Sane suggestions: Resumption of trade between India and Pakistan
Recently, adviser for trade to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Abdul Razaq Dawood, emphatically called for a complete restoration of bilateral trade with India. The statement was significant because normally in Pakistan those in authority do not speak openly of normalization of relations with India fearing such a perception would undermine their chances of advancement in public life.
Earlier, one prominent entrepreneur, Mian Muhammad Mansha, called for a grand reconciliation that would open avenues for mutually beneficial engagement at all levels between the two nuclear armed neighbors.
These are voices of sanity in the backdrop of a bleak picture of confrontation between the two countries. Such statements or opinions may not in any way change the existing dynamics of a deep-rooted culture of acrimony and hostility, but they are important because they generate some hope among those who are yearning for an end to the long stand-off between India and Pakistan.
India and Pakistan have lived as hostile neighbors for the better part of the last 75 years since they won freedom over the dispute of Kashmir. Nearly 1.6 billion people in both countries have suffered because of the unresolved issue of autonomy for the six million people of Kashmir. Pakistan has steadfastly supported the principle of the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir presently under Indian control. India has however accused Pakistan of providing political and material support to those who are opposed to India’s control of the valley. But after long years of consistently extending support to resistance groups, the result has been disappointing. Rather than achieving any solid breakthrough on the issue of autonomy, Kashmir under India’s control has lost its identity. New Delhi has imposed governor rule on the state which is now a union territory and no longer a state. This has deepened the divisions, divergences and hostility. The confrontation continues.
Nearly 1.6 billion people in both countries have suffered because of the unresolved issue of autonomy for the six million people of Kashmir.
The sad part of the near perpetual hostility is that there are no people-to-people contacts; No cultural exchanges between the two nations with strong bonds of ethnicity, language, culture and shared history. No trade whatsoever. The confrontation delivers power and privileges to some. It has to continue no matter what the cost. It has cost the two countries hugely. An enormous number of resources are diverted to defense preparedness in both countries while millions live in abject poverty. Millions have no access to clean drinking water. Millions suffer from diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, stomach ailments etc. Millions are not going to schools in the 21st century!
According to the World Bank, there is tremendous potential for bilateral trade between the two countries-- which could be higher than $45 billion in value. But trading with India is taboo because the issue is connected with the larger geo-strategic picture of ‘security.’ Every initiative is being ignored because security remains a paramount objective. China and India have many disputes like those in the South China sea, the Arunachal Pradesh border, the issue of asylum for Dalai Lama and more. But still, their bilateral trade has crossed $100 billion! There are many more such instances of countries with diverging interests and territorial disputes but such disputes have not come in the way of trade from which people benefit on both sides of the divide.
There is a deep yearning in both countries for reconciliation and peace, so people can visit relatives and historic sites to attract tourists. There could be exchanges in the field of agriculture, education, research, protection of forests and the environment etc. All this can only happen when the stalemate is broken and South Asia begins to march on the path to prosperity bringing relief to the teeming millions who suffer in poverty.
There will inevitably be some who argue for the continuation of the status quo that yields some benefits. But time has come to confront such dissenters. At stake is the future of nearly one fifth of humanity. At stake is the containment of damage because of climate change. At stake is the goal of socio-economic emancipation of millions and millions of impoverished people.
It is time voices of sanity are heard; it is time to think of saving lives, ending poverty and providing education and improving the quality of life of such vast multitudes of poor people. The challenge is enormous and calls for a new approach steeped in ground realities.
- Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.