Had the Pakistan government had the moxie to act on recent thawing developments on the trade front, it could have given a golden opportunity for both nations to start discussions and dialogue, opening new doors to enhance bilateral, social, political, and economic relations, writes Asif Rameez Daudi for South Asia Monitor
India has always been a peace-loving country trying its best to maintain cordial and peaceful relations with all its neighbors. India’s ethical stand and historical efforts to promote peace and cooperation not only encourages harmony but reflects how sincerely it recognizes that peace brings prosperity and development whereas violence certainly have an adverse effect.
The grave impacts of terror don’t affect only the violence-affected regions but all its neighboring countries as well. Therefore, India has constantly contributed to promoting the welfare of the people of South Asia, strengthening collective self-reliance, mutual assistance in various fields, and cooperation with the international and regional organizations developing historical relations after becoming the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member.
India a peace-loving nation
Even during the Cold War when the world was divided into two parts India strove to remain non-aligned. This shows India’s dynamic and constructive policies of pursuing India’s dignity and veracity in a polarized world, which are worth appreciating. On the other hand, India has never compromised with others when its safety and security are at stake.
The India-Pakistan relationship remains one of the most discussed topics in the contemporary world. Both the countries had numerous military conflicts ranging from nuclear threats to conventional wars. Though some potential solutions to the rivalry have periodically been tabled, no signs of the final conclusion have yet been noticed. The most noteworthy India-Pakistan peace process was taken under the leadership of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
And now the momentous and various visionary initiatives taken by the India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to strengthen India’s relations with its neighboring countries shows that India is a peace-loving nation in a true sense.
UAE brokering peace?
Realizing the changed global order and economic importance of the region, the UAE, according to media reports, initiated and brokered to ease the present standoff between the two countries. Although, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has not yet responded to the media report, there are several clues over the past few months that point to the UAE’s role. A media report has claimed that the India-Pakistan ceasefire marked a milestone in “secret talks brokered” by the UAE that began months earlier. The report says the ceasefire is the beginning of a larger roadmap to forge a lasting peace between the two neighbors and has also predicted that the next step in repairing bilateral ties would be the reinstatement of two high commissioners.
But UAE mediation is not a new phenomenon. Some countries have played important roles as brokers and peacemakers in the past as well. For example, the USA, following the war of 1965, the then Soviet Union's role in hosting peace talks in Tashkent following the 1965 war; and the USA again acted as a go-between at critical points such as the 1999 Kargil War.
In the contemporary global scenario, India is undeniably a highly credible voice with a credible foreign policy; so, India doesn’t need any external third-party mediation. India is more than capable of handling all its issues independently. However, since India believes in regional peace and cooperation, it always respects external opinion.
There is a liberal’s perspective that trade brings peace between the nations. Europe has learned lessons from the two world wars. The loss in human life and in material goods was beyond any calculation. The economic consequences changed Europe from creditor to debtor. England that had once been an economic superpower had an overseas debt of 3.355 million pounds after the war.
Blow to hopes of trade resumption
The Economic Coordination Committee of Pakistan's cabinet announced on Wednesday that it will allow the private sector to import 0.5 million tonnes of white sugar besides cotton from India, signaling a thaw in ties, a decision that was rescinded a day later by the full cabinet which was on the expected lines. Though the former decision to import Indian cotton and sugar was based on economic pragmatism, the latter decision of the Pakistan cabinet is a signal to the world that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government is not willing to avail this golden opportunity in the larger interest of the nation and the region.
As per the trade relations with India, Pakistan indubitably has more benefits in comparison to India but often its internal politics become the snag in the peace process.
Potential of trade ties
According to India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, bilateral trade between India and Pakistan in 2015-16 was barely $2.61 billion which, according to Future Direction Magazine’s report, a very small part of its overall trade as both sides recognize that bilateral trade has the potential to reach US$30 billion, ten times its current value.
According to International Affairs and Global Strategy report, India and Pakistan are doing trade through two channels. The official trade takes place through border to border directly and the other one is unofficial or informal trade via third countries.
Though formal trade is meager with the current volume of around $2.61 billion, informal trade volume is massive about $ 8-10 billion. About 90 percent of India and Pakistan trade are through informal channels. If India and Pakistan's trade and commerce relations normalize, the two South Asian nations can develop and prosper, which will eventually reduce poverty and unemployment in both countries.
Had the Pakistan government had the moxie to act on recent thawing developments on the trade front, it could have given a golden opportunity for both nations to start discussions and dialogue, opening new doors to enhance bilateral, social, political, and economic relations. It is a fact that India-Pakistan relations have significant impact on stability in Asia and on the global order.
(The writer is an educationist and faculty member of King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The views are personal. He tweets at @asiframeez. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)