In the last 67 years, India and Pakistan have been unable to resolve their differences and develop a normal good neighbourly relationship, which could have benefitted people on both sides of the border. There have been several attempts to initiate a sustainable peace process, but most were either stillborn or abandoned in their infancy.
Now with the new government in power led by PM Narendra Modi, will the indo-pak relations be improved and what are policies which the government would be looking upon to make the relations with the neighbouring country stronger and better. As a first towards making the relationship healthy, Indian Prime Minister invited Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for his swearing- in ceremony in New Delhi last May, this was taken as a very significant diplomatic gesture exhibiting a new vision for both the countries in South Asia as compared to the previous government in power. After all, it was the first time in recent memory a Pakistani leader was invited to such an important event in India. The gesture was all the more significant as it came from Modi, a man who is perceived, certainly in Pakistan, as a radical Hindu nationalist leader. But Seven months down the line, May 2014 looks like a distant past, after Modi took charge. There was heavy cross-border firing, which reportedly resulted in the death of five civilians and one Indian constable, across the LoC between India and Pakistan in October-November 2014. Gone are hopes of a deepening relationship, greater economic engagement, and people-to-people contact between these two neighbours. Instead, bitterness and distrust define the present state of relations between the two South Asian states. Jingoism and calls for revenge come out of the mouths of political leaders in both countries. Every time a democratically elected government in Pakistan speaks of peace with India, the army steps in to remind the world who is really in power in Pakistan and on the Indian side as well the elected government too, has fallen prey to the machinations of non-elected institutions, such as those in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). And, contrary to the expectations of some pundits earlier this year, Narendra Modi himself has chosen to highlight Hindutva over governance.
CAUSE OF CONFLICT-
The valley of heaven ‘Kashmir’-
Traditionally, the main point of contention between India and Pakistan, again commanded all attention in October 2014 as it experienced the most intense exchange of artillery fire across the Line of Control and the international border in a decade. The tensions between India and Pakistan are deeply rooted in their common history. The festering Kashmir dispute has bedevilled relations between India and Pakistan. It has caused two wars (1948 and 1965), a serious border conflict (Kargil, 1999) and has brought immense suffering and hardship to the people of the state. This unresolved dispute has also been a major drain on the resources of the two countries and has been a stumbling block to normalising relations between them.
A problem closely related to that of Kashmir is the distribution of the water of the rivers flowing from there into Pakistan. Pakistan has a predominantly agrarian economy and, being a lower riparian state, has naturally been concerned about continuation of an adequate supply of irrigation water. The problem was thought to have been resolved in the early 1960s through the Indus Basin Treaty, mediated by the World Bank. But the problem is far from settled, as Pakistan has raised concerns over some of the Indian hydroelectric projects under construction on the western rivers that will affect waters for which Pakistan has the rights. The water problem has a serious potential to precipitate conflict in the future, given the rising requirements and shrinking supplies.
The future rivalry in Afghanistan– The conflict in Afghanistan has also had spill-over effects on Indo-Pakistani relations. The strategic partnership agreement between India and Afghanistan and the growing Indian presence in that country, have only added to Pakistan’s concerns that India is attempting to squeeze it from both the east and west. With uncertainties surrounding the internal dynamics of a post-NATO Afghanistan, it also could become an arena for India-Pakistan hostility to play out. That would have serious consequences, not only for the peace and stability of Afghanistan, but also for the region as a whole.
How can the relationship between the two countries be improved?
- Efforts could be made on the part of the Indian government to make confidence and trust-building measures and seeking resolution of disputes but it can only bear fruit if the process is sustained and remains uninterrupted. On many occasions in the recent past, certain groups and individuals opposed to reconciliation between India and Pakistan have succeeded in disrupting the peace efforts. The two countries will have to resist these disruptive forces by evolving institutional mechanisms to deal with them.
- As the conflict in Afghanistan winds down, India will need to convince Pakistan that its interest in Afghanistan is not aimed at opening up a new front in the west or promote destabilisation in the two Pakistani provinces bordering Afghanistan. For its part, Pakistan will need to reassure India that it respects the legitimate and sovereign rights of India and Afghanistan to develop their bilateral relations. Due to its geographical position, Pakistan can either facilitate or block the trade between India and Afghanistan passing through its territory, but that will be entirely dependent on the state of India-Pakistan relations.
- Regular exchanges between the people of the two countries can create better understanding and goodwill. Recent initiatives, such as the frequent discussions and exchanges of visits between parliamentarians and politicians from both the federal and regional parliaments, are moves in the right direction and need to be sustained. The agreement for a liberalised visa regime is also a positive development, if implemented in a positive spirit
- Neither trade or economic co-operation nor socio-cultural harmonies can yield any dividends in the absence of peace and stability. India will have to move away from offensive and provocative military doctrines and Pakistan, which has responded by lowering its nuclear threshold, would need to pull back to a more stable, and less crisis-prone, nuclear posture.
- The international community can continue to encourage and facilitate an uninterrupted peace dialogue between India and Pakistan. India has always been scornful of foreign mediation between them and prefers bilateral engagement, where it can bring its greater weight to bear.
About the Author
Vartika Anand is a third year student pursuing her B.A. LL.B. (Hons) from Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow. Being a law student, she is interested in working on human rights issues and enjoys researching and reading on the political history of India. Besides that, she is really passionate about sports, especially cricket, volleyball and badminton. Currently, she is interning with the Model Governance Foundation.