World
Aurobinda Mahapatra
March 9, 2012
© Photo: Public domain

Developments in past few weeks provide enough indication that India-Pakistan relations have changed significantly mainly owing to a sea change in the mindset of leaders of both the countries. Mutual understanding on various complex issues such as Kashmir, free trade regime and cross border trade clearly reflected the increasing pragmatic nature of relations which are no more governed by earlier rhetoric without any substance. Another perceptible change in relations is that retired diplomats and bureaucrats, as well as government officials in both the countries, have started speaking in plain language of dialogue and reconciliation with overt focus on issues of economic development and cooperation, while shelving contentious issues for the time being. Such an evolving format undoubtedly has its detractors, but their constituency has shrunk rapidly in past few months. The civilian governments in New Delhi and Islamabad appear to have developed a new understanding as to how to manage bilateral relations in a mutually beneficial framework.

On 7 March 2012 one of the well known strategic think tanks in Islamabad called Institute of Strategic Studies organized a talk under the title “Pakistan’s Political and Economic Imperatives Require it to Pursue a Path Towards Normalisation of Relations with India, Even if an Acceptable Kashmir Settlement Remains Elusive for the Foreseeable Future.” Speaking on the occasion Ambassador (retd.) Najmuddin A. Sheikh one of the noted commentators of Pakistan strongly argued that both the countries can work together and engage in bilateral trade for economic development. Referring to his argument, the online Pak Observer noted, “it was vital to move the country out of the horrifying poverty levels for which non-tariff trade with India was partly the solution, along with fostering regional cooperation to promote overland trade. This would generate huge sums of money in the shape of revenue for Pakistan, create millions of jobs and increase Pakistan’s share in international trade.” At the end of the debate majority votes were in favour of strong India-Pakistan relations. Air Vice-Marshal (retd.), Shahzad Chaudhury of Pakistan while writing in Pakistan Tribune on 8 March 2012 hailed in clear terms the recent initiatives between the two countries. According to him, Pakistan “must include a genuine cost-benefit analysis that indicates the realism in actualizing some of Pakistan’s long-held objectives.” This pragmatism in relations was equally reciprocated by Indian opinion makers and officials. Indian Commerce Minister, Anand Sharma is a strong votary of synergizing India-Pakistan economic relations. He led a big delegation of Indian businessmen to Pakistan few weeks ago, which was highly appreciated by Pakistan. Some of the Indian strategic analysts have called these initiatives ‘historic.’ One of the noted Indian commentators C. Raja Mohan wrote in the Indian Express, “Despite some residual opposition, Zardari and Gilani have delivered on normalising commercial relations with India.” Currently the bilateral trade at the level of $2.7 billion appears miniscule keeping in mind the vast potentials both the countries possess.

One of the significant developments that can be certainly called historic is the understanding between both the countries to go slow on the issue of Kashmir, and focus on non-contentious issues for mutual advantage. Under the initiative of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and Prime Minister Yusuf Raja Gilani of Pakistan, both the countries have revived unofficial dialogue on this vexed issue after considerable gap. In this dialogue process Indian side is led by Satinder Lambah and Pakistani side is led by Riaz Khan. One of the interesting developments in this context is that both the countries have moderated their rigid positions on the issue. The speech of Prime Minister Gilani certainly magnifies this point. Last month on the Kashmir solidarity day, in which the usual tradition is to highlight the Kashmir issue with all vigour, Gilani seemed to downplay the contentious nature of the issue by using the tone of reconciliation. He openly proclaimed in Islamabad, “We want to resolve issues through dialogue, diplomacy, prudent policy and national consensus.” To the hardliners his message was very clear. He emphasized the futility of war and violence as four wars have already been fought over Kashmir but without any solution. In the 21st century, in the era of globalization and people-centric development, the Pakistani Prime Minister declared with statesmanship that ‘we cannot afford wars.’ This must be a clear message to hardliners and particularly the religious extremists who have resorted to methods of terrorist violence to address contentious issues including Kashmir.

Besides Kashmir, another issue which needs emphasis is the evolution of approach of both the countries to foster trade. India-Pakistan trade has been subject to bilateral animosity and trust deficit. While after independence the trade flow was reasonable, the onset of wars particularly aftermath of the war of 1965 the bilateral trade has gone down rapidly. While India accorded Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India in 1996, Pakistan did not accord the same status to India. Pakistan has its natural concerns which cannot be overlooked. The bilateral trade has been heavily in favour of India as Indian exports far surpass its imports from Pakistan. However, the mutual deliberations of past few months have been highly successful with Pakistan declaring MFN status for India and moving the list of import items from a positive list (which confines imports from India to select items of about 1900) to a negative list (which bars items for imports from India to a list of about 600 items) with larger implications for development of both the countries. Indian officials are also mooting to liberalize trade with Pakistan and provide the neighbour with better and relaxed trade facilities as it has given to other neighbours such as Bangladesh. The office of Pakistan Prime Minister on 7 March 2012 stated that Pakistan has plans to phase out major restrictions on Indian imports by 1 January 2013.

Another development which brings hope for peace, stability and development in India and Pakistan is prospects of opening of border between the two countries for trade. India and Pakistan have formed Joint Working Group (JWG) on diverse areas including the areas of petroleum, electricity and banking. The JWG on petroleum products is going to meet in New Delhi this month to deliberate on various issues including prospects of lying pipelines between the two countries. India has proposed to lay pipelines from its oil refineries in Mathura, Panipat and Bhatinda to areas of Pakistan across the border for transportation of petroleum products, which are now shipped through Dubai and land at the Karachi port. Similarly, the JWGs on electricity and banking, scheduled to meet this month, will deliberate on further on these crucial issues. The State Bank of Pakistan and the Reserve Bank of India are meeting in Mumbai on 10 March 2010 to deliberate on the issue of opening branches in both the countries for smooth bilateral trade. The bilateral trade across border so far has not become successful due to lack of proper currency mechanism. The Home Secretaries of both the countries are also meeting this month to make the visa regime between the two countries flexible and friendly. Equally importantly, both the countries have expressed interest to revive the rail connection between Munabao in India and Khokharopar in Pakistan.

The recent developments in India-Pakistan relations certainly indicate a nobler virtue in bilateral relations, which citizens of both the countries espouse since the separation of the Indian subcontinent, but often shun by their political leaders. The nobler virtue is: bilateral relations can be more effective for development and stability if contentious issues are addressed through means of dialogue and deliberation. It is no doubt a great achievement that that this virtue has crept into the minds of leaders of India and Pakistan, which will have its rich harvest in coming months, notwithstanding the fuming by detractors of peace and dialogue.
 

The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.
Positive Reckoning of India-Pakistan Relations

Developments in past few weeks provide enough indication that India-Pakistan relations have changed significantly mainly owing to a sea change in the mindset of leaders of both the countries. Mutual understanding on various complex issues such as Kashmir, free trade regime and cross border trade clearly reflected the increasing pragmatic nature of relations which are no more governed by earlier rhetoric without any substance. Another perceptible change in relations is that retired diplomats and bureaucrats, as well as government officials in both the countries, have started speaking in plain language of dialogue and reconciliation with overt focus on issues of economic development and cooperation, while shelving contentious issues for the time being. Such an evolving format undoubtedly has its detractors, but their constituency has shrunk rapidly in past few months. The civilian governments in New Delhi and Islamabad appear to have developed a new understanding as to how to manage bilateral relations in a mutually beneficial framework.

On 7 March 2012 one of the well known strategic think tanks in Islamabad called Institute of Strategic Studies organized a talk under the title “Pakistan’s Political and Economic Imperatives Require it to Pursue a Path Towards Normalisation of Relations with India, Even if an Acceptable Kashmir Settlement Remains Elusive for the Foreseeable Future.” Speaking on the occasion Ambassador (retd.) Najmuddin A. Sheikh one of the noted commentators of Pakistan strongly argued that both the countries can work together and engage in bilateral trade for economic development. Referring to his argument, the online Pak Observer noted, “it was vital to move the country out of the horrifying poverty levels for which non-tariff trade with India was partly the solution, along with fostering regional cooperation to promote overland trade. This would generate huge sums of money in the shape of revenue for Pakistan, create millions of jobs and increase Pakistan’s share in international trade.” At the end of the debate majority votes were in favour of strong India-Pakistan relations. Air Vice-Marshal (retd.), Shahzad Chaudhury of Pakistan while writing in Pakistan Tribune on 8 March 2012 hailed in clear terms the recent initiatives between the two countries. According to him, Pakistan “must include a genuine cost-benefit analysis that indicates the realism in actualizing some of Pakistan’s long-held objectives.” This pragmatism in relations was equally reciprocated by Indian opinion makers and officials. Indian Commerce Minister, Anand Sharma is a strong votary of synergizing India-Pakistan economic relations. He led a big delegation of Indian businessmen to Pakistan few weeks ago, which was highly appreciated by Pakistan. Some of the Indian strategic analysts have called these initiatives ‘historic.’ One of the noted Indian commentators C. Raja Mohan wrote in the Indian Express, “Despite some residual opposition, Zardari and Gilani have delivered on normalising commercial relations with India.” Currently the bilateral trade at the level of $2.7 billion appears miniscule keeping in mind the vast potentials both the countries possess.

One of the significant developments that can be certainly called historic is the understanding between both the countries to go slow on the issue of Kashmir, and focus on non-contentious issues for mutual advantage. Under the initiative of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and Prime Minister Yusuf Raja Gilani of Pakistan, both the countries have revived unofficial dialogue on this vexed issue after considerable gap. In this dialogue process Indian side is led by Satinder Lambah and Pakistani side is led by Riaz Khan. One of the interesting developments in this context is that both the countries have moderated their rigid positions on the issue. The speech of Prime Minister Gilani certainly magnifies this point. Last month on the Kashmir solidarity day, in which the usual tradition is to highlight the Kashmir issue with all vigour, Gilani seemed to downplay the contentious nature of the issue by using the tone of reconciliation. He openly proclaimed in Islamabad, “We want to resolve issues through dialogue, diplomacy, prudent policy and national consensus.” To the hardliners his message was very clear. He emphasized the futility of war and violence as four wars have already been fought over Kashmir but without any solution. In the 21st century, in the era of globalization and people-centric development, the Pakistani Prime Minister declared with statesmanship that ‘we cannot afford wars.’ This must be a clear message to hardliners and particularly the religious extremists who have resorted to methods of terrorist violence to address contentious issues including Kashmir.

Besides Kashmir, another issue which needs emphasis is the evolution of approach of both the countries to foster trade. India-Pakistan trade has been subject to bilateral animosity and trust deficit. While after independence the trade flow was reasonable, the onset of wars particularly aftermath of the war of 1965 the bilateral trade has gone down rapidly. While India accorded Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India in 1996, Pakistan did not accord the same status to India. Pakistan has its natural concerns which cannot be overlooked. The bilateral trade has been heavily in favour of India as Indian exports far surpass its imports from Pakistan. However, the mutual deliberations of past few months have been highly successful with Pakistan declaring MFN status for India and moving the list of import items from a positive list (which confines imports from India to select items of about 1900) to a negative list (which bars items for imports from India to a list of about 600 items) with larger implications for development of both the countries. Indian officials are also mooting to liberalize trade with Pakistan and provide the neighbour with better and relaxed trade facilities as it has given to other neighbours such as Bangladesh. The office of Pakistan Prime Minister on 7 March 2012 stated that Pakistan has plans to phase out major restrictions on Indian imports by 1 January 2013.

Another development which brings hope for peace, stability and development in India and Pakistan is prospects of opening of border between the two countries for trade. India and Pakistan have formed Joint Working Group (JWG) on diverse areas including the areas of petroleum, electricity and banking. The JWG on petroleum products is going to meet in New Delhi this month to deliberate on various issues including prospects of lying pipelines between the two countries. India has proposed to lay pipelines from its oil refineries in Mathura, Panipat and Bhatinda to areas of Pakistan across the border for transportation of petroleum products, which are now shipped through Dubai and land at the Karachi port. Similarly, the JWGs on electricity and banking, scheduled to meet this month, will deliberate on further on these crucial issues. The State Bank of Pakistan and the Reserve Bank of India are meeting in Mumbai on 10 March 2010 to deliberate on the issue of opening branches in both the countries for smooth bilateral trade. The bilateral trade across border so far has not become successful due to lack of proper currency mechanism. The Home Secretaries of both the countries are also meeting this month to make the visa regime between the two countries flexible and friendly. Equally importantly, both the countries have expressed interest to revive the rail connection between Munabao in India and Khokharopar in Pakistan.

The recent developments in India-Pakistan relations certainly indicate a nobler virtue in bilateral relations, which citizens of both the countries espouse since the separation of the Indian subcontinent, but often shun by their political leaders. The nobler virtue is: bilateral relations can be more effective for development and stability if contentious issues are addressed through means of dialogue and deliberation. It is no doubt a great achievement that that this virtue has crept into the minds of leaders of India and Pakistan, which will have its rich harvest in coming months, notwithstanding the fuming by detractors of peace and dialogue.