AAPI Convention 2022


In a changing South Asia, India, Pakistan must reach middle ground to converge mutual interests

NGOs like South Asia Peace Action Network (SAPAN) and Aaghaz-e-Dosti deserves mention for relentlessly trying to end enmity and distrust between the two countries, writes Anondeeta Chakraborty for South Asia Monitor

Anondeeta Chakraborty Jan 15, 2022
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan

India-Pakistan enmity has been so normalized and politically socialized that these two very words in their respective territory are enough to brew up newer controversies. The mutual distrust and apprehensions have run deeper and denser. Today, even to float the idea of reinvigorating ties between them has the potential of getting branded as sheer treason. While the situation may not improve any time soon, in other parts of the world, however, India-Pakistan dynamics remain starkly different from what we witness in South Asia. 

Once a part of the same entity, India and Pakistan share the same root of the greater South Asian culture, which in millennial social media language is hallmarked ‘Desi’ culture. This term has grown particularly famous in the West to denote people of South Asian descent with a similar past. In the West or even in the Middle East, where a large number of Indian and Pakistani expatriates reside, a unique bond of this “Desiness” holds sway over mutual animosity. The focus there is to preserve Desi heritage and traditions in the face of cultural encroachment. The fight is not against each other but racism.  

The mutual rivalry so prominent in India and Pakistan fueled by decades of political upheavals disappears over a shared love for Desi culture, cuisine or music. It is very common abroad to find Indian and Pakistani communities residing in the same neighbourhood, rooting for each other’s business ventures and organizing cricket or Bollywood fan clubs. Distrust takes a backseat in the hope of finding a piece of their motherland in an unknown place. Hence two nationalities who have squabbled with each other since their very existence tend to have each other’s back abroad. 

South Asia changing? 

The populist narrative is, however, having its heyday in South Asia. Majoritarian politics in both states have complicated the matter further.  In addition, constant breaches of international agreements by Pakistan are not making the situation easier. In such circumstances, it would be a daydream to even think about refurbishing ties between the countries. 

But amidst an increasing environment of mistrust and hostility, there have been instances of cordiality. Social media should be given due credit in augmenting such rare instances of amity. In 2020, following a PIA aircraft crashing, the hashtag ‘India Stands With Pakistan’ trended on social media. Similarly, in 2021, when Covid-19 variant wreaked havoc, Pakistani netizens stood in solidarity with India. 

Thanks to the virtual world, internet sensations, videos, bloggers or memes from both countries, overcoming physical territorial borders have gone viral again and again. The shared culture and taste of these two states remain prominent virtually, if not in the real world, masked underneath a veil of hatred and animosity. This proves the potential of Track 3 diplomacy in reopening some channels of contact between the countries. 

Many NGOs have tried to fill in the vacuum; NGOs like South Asia Peace Action Network (SAPAN) and Aaghaz-e-Dosti deserves mention for relentlessly trying to end enmity and distrust between the two countries. 

Bilateral ties 

Some things are easier said than done. If one has to very crudely pose a solution to the Indo-Pakistan crisis raging over for decades, it all comes down to one conclusion - ending of the Kashmir dispute. Pragmatically, that is not going to happen any time soon. Thus, both the states need to steer across Kashmir and look for resuming some sort of half-baked ties for their respective gains.

Whenever the subject of the India-Pakistan relationship arises, the blame of worsening ties is put equally on both countries. But if historically viewed, Pakistan’s answer to a cordial relationship with India has always remained half-hearted. India since the times of Jawaharlal Nehru has attempted to arrive at a middle ground with Pakistan, but to little avail. In 1996, India bestowed the status of Most Favoured Nation to Pakistan as a token of friendship. This was never reciprocated. After Narendra Modi took power in 2014, he visited Lahore on an informal note, as a mark of goodwill and harmony. Unfortunately, that honeymoon phase was short-lived. 

Pakistan’s fixation with Kashmir followed by its obsession with India in pursuance of its foreign policy has embittered the relationship more. From giving away Aksai Chin to China or operations to destabilize Indian Kashmir or installing the Taliban in Afghanistan, directly or indirectly it has all been done with India in mind.  

Mutual benefits 

History has shown that a hostile neighbourhood has never been helpful when it comes to a country’s security. India has learned these lessons several times the hard way. But Pakistan’s continuous breach of trust against India followed by a dooming sense of mistrust, with majoritarian and populist politics reigning in both these states, has made the situation tense. The resumption of warm ties in such circumstances is nothing short of a pipe dream. 

But today, with the international arena getting more and more unpredictable, the two countries need to find some middle ground for their mutual gains. 

It is high time the Pakistani elites realize the futility of raging on its friction with India, an economy almost more than 10 times its own. The obsession with India and the psychic satisfaction that many Pakistanis get seeing a mammoth portion of their GDP going to military spending for some invisible threat from India, even at the cost of their well-being, has boomeranged. The economic potentials India has to offer in South Asia can be rightly put to use by Pakistan for economic development. 

An unhindered dependence on China for all economic and strategic needs is coming at a heavy cost for Pakistan. Shutting down trade completely with India, following the revocation of Article 370 related to Kashmir, portrays the lack of farsightedness and pragmatism in decision making. 

Pakistan’s age-old tactic of using terrorism as a complementary military strategy has also backfired. The inability to get out of the FATF grey list is a case in point. The installation of the Taliban in Afghanistan is also yielding negative results. The never-ending rivalry with India has lent bigger spaces to military and security services in Pakistan at the cost of civil society and democracy. 

India must act 

A lot has significantly changed in India’s pursuance of foreign policy. The country now harbours the dream of becoming a power to reckon with. With ambitions so big, India cannot afford to lose its neighbourhood. Already India remains in a very critical position in South Asia, with constant Chinese onslaught. A Taliban regime in Afghanistan has made the situation more complex. 

India has to regain control of the neighbourhood before it slips away completely. Leaving a neighbour rogue is not the way to go about it. If not Track 1 diplomacy, Track 3 people-to-people diplomacy will go a long way to further Indian interest in Pakistan. India has always boasted about its soft power. Now it should find a way to harness the same. 

India faces twin threats from China in its continental and maritime space.  India needs to carve out a niche for itself. The threat of a two-front war with Pakistan and China is greater than ever. The increasing bonhomie with the US is costing India to certain degrees. In such circumstances, some lukewarm ties with Pakistan becomes pivotal. It can guarantee India much-needed access to Central Asia and Iran as well as help further Indian interests in Afghanistan to some degree. The resumption of ties also will keep a check on escalating tension. 

It is irrational to even fathom that Pakistan will stop engaging with China to counter India and genuine wholehearted Indo-Pakistan ties can be reinvigorated. The two countries hence need to come to a middle ground where their respective interests can converge because, in a realist world of international relations, the gain has to be prioritized more than losses and risks.  

An economically and strategically stable South Asia would be beneficial for both the countries.

(The author is a PG student of International Politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal. She can be contacted at mehjabinbhanu1579@gmail.com) 


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