistan's Punjab Maryam Nawaz are seeking that doors of friendship be opened. What brings this call for dosti after five years of frozen ties?
Why Pakistan is talking about dosti with India
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"Pakistan's problem is that it bit off more than it could chew. It has got stuck in its own trap that it originally set for India," Faran Jeffery, Deputy Director of UK-based think tank ITCT, wrote on X.

Jeffery was reacting to a video of Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif attending a gathering of Karachi’s business community members on Wednesday (April 24). In the video, leaders of Pakistan's business community requested Shehbaz Sharif to shake hands with India for the betterment of the Islamic country's economic situation.

The request to normalise ties with India comes after bilateral relations remained in deep freeze for five years. The ties saw a free fall after the 2019 Pulwama attack and has hurt Pakistan's interests immensely. This even as Pakistan teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, surviving with assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Not just Pakistan's business community, its top politicians, including the Finance Minister and Punjab Chief Minister, have been seeking the opening of doors of friendship with India.

The Pakistani business community feels that it would be beneficial for Pakistan to shake hands with India and eventually improve Pakistan's economic situation.

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Why Pakistan is talking about dosti with India

"I would want you to shake two more hands. One with our neighbours, which you are already doing, including India, and another handshake with a 'resident' at Adiala Jail and improve things there. If this basic thing is done, we will improve," said businessman and stock market trader Habib.

The Adila Jail reference was to former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

While Arif Habib urged a handshake with India, a gentleman standing behind him shook his head in agreement, the conference hall was filled with the sound of applause.

The request comes against the backdrop of Pakistan's strained commercial and diplomatic ties with India which nosedived after the Pulwama attack and India's abrogation of Article 370, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir, in 2019.

Contrary to the preceding Imran Khan government, which was always in attack mode towards India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the talks of easing up ties could be seen as a welcome change, especially at a time when the Pakistani economy is in a shambles.

However, it is not just the business community that is seeking a reconciliation with India. The high-ups at Islamabad and Lahore have also urged the same.

Maryam Nawaz, Chief Minister of Pakistan Punjab and daughter of former PM Nawaz Sharif, sought that the doors of friendship be opened with India.

"Don’t fight wars with neighboursâ€æ open the doors of friendshipâ€æ open the doors of your hearts and countries," Maryam Nawaz quoted her father Nawaz Sharif during her visit to Kartarpur Gurudwara on Baisakhi, the harvest festival.

"People in Punjab, whether they are from Pakistan or in India, saw that a daughter of India's Punjab and Pakistan's Punjab has become the mukhya mantri (CM), they celebrated," said Maryam next.

The careful switch to 'mukhya mantri' instead of 'chief minister' or the 'wazir e aala', in front of 3,000 Indian Sikh pilgrims, was not to be missed. What was also interesting was Maryam Nawaz's invocation of her cross-border Punjabi identity.

Speaking at the Kartarpur Gurudwara, where Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev spent his final days, the newly appointed Punjab CM also informed of her ties to the Indian state of Punjab.

The speaking up of Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Muslim League supremo Nawaz Sharif and the niece of Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, for better Indo-Pak ties is significant given her family's political clout.

Recently, the Pakistani Special Representative on Afghanistan, Asif Durrani, said his country had suffered more due to its internal situation than its three wars with India in terms of blood spilt and finances drained, according to DAWN.

Though the politicians and business leaders are making the right kind of noises, it remains unknown whether the parallel power centre in Rawalpindi, the military that controls everything in Pakistan, would be onboard.

Pakistan faces a severe economic crisis, marked by record-high inflation, a depreciating currency, and critically low foreign reserves.

The crisis, which began in 2022, has been exacerbated by political unrest, excessive external borrowings, poor governance, and low productivity per capita.

The national debt has doubled roughly every five years over the last 25 years, reaching $220 billion by the end of the Imran Khan government in 2022.

Therefore, Pakistan is seeking an IMF loan of at least $6 billion to avoid debt default and repay billions of dollars in debt due.

Pakistan, heavily reliant on food and fuel imports, has consistently registered significant trade deficits and the recent could be towards easing some of those problems.

Last month, Pakistani Finance Minister Ishaq Dar's mention of the new Pakistani government's intention to "seriously consider reviving trade relations with India" drew considerable attention, and further cements the 'dosti' Pakistan is intending to make.

However, days later, Islamabad's Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said that there are such plans.

There is also this realisation in Pakistan that India trades with the entire world, including rival China, so why not Pakistan?

It isn't clear if India would be ready to meet Pakistan mid-way given the bitter history between the two.

Faran Jeffery, of ITCT, sums up by saying, "Pakistan has now realised that it can no longer switch on and switch off relations with India at its will".

"Things have changed in India under PM Modi. The mood of the general masses in India has changed. This is no longer the India that Pakistani Generals and strategic thinkers were used to. This is an evolved India. And Pakistan will be learning that the hard way," Faran Jeffery said, next.

"So, good luck!," he added.

Source: India Today

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