Pakistan is undergoing one of the most catastrophic episodes of flooding in recent memory. Over 1,325 people have lost their lives and more than 33 million people have been affected by the deluge that has wreaked damage to the tune of $10 billion. It has thrown the nation’s economy, which was already hit by high current account and fiscal deficits as well as energy shortages, into a tailspin. Last week, the UN issued a flash appeal for $160 million in emergency assistance to help Pakistan.
The IMF also approved a tranche of $1.1 billion in bailout funds for Islamabad. But, the impact of this funding will be weakened as 45% of Pakistan’s cotton crop has been swept away. The cotton crop is a critical component in the country’s textile industry, which makes up for 60% of its exports. Encouragingly, help has been reaching Islamabad from all fronts, including India.
The messaging from the top has been encouraging with PM Modi tweeting his sympathies for those affected, as well as External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar remarking India should be more generous and non-reciprocal when it comes to promoting regionalism. The softening of the stance as far as the Indian leadership is concerned signals a change of air in the political sphere.
India’s generosity towards its neighbours is not a newfound character trait. In 1997, then Prime Minister IK Gujral had come up with the so-called Gujral Doctrine that espoused a non-reciprocal foreign policy for South Asia that took into account India’s geographic size, as well as population and GDP that placed it in an advantageous situation, where it could afford to be more giving towards its neighbours. But, there is currently a trade ban on India, imposed by Pakistan in the aftermath of the NDA government’s abrogation of Article 370 which gave Jammu and Kashmir a special status.
The relationship shared between the two nations has been rife with tension for many decades now. But recent instances of the two nations not getting at each other’s throats at the slightest provocation have offered lessons in diplomatic resolutions. The recent gaff of India firing a missile into Pakistan has been swept under the carpet without much fanfare, a development that bodes well for both the nations. Similarly, an LOC ceasefire that was initiated in Kashmir in February 2021, has also sowed the seeds of bonhomie on the borders, with a resolution by the military operations chiefs of both nations to address core issues for good.
This works to India’s advantage as it doesn’t have to – at least for the time being – get bogged down by conflicts on two fronts – i.e. Islamabad and Beijing. Following the neutralisation of al-Qaeda’s figurehead Ayman al-Zawahiri, Pakistan is attempting to find itself in the good books of the US again. It’s a tightrope act in the light of strategic interests involving defence and financial assistance from Washington. But, the US also counts on India as one of its most dependable allies in the Quad, aimed at throttling Chinese expansionism. So Pakistan can’t afford to rub any party the wrong way. It should not take a calamity or a catastrophe to set bilateral relationships between New Delhi and Islamabad in order. However, considering the two nations have been belligerent nuclear powered neighbours that have been stepping on each other’s toes in more ways than one, any avenue to extend an olive branch should be considered an appropriate one.