The February 16 talks on peaceful settlement between India and Pakistan can be viewed in different lights. In the short term, they will address the issue of what is happening in Hindustan. In the long term, they can be seen as part of the great changes sweeping the international arena.
In terms of the former, then the success of the talks may be a genuine landmark in over fifty years of the states' independence, at the very least because few people believe they will be successful. Similar efforts have broken down on several occasions. Everyone knows that generations of Pakistanis have considered the whole of Kashmir, not only the part that is controlled by Islamabad, as their own territory. This leaves India as Enemy No One. Correspondingly, since the division of British India into the "Muslim" and "Hindu" parts in 1947, generations of Indians have viewed Pakistan as New Delhi's main security problem. For this and many other reasons, the most that one can hope for from the talks is that they will not immediately break down, but slowly and surely lead to rapprochement between the two nations.
However, if the talks are viewed from the long-term perspective, then they prompt a diametrically opposite conclusion: this time, reconciliation between India and Pakistan may be surprisingly easy and quick. The point is that the world has radically changed over the past fifty years. In the past, Pakistan, backed by the USA and China, was a very convenient instrument for consistently weakening both India and the USSR (through its southern borders). In today's world, this concept has become outdated, in particular, because India is now quite a different country.
The French newspaper Le Figaro calls India "the empire of tomorrow". It points to the nation's middle class of 300 million people (from a billion-strong population), which equals the entire population of the euro zone, and India's "natural zone of influence" from the Persian Gulf to the Indonesian coasts, which is already a fact. Britain's Observer says that the Indian elephant has turned into a world tiger, recalling that, with economic growth at 8% and foreign exchange reserves standing at $100 billion, Indian business is growing mainly thanks to hi-tech industries, first of all, the IT branch.
The "world's discovery of India" is a sensation. It is quite possible that the main event of last year was a Goldman Sax report, and not the war in Iraq. The report says that if the world continues to develop in the same way, then by 2032 India will become the world's third largest economy after the USA and China, outstripping the likes of France, Germany and Japan.
Indeed, everything only started with this report. In the January issue of the US magazine Fortune, Professor Jeffrey Sax, a prominent figure in world economics, showed that if we make calculations proceeding from the parity of the purchasing capacity of currencies, i.e. at their real exchange rate, by 2050 India will also outstrip the USA in its total volume of production (by that time, China will be far ahead of both India and the USA, leaving every other country well behind). This is not his discovery, as he rather reflected on the figures that had already been available for some time.
It has been known since the early 1990s that by the middle of our century China will have surpassed the USA as the world's largest economy. Accordingly, there will be two superpowers in the world again. If the idea was a sensation then, everyone has now accepted it. Moreover, at the winter session of the World Economic Forum in Davos the recognition of the four new leaders of world economic growth - China, India, Russia and Brazil - became a fact of global economics and politics.
It goes without saying that production volumes alone, in dollars or euros, do not guarantee world leadership. There are also such factors as technological and military superiority. However, large economic volumes mean at least that a country can accumulate, without harming itself, the means that can quickly ensure this superiority. Globalisation means that economies, to some extent, merge with each other, creating interdependence in politics and other fields. A case in point is China and the USA: if one country hurts the other, both will suffer economically.
India is still a poor country. It is now where China was in the early 1990s, when there were no Shanghai skyscrapers, which have since eclipsed Manhattan, and so on. However, it can now feel the purely psychological effect of being recognised as a future leader. For China, this effect is quite real because all world leaders - in business or politics - understood China's future several years ago and adopted their behaviour accordingly.
India - its political circles, government and public - is not yet ready to shoulder the responsibility of a future great power. China is also just trying on the role. Both are yet to create in their countries and on an international scale an infrastructure of influence, which is so well developed, for example, in the USA. These are international, governmental, semi-governmental and private foundations, financial organisations, the ability to exert effective influence on international information systems and many other things. It is hard for Beijing and Delhi (as well as Russia and Brazil) to imagine that they will have to spend a lot of money on this, considering the fact that all "these leaders of economic growth" have poor remote provinces where these funds could be used otherwise.
The leaders of tomorrow are only beginning to consider such component of a great power as ideology. World leadership cannot be attained through money or military supremacy alone. A case in point is the sad experience of the USA, which is desperately trying to do something about the sharp fall in its international prestige and influence after the Iraqi war. The example of the USSR, which set forth an alternative ideology, is no less painful.
What can the two ancient civilisations, which are becoming at last global leaders, say to the world? What can they use to attract other nations? This is perhaps, the key problem that they will have to solve within the next few decades.
However, returning to the talks between New Delhi and Islamabad, it is safe to say that one reality has already become obvious: China does not need to weaken India by supporting Pakistan, as it has done since the early 1960s. In the past few months, Beijing and Delhi have slowly but surely been coming closer together, revealing common interests in economics, politics and many other fields. In particular, they are looking for ways to settle the Indo-Pakistani conflict so that Pakistan (and correspondingly, the prestige of its Chinese friends) does not suffer. US diplomats are working in the same direction - the USA, which knows from its own tragic experience where its support of fundamentalist forces in Pakistan led, is also prodding nuclear Islamabad towards more rational relations with nuclear India. Lastly, Russia is delicately trying to bring Beijing and Delhi together, new proof of which should emerge in the next few months.
Therefore, if within a historically short period of time (a year or a decade?) the Indo-Pakistani conflict is settled and the two countries start living as good neighbours, no one should be surprised.