A new page in Indo-Pakistani relations?

By Gauri Khandekar

In the run-up to their respective independence days, India and Pakistan have renewed peace and security talks. But while people on both sides deeply desire peace, there still remains a deep mistrust at the political and military level.

"Amidst celebrations of their independence days, India (15 August) and Pakistan (14 August) have renewed peace and security talks. The triple blasts in Mumbai in July, the fourth major attack on India's financial capital within a decade, didn't derail the talks as India and Pakistan pressed instead on negotiating confidence-building measures through the composite dialogue.

Stalled since the Mumbai 2008 blasts, the five-year dialogue aims at easing a seven-decade long feud and resolving the highly contiguous Kashmir issue. People on both sides deeply desire peace, but there still remains a deep mistrust at the political and military level.

While it is unlikely that major outstanding issues will be resolved in the short term, as the broader region [looks] set to get more complicated with US withdrawal from Afghanistan and a greater Chinese interest, along with the increasing isolation of Pakistan at the international level, a balancing act between India and Pakistan seems like a good beginning.

Successful talks between India and Pakistan have enormous potential to bring about peace and stability to the world's most volatile region. Opening the gates to trade, commerce and investment could be the panacea to Pakistan's economic ills.

At a meeting between the foreign ministers of both countries held in New Deli on 27 July, it was announced that Pakistan may well offer India the status of 'most favoured nation' in exchange for the abstraction of Pakistan specific non-tariff barriers, and an Indian green light to the EU trade package stalled at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The EU wishes to offer concessions to Pakistan's textile industry to help mitigate [the] losses of last year's devastating floods.

The EU is Pakistan's largest trading partner with 7.1 billion euros in bilateral trade, while trade with India stands at around 1.2 billion euros only, mainly due to multiple trade and travel restrictions. Increased integration, competition and growth would result in shared prosperity [and] dynamism and empower civil society to tackle radicalism.

Educational exchanges would create further synergies amongst [the young], who bear a more modern outlook to twenty-first century Indo-Pakistan relations. Social media platforms have in this sense been generating cross-border connections. Talibanisation too is a shared concern for both India and Pakistan and can be jointly kept at bay.

Cooperation within the framework of a second Green Revolution, which had thawed post-war ties in 1978, could again solve South Asia's food crisis. Developing a partnership on energy and resource sharing would prepare grounds for greater political spillover.

But the most immediate winners of the peace process would be the Kashmiris themselves. Confidence-building measures under discussion aim at enhancing cross-Kashmir travel and trade arrangements. Although talks will at most lead to modest levels of demilitarisation, if at all, at the Siachen glacier, the world's highest battlefield nestled in the Himalayas, increased confidence and trust on both sides would decrease terrorism and decelerate the arms race (India is currently the world's largest importer of arms).

Both governments have multi-billion dollar defence budgets. The regional impact [of] denuclearisation would be most vital for global security.

If sustained, these talks would also have a significant impact on stabilising democracy in Pakistan: the democratic government today is the key interlocutor, not the post-Musharraf Pakistani military.

But there remain tough challenges [on] the path to prosperity, and peace will not come about overnight. It will be hard not to contextualise peace-building within the confines of terrorist attacks and the issue of Kashmir.

The latter, in essence, is unlikely to be resolved as both India and Pakistan remain divided within: Pakistan's military continues to play a key role in foreign policy issues principally vis-à-vis India; India's opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will not allow the government to make any compromise on Kashmir having already threatened to launch massive protests.

Other national and regional actors are likely to create trouble too, since peace will make them lose prominence. The Pakistani foreign minister Khar's meeting with Kashmiri separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in Delhi [have] already struck a bad note with India (Kashmiri separatists have so far refused to meet with the Indian state appointed interlocutors).

[The] clear losers of peace amongst the two nations include terrorist groups such as LeT, as well as the Taliban and radicals, whose influence would dramatically shrink in a rapidly modernising Pakistan at peace with its neighbour.

While the US hopes that talks will ease their own drawdown in Afghanistan, any understanding between India and Pakistan would realistically not radiate much effect into Afghanistan. India and Pakistan have deeply divergent interests and agendas in Afghanistan and vie for influence all the same.

But a lowest common denominator for cooperation in Afghanistan could be thrashed out. China, a clear beneficiary of troubled Indo-Pak relations, stands to lose influence from a rapprochement between India and Pakistan. China has been meticulously deepening ties with Pakistan through economic, development, military, nuclear and naval cooperation.

A spiked China recently questioned the entry of a single country, India, into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, pressing also for Pakistan's entry.

For the moment, steady progress is envisaged by settling on confidence-building measures and increasing commercial ties. Commerce ministers of both sides will meet next, in September. There is a real need to overcome nationalism to change the template of relations between the once united nations. Silence has not worked.

It is time to turn a new page in Indo-Pak relations. A step-by-step dialogue process is the most viable option to do so and achieve regional and global peace and stability."
Gauri Khandekar is a junior researcher at European think-tank FRIDE. He sent this op-ed exclusively to EurActiv.