Pakistan and India must accept realities and normalize their relationship

Pakistan and India must accept realities and normalize their relationship

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Lately there has been a spate of articles on the question of India and Pakistan by scholars and diplomats associated with think tanks. Sparked by Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar’s impromptu comment on the need for restoring trade relations and Nawaz Sharif’s known proclivity to having good relations with India, the new PML- N government is expected to make a meaningful reach out to India after the formation of the government in New Delhi and following the elections in India.

It is known that the former Army Chief of Pakistan, General Bajwa spearheaded the campaign for better relations. It is not known whether his successor shares his enthusiasm. By and large, the majority of Pakistanis believe that having peaceful relations with all neighbors including India is necessary. Pakistan needs to concentrate on internal issues notably economic development and for that a peaceful environment is an essential pre-requisite. There is a minority view of the hard-liners that sees India as an eternal enemy. However, this view can cause disruption, as in the past, but not derail the process if followed by conviction by the leadership of the two countries.

Having served as High Commissioner to India, I am convinced of the need for normalizing Pakistan-India relations. The fact is that the two have to co-exist and that requires proceeding deliberately to overcome the problems of the past and for Pakistan to accept the reality of a Hindu majority in India. The emergence of India as a Hindu Rashtra was ordained by the two-nation theory. It is time that both countries recognize this reality and move forward. The Muslim and Hindu identity of Pakistan and India respectively is fact and nothing can be done to change this. We need to premise our relations on the principles of the UN Charter and cooperate with each other to the extent possible.

The Muslim and Hindu identity of Pakistan and India respectively is fact and nothing can be done to change this.

- Salman Bashir

For over seven decades, Pakistan and India have transacted business bilaterally and regionally. True, there is a substantive agenda of unresolved issues including Jammu and Kashmir, which require settlement. But this has not prevented the two from reaching agreements and understandings. At the strategic levels, there is a rough parity between Pakistan and India in terms of nuclear equation. The confidence building measures such as non attack on nuclear facilities and salient provisions of the Lahore Declaration and MoU of 1999 were the initial steps taken. If these hold as they should, a series of next levels of mutually cooperative arrangements could be worked out. There was ongoing cooperation between the Rangers and the Border Security Forces and between the coast guards and the maritime security agency of the two countries.

In January 2014 in New Delhi, the trade ministers of the two countries had reached an agreement on non discriminatory market access. This unfortunately could not be signed as envisaged in Lahore, apparently on the BJP’s urging that it be signed when its party came to power. Restoring trade relations would be good. Similarly, economic cooperation has immense potential and should be revived. Both countries face common problems such as pollution, water shortage, desertification etc that can be resolved by mutual cooperation. A visa liberalization agreement was also signed by the two sides and needs to be implemented. On humanitarian issues such as the prisoners in each other’s custody, the joint recommendations by the judges of the two sides need to be implemented. On pilgrims’ issues there is the ongoing framework of cooperation that needs to be revived.

Restoring a semblance of normalcy would also contribute to reviving SAARC cooperation. The high commissioners need to be exchanged and the respective foreign ministries need to get on with the task of repairing relations. Starting the process of normalization requires the leaders to meet and steer it. It is a top driven process. It is hoped that the new government in India will be inclined to drive the process for better relations with Pakistan.

- Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and as High Commissioner of Pakistan to India. Twitter: @Salman_B_PK

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