By Anusha Sundar:
After years of struggle demanding freedom from the colonial British Raj, the ‘3rd June Plan’,Â better known as the ‘Mountbatten Plan’ came into action. The idea was to divide British India into two independent states: The Republic of India and the Dominion of Pakistan. This was history, but what followed were years of disagreement and conflict between the two neighbours. Since their independence, the two countries have been engaged in four wars and several tense military face-offs. Inspite of several initiatives to engage in peace talks, India and Pakistan have always had a strained relationship due to the very circumstances in which the two states came into existence. With the new Modi Sarkar at New Delhi, and a similar right leaning Nawaz Sharif heading Pakistan, there seems to be a light at the end of the long tunnel. The Indo-Pak peace process finally seems to be heading in the right direction with decisive Governments agreeing to begin talks between the two Chief Secretaries this August.
While handling the Kashmir dispute is vital, there are several other fronts that the two Governments need to address in order to bring normalcy into their relations. The most promising change is the Pakistani general’s attempt to fight and extinguish the Islamist extremist terror groups such as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Afghani Taliban, the Haqqani network and other radical Uzbeks under the month old Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Although this military initiative received immense support from the Pakistani civil and political society, it can only become a substantial effort against terrorism if the Pakistani Government also focuses on the anti-India jihadist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operating inside Pakistan. It is vitally important for their fight against terrorism to be credible to also redefine Pakistani nationalism away from religious terms. Jihadist terror groups were born out of and flourished due to the extremist state ideology that propelled Pakistan as an Islamist nation. In order to ensure cordial ties with India and other nations, Pakistan needs to divert its radical nationalism away and embrace a more secular approach.
Bilateral trade relations can prove to be a game changer in the Indo-Pak peace process now, especially with a business oriented Modi heading India. In this sense, the SAARC also offers a great opportunity for India and Pakistan to develop economic inter-dependence which provides an incentive to maintain warm relations. According to recent statistics, the Indo-Pak trade stands at a value of $3 billion while it has the potential of reaching $40 billion. The solution is to enable liberalization of trade networks which would ensure that SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) works to its potential. Technology transfers, implementation of Special Economic Zones, reduction of custom duties to zero etc. are several methods that the SAFTA recommends in order to boost trade in the South Asian region, and India and Pakistan both being leading members of the SAARC can together ensure its implementation. Strong economic ties have always acted as building blocks for future development of relations as the France-Germany, India-China and Brazil-Argentina scenarios have established. Also, just as the EU and the ASEAN have successfully managed to use trade as the focus for international co-operation, India and Pakistan can exploit the same situation via the SAARC.
With the US led NATO forces departing from war torn Afghanistan, the onus is on India and Pakistan to partner up in order to protect their North-Western frontiers against security threats. While India has already formed close relations with the Afghan Government, it needs to make a pragmatic move towards Pakistan also in order to look after their joint interests. A joint military and political partnership will act as a great stabilizer of relations and operate as a deterrent against any deterioration of bonds.
Mistrust and suspicion has always clouded any attempts at neutralizing relations between the two countries. But now, with determined and unwavering resolve at both ends, the times seem to be changing. The Indo-Pak peace process restarted after Modi invited his Pakistani counter-part for his swearing in ceremony at New Delhi, an event first of its kind since 1947. The occasion, symbolic of the new Government’s efforts to brush away prior hostilities is also the beginning of a new, unprecedented level of deliberations. A significant part of these bilateral deliberations would centre on recent ceasefire violations that have continuously worsened relations. However, with a strong rightist presence at New Delhi, it has become obvious to Pakistan that it may have to face the brunt of any falter on its part. With both the countries eagerly looking forward to a close in the hostilities, will the two governments be able to deliver?