If the EU could do it

Jul 25 2014, 12:52 IST
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SummaryA South Asian union based on trade could reduce the incentive for war in the region

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has told the world that his government will pursue the “economic” interest of Pakistan. What was missed by most Pakistanis was his subtle replacement of the adjective “national”. However, he did not add that the policy he would pursue with India would be “trade-first” rather than “Kashmir-first”. The world would agree with him, knowing that India and Pakistan have to become “normal” with each other before they can agree on Kashmir.

So far, the world has not cracked the “nationalist” carapace of Pakistani thinking. But an ex-World Bank executive active in Pakistan is stubbornly spreading the variant message. In a recent article in Newsweek Pakistan, Ishrat Husain, dean and director of the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi, and a former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, proposed a regional economic union:

“As with the EU, a South Asian economic union will take decades of convincing and [has] much history to overcome. Trade normalisation and the exchange and sharing of knowledge will greatly advance the cause while providing an immediate win-win for the region. India and Pakistan have to take the lead here for the benefit of their own people, the region, and indeed the world. Economic integration makes perfect business sense. It is critical if South Asia is to thrive.”

Husain has been thinking laterally since his governorship of the State Bank and, as far as I know, he is like no one else in Pakistan — frankly indicting Pakistan for resisting national survival. While visiting his alma mater, Government College University, Lahore, earlier this decade, he made a rather clean vivisection of the Pakistani mind. His statement is recorded in a 2008 journal of the college.

On national security: “Those who propound the national security state thesis believe that the security establishment has purposely kept the fear of India trying to break up Pakistan alive to perpetuate their ascendancy. In response, the Indian intrusion in 1971 and their efforts to play up the sentiments of minority ethnic groups in Pakistan against the established state are cited as examples of India’s ‘nefarious design’ on Pakistan.”

On the Pakistani psyche: “Pakistanis, by and large, have developed a highly cynical and negative psyche. Insecurity of

the state, that is, the fear of re-absorption by India, the experience of [the] separation of East Pakistan, the poor track record of the credibility of our successive leaders have all contributed to this psyche. But

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