INDIA-PAKISTAN: WHAT CAN BE ACHIEVED?
TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
Jan 31 - Feb 6, 2011
Pakistan and India have agreed to begin foreign-secretary level talks, as a preliminary step towards resumption of composite dialogue. The meeting between foreign secretaries of both the countries is scheduled on 6-7 February on the sidelines of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Standing Committee meeting to be held at Thimphu, Bhutan.
The occasion is being seen as silver lining for the resumption of India-Pakistan composite dialogue, which was stymied because of souring relations between the two nations following the terrorist attacks on the India's sprawling metropolis of Mumbai later in 2008.
Prime Minister of Pakistan is himself sanguine with regard to the forthcoming Saarc meeting and hence foreign-secretary level talks between India and Pakistan, anticipating this as a watershed to resume 'meaningful and result-oriented' dialogue.
The last year's foreign-secretary level talks remained inconclusive and resulted into not-so-good outcomes with India still to be ensured that Pakistan was acting against terrorism. This, besides sheer ignorance of the terrorist acts Pakistan is confronting with, on its own soil, is a perception beheld by India widening the trust deficit.
Saner elements are demanding both the governments to build trust ambience under which constructive dialogues are started as well as issues like Kashmir and Siachen are resolved amicably.
During a visit to Karachi, Indian Member of Parliament Mani Shankar Aiyar wished for restarting of India-Pakistan composite dialogue and urged the need of restricting past memories of Mumbai attack haunting future course of discussion. He was right when he said eliminating terrorists was as important as to engage relentlessly in two-way communication, to foil the nefarious bids of jingoistic and belligerent factors existing in both the countries.
To complement the upcoming foreign secretary talks, a Pakistani delegation led by iconoclast Sherry Rehman has also started informal discussions with Indian peers in Bangkok in a series of Track-II diplomacy, to inform breaking points in relation to security and peace in the region. Unofficial debates among pro-peace intellectuals can act like fire to thaw the unyielding Indo-Pakistan relation tensed since partition 63 years down the lane, and for this to happen, track 3 and 4 diplomacies should also continue. Non-government personalities can save the loss of face in case of failure of official dialogue. But, as critics said the meeting should give out wisdom instead of disclosure of shopping jaunt and jamboree by visitors.
The yielding relationship between India and Pakistan is not only essential to bring peace in the region, but also to cement economic relationships among Saarc member countries.
Long-standing issues can be resolved when officials of two countries sit together along with politicians of Jammu and Kashmir to come to the terms. Kashmir issue is the main bone of contention between India and Pakistan. Pakistan blames India for its support to anti-Pakistan elements. Making terrorism activities a base, Pakistani government had ordered Indian consulate general to wind up its operation in Karachi in 1994. Since then, people have been losing both time and money to get Indian visa by travelling to Islamabad. India, similarly, has a long list of accusations against Pakistan that the former is involved in cherishing anti-Indian sentiments and supporting terrorist acts in Indian territory. India should understand that Pakistan is a soft target of terrorists.
Popular suggestion is that the neighbouring nations should promote messages of love and peace and conflict-resolution instances for the betterment of largest population of Asia living in India and Pakistan. There is a need to give a thought to how to increase bilateral trade volume that according to various estimate, can reach 10 billion US dollar per annum. The existing bilateral trade volume can be increased manifold even if informal trade between the two countries is quantified.
To increase trade is an ingrained desire of businesspersons from both the countries and that can alone hold back ingrained hostility.
Several industrialists keep good trade relation on priority list of issues in need of deliberations by Indian and Pakistani policymakers. Aziz Memon, Chairman Kings Group (Pakistan) said improving bilateral trade ties would lead to the solutions of many issues blighting the atmosphere of trust. "In the past, the politicians said 'let's first resolve Kashmir', but I say put trade and commerce first," he said in a recent interview to the India-based Business Line. Any why not? The world is full of examples in that politics are ostracised when economics are to mean economic prosperity. Unresolved political issues between China and Taiwan and France and Germany could not deter them to be on the line of economic cooperation.
At present, India-Pakistan bilateral trade is two billion dollar per annum, however, more than 60 per cent of trade is routed through third country like Dubai and Singapore. For example, a consignment from India before reaching Pakistan has to land in Dubai or Singapore. This absurd and insensible trade channel causes billion of rupees revenue losses to the governments in addition to jack up cost of goods. Besides, bilateral trade volume has enormous potential to be expanded to more than 1,736 items that are presently traded freely between India and Pakistan. Because of the common border, transportation costs stand to benefit the two countries. There is a need to expand trade list. It also does not make sense that why Pakistan avoids importing drugs and pharmaceuticals from India that can cost it 10 times less than other countries. Imports from India are one per cent of Pakistan's total imports.
A producer of surplus cement, Pakistan has gained lot of business from India that needed cement for its infrastructure building and in recent times, this trade relation was considered as a good omen. The country supplies surgical instruments, vegetables and fruits, yarn, cotton, etc. to India.
Entering into other sectors can also reduce Pakistan's trade deficit in connection to India. Gems and jewellery, food processing, IT outsourcing sectors can become platforms to strengthen bilateral trade ties. Indian businesspersons are in ready mode to transfer value addition technology and outsourcing expertise to Pakistan in all these sectors and joint ventures will be mutually beneficial. Owing to absence of bilateral investment treaty, businesspersons are hesitant to embark on any venture.