Legendary cricketer Imran Khan led his party Tehreek-e-Insaf to victory in the recent elections in Pakistan. Despite ups and downs, he worked tirelessly to expand his political base and emerged victorious. His relationship with the army was cordial. His familiarity with India and popularity as a cricketer should be leveraged to push back decades of hostility and build friendly relations.
A succession of Indian leaders in recent decades had endeavoured to improve relations. Special mention should be made to the efforts of Atal Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh in trying to push back the bitterness. However, things had not improved much.
Over three decades ago IE suggested approaching the issue through trade. We reasoned that man is primarily an economic animal and thus the idea of working on shared economic interests had greater prospects for success. We pointed to the centuries of hostilities among major European nations transformed with such an effort after the Second World War. Until that war, no two countries of Europe so fiercely opposed each other as did Britain and France or Germany and Britain. There were centuries of a bitter feud in conquering new territories and expanding their hegemony.
Post-1945 one witnessed a dramatic transformation. The boom aided by the US was built on cooperative economic engagement. Today there are free borders along most European nations. The Schengen visa provides for travel among 26 countries with a single visa. The EU has emerged a reliable counter to the dominance of the US and Japan and now China. Several European nations have opted for a common currency, agreeing for economic policies involving a substantial surrender of national sovereignty. The benefits were indeed immense in preparing Europe face competition from other industrial giants. Airbus Industrie is the most shining example of taking on the might of the US aerospace industry, successfully shooing out Lockheed and McDonald Douglas and posing a tough challenge to Boeing.
IE suggested such a cooperative approach between India and Pakistan taking along the other SAARC countries. The focus on economics and development would eliminate the traditional hostilities. Imran Khan can add a new dimension of sports diplomacy as well. In less than a decade entire south Asia can emerge a strong economic power. We have failed in tackling diplomacy through politics and politicians. Why don’t we try this through economics and business?