India and Pakistan have so much to gain from cooperation

India and Pakistan have so much to gain from cooperation

Short Url

India and Pakistan have enormous social capital and economic potential to develop themselves and make their mark in South Asia and the world. Yet their perpetual conflict over Kashmir, which has led to wars, continues to keep them and the region mired in poverty and calamity. In 1998, this conflict assumed a nuclear dimension. A decade later, the two countries stopped talking to each other. They still don’t. 

Last year, the UAE’s mediation between Islamabad and New Delhi helped restore the ceasefire along the Line of Control in the disputed region. Unfortunately, in the past decade, the rise of Hindu nationalism in India and the continuing political instability in Pakistan have prevented the resumption of their peace process called the Composite Dialogue.  

Now Pakistan seems amenable to peace. Its National Security Policy, 2022-26, unveiled on Friday, states that “Pakistan, under its policy of peace at home and abroad, wishes to improve its relationship with India,” if it agrees to a “just and peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.” 

By annexing Jammu and Kashmir in 2019, the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had raised the stakes in the disputed region, undermining the Kashmiri right to self-determination that is enshrined in several resolutions passed by the UN Security Council. A fact that Pakistan has tried to highlight in its diplomatic campaign ever since. 

India is yet to officially respond to Pakistan’s stated willingness to pursue conditional peace. Their civil society is however getting serious about pushing the respective leadership towards resuming the long-abandoned dialogue. Some 50 opinion leaders from both sides have joined hands to pen down a book titled “In Pursuit of Peace: Improving Indo-Pak Relations,” which will be launched in New Delhi on Saturday. Among its writers are India’s foreign minister Yashwant Sinha and Pakistan’s former foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri. 

Having served as the ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Islamabad during the tumultuous period post-9/11, I know how close India and Pakistan were to fighting a war in 2002 and reaching a peace in 2006. Mr. Kasuri, a smart and intelligent person, was able to chalk out a workable framework for Kashmir settlement with his Indian counterparts, including foreign minister Sinha, on the basis of the four-point formula of President General Pervez Musharraf.  

The Saudi leadership has to walk a tightrope while diplomatically dealing with the two countries due to their rivalry. It can neither ignore brotherly Pakistan, nor overlook rising India.

Dr. Ali Awadh Asseri

Under this framework, the LoC would freeze; the Kashmiris living on both sides would attain self-governance; India and Pakistan would gradually demilitarise the conflict zone; and India, Pakistan and Kashmiris would work out a joint mechanism to monitor the LoC and the concomitant trade and movement of people. In 15 years, a Treaty of Peace and Friendship would be signed after all the outstanding issues have been addressed. 

This was a great departure for Pakistan, from its official stance on the implementation of UNSC resolutions on Kashmir; and for India, from its 1974 Simla agreement with Pakistan.  Why was this historic opportunity missed? In his book “Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove,” Mr Kasuri mentions the political crisis that gripped the Musharraf regime after the dismissal of Supreme Court Chief Justice as one reason, while underscoring that the military genuinely wanted to normalize relations with India. 

The other factor, in his opinion, was the lack of political resolve on the part of the Indian government led by prime minister Manmohan Singh. The two countries were also close to concluding a deal on the Siachen glacier, a relic of the Kashmir dispute, where their military forces have been stuck fighting an unnecessary battle in one of the most inhospitable terrains up in the Himalayas since the 1980s. But the Siachen deal met the same fate as the Kashmir framework. 

India and Pakistan have made peace before, bilaterally and multilaterally. They still uphold several nuclear confidence building measures. But, left alone, they have a great tendency to fight and put their own future and that of the region at risk of a nuclear catastrophe. 

I remember that the Americans wanted Pakistan to focus on the war in Afghanistan after it began in October 2001. But the terrorist attack on Indian parliament two months later, which India blamed on Pakistan-based militants, led to India amassing a million soldiers along Pakistan’s borders. Pakistan moved on its own. Another attack on an Indian military convoy in Kashmir in June 2002 could have erupted in war, if the then-US Central Command chief, General Tommy Franks, had not intervened in time. The follow-up US diplomacy eventually paved the way for the Kashmir ceasefire in 2003, but it could only last till 2008.  

The only clue that the above narration about Indo-Pak relationship offers is that unless Kashmir is settled amicably in a manner that is satisfactory, not necessarily idealistic, for each side, the fate of these two major powers and other countries in South Asia will continue to hang in balance. Therefore, something must be done, and done urgently, to resolve this conflict and liberate the people of Pakistan and India as well as the Kashmiris from its bitter legacy since the Partition of 1947.  

Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud had offered to mediate between the two countries during his visit to New Delhi last September. This was the right proposition to make: The Kingdom hosts millions of Indian and Pakistani workers. Each year, millions of Muslims from the two countries perform Haj and Umrah. The level of Saudi trade and investment in both nations, especially in India, has also grown significantly in recent years. Moreover, the Saudi Vision 2030 eyes upon their IT skilled manpower, which has unmatched potential. 

Unfortunately, the Saudi leadership has to walk a tightrope while diplomatically dealing with the two countries due to their rivalry. It can neither ignore brotherly Pakistan, nor overlook rising India. In the past, Islamabad and New Delhi have also sustained this rivalry by band wagoning with one great power or another, at their own cost and that of the region. Ultimately, India and Pakistan have much to gain from cooperation. So do the rest of their neighbours. South Asia is a region of immense opportunity, sharing a common historically rooted cultural identity that hardly many other regions do. It must not be at the receiving end of Indo-Pak hostility.

I have personally been an ardent supporter of Kashmiri rights, which India has consistently denied by violating the will of the international community. India’s present regime has exceeded all limits, to the extent of reshaping Kashmiri demography. It must take Pakistan’s official proclamation of normalizing relations seriously, especially because its conditional focus on “just and peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute” leaves the option of Kashmir settlement open-ended. 

The leaders of India and Pakistan should also pay heed to fresh pleas for peace by the civil society, especially by eminent former envoys like Mr. Kasuri, who have already mapped out a viable settlement for the Kashmir dispute. This can become the basis for the Composite Dialogue once again, with additional safeguards to permanently reverse India’s settler colonial bids in the past over two years. 

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations, where a sizeable workforce from India and Pakistan lives and contributes to socio-economic development back home through remittances worth billions of dollars, must extend their vital support in the process. The UAE has already set the trend by reviving the ceasefire in Kashmir. The Kingdom has expressed its interest in mediating this conflict thereafter. The Gulf Cooperation Council can follow this up, by taking a tangible initiative in this regard. 

- Dr. Ali Awadh Asseri served as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Pakistan from 2001 to 2009 and received Pakistan’s highest civilian award, Hilal-e-Pakistan, for his services in promoting the Saudi-Pakistan relationship. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Beirut Arab University and authored the book “Combating Terrorism: Saudi Arabia’s Role in the War on Terror” (Oxford, 2009).

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view