More Talks – More Peace
There is so much room for relations between India and Pakistan to expand in various directions. Where there is a will, there is a way.
Informal talks can play an important role in building confidence between hostile neighbours. Countries like Pakistan and India, which suffer from a trust deficit, need to talk all the more. After Narendra Modi’s ascent to power in India and with a view to bridging the trust gap, the first Pakistan-India bilateral dialogue was held in Islamabad recently. It was sponsored by the Regional Peace Institute which works to rationalize peace in South Asia.
Former ministers, noted journalists, educationists and policymakers were a part of the high-powered, twelvemember delegation from India that included former External Affairs Minister, Salman Khurshid, former Petroleum Minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar and members of the ruling BJP.
The delegation entered Pakistan through the Wagah border checkpoint and, after enjoying the luncheon hosted by RPI Chairman Mahmud Kasuri, it travelled to Islamabad on the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway. This infrastructural marvel left the members of the Indian delegation quite impressed.
The group from Pakistan comprised 12 delegates including Mahmud Kasuri, Dr. Hafiz Pasha, journalists Ziauddin Ahmed, Arif Nizami and Dr. Moeed Pirzada, as well as a number of former ambassadors, generals and technocrats.
The talks focused on the PakistanIndia dialogue process, trade and business stakes between the two countries and social and media cooperation. The Indians appeared bullish and were optimistic that the Modi-led government would focus on expanding the Gujarat business success story to the whole of India and even beyond into the SAARC countries under its Look-East Policy. They emphasized that India could not prosper without equally prospering neighbors.
During the dialogue, it was mentioned that the bilateral trade between India and China has now swelled to over US$75 billion and is growing exponentially, despite the fact that both countries have a long history of border issues. They have set aside their political differences to carry out business and trade activities while developing a better understanding of each other in the process of the 17 rounds of border-related discussions held so far. The official figure for Pakistan-India bilateral trade is $3 billion while unofficially it is $4
billion with stagnation in this trade at present.
Although India’s doctrine of normalizing relations with Pakistan is stated to be based on the principle of business first, the Mumbai attacks still haunt India and the threat of terrorism has been cited as a major deterrent that stops the bigger sub-continental power from moving on. The Indians also acknowledge that their country faces serious internal challenges in the form of economic and cultural differences that vary from region to region, the Kashmir and Ladakh issues, poor governance, corruption, lack of devolution of power to the panchayat level, hassle-free movement on the LOC, etc.
It emerged that both the Indians and Pakistanis advocate taking baby steps towards build-up of Pak-India relations. While Track-II is moving on, what the two countries need is Track-III diplomacy, with something worthwhile happening on the ground. The areas which can yield results faster are cooperation in medicine, education, sports, the software industry, culture, etc.
A new social movement with face- to-face contacts between Indians and Pakistan citizens can also dilute the effects of political bitterness between the two nations. The citizens of India and Pakistan have a common heritage but both have evolved differently in the last 60 years.
In the various interactions, it was noted that there is no course on Pakistan studies in the universities of India. The same is the case in Pakistan. On the issue of terrorism, Pakistani participants maintained that the country itself is the worst victim of terrorism, terming Kashmir a longstanding issue which needs to be addressed for sustainable peace in the region. Some participants claimed that the deaths in the Jammu and Kashmir Valley have decreased considerably because of Pakistan’s efforts and this needs to be appreciated. They maintained that finding solutions to political issues can be difficult but the process must move on.
It was argued that a liberal visa policy and opening of an Indian consulate in Karachi, was essential but in spite of repeated assurances by India, the visa issue remains a major deterrent for people-to-people contact, tourism and business activities.
Some participants were of the view that the issue of grant of MFN status by Pakistan to India and the delay in announcing the NDMA agreed in late 2013 is on account of apprehensions on part of Pakistan’s smaller economy. Businessmen in Pakistan are afraid of losing out to India’s massive economy and the stalemate may continue unless the fear is addressed.
Discussions also dwelt on the media on both sides of the border not bridging the gap between the two nations. The only binding factor is the immense popularity of Indian films in Pakistan and of some Pakistani TV serials in India. However, the trend started by some TV channels and newspapers to take on board anchors, analysts and editorial writers from each other’s country was appreciated and termed healthy in projecting a more balanced view which would also ensure that credible information and analysis was conveyed to viewers and readers. It was suggested that cooperation must move forward in this respect while media in both countries should avoid country-bashing as objective views are the right of every citizen.