‘Engagement,’ not ‘Estrangement’ can de-escalate Indo-Pak Tension in the 21st Century: An Opinion

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Sandeep Singh 4 March 2019

A thought can be put up that business and economic cooperation between India and Pakistan transcending politics can help both countries to dominate the 21st-century Eurasian space. Their cooperation would not only bring plenty of opportunities to bolster peace and prosperity in South Asia but also help in integrating Eurasian region as a whole. Thus, India-Pakistan entente has become the need of hour in the backdrop of the re-integration of the Eurasian region.

I speak as a layperson not as a subject expertise; political parties in South Asia particularly in India and Pakistan have been creating the nuisance of “unwarranted nationalism” and doing away with the core values of nationalism. It has always been used to garner short term political gains. The people of both countries should understand such a blunder situation in which nationalism is being used as a viable substitute to the safeguard the goals of the intermittently prevailed ‘isms’ such as world capitalism, communism and multilateralism.

In developing and poor regions like South Asia, sometimes propaganda of nationalism is brought to the people either in the wake of government failure or for bringing drastic political and constitutional changes to serve the aspirations of elite class. Both countries need to learn from their shared past that their nationalism was primarily based not only on the aggression against the oppressive colonial system but also to secure the core values of mankind and humanity breaking the shackles of socio-economic and political slavery. It can be substantiated by the argument made by Muchkund Dubey (2017) in his work The Nationalism Debate: Past and Present. He stated that the major challenge to today’s South Asian nation-states is to “cope with new problems arising within their territories and those which affect the very survival of mankind.” People need to transcend the unjustified nationalism.

Mahatma Gandhi always used to say that Indian nationalism based on humanitarian values and anti-colonial sentiments. For this, “India needs to root out the colonialism and then to embrace the values of internationalism to serve the entire humanity.” However, with these values, both communities (India and Pakistan) have a common history to have freedom struggle to build independent nation. Regrettably, their bloodshed partition turned the positive nationalism into convoluted one consequently we failed to serve our own mankind.  

The people of both countries have been sharing cultural and historical values and even the issues of religious extremism, terrorism and poverty. At the same time enormous increase in the population resulted in the flow of more job seekers than employment. Pakistan, in particular has been putting the minimum welfare of its people at stake in the wake of warfare strategies. Anjum Altaf, a Pakistan based educationist and a regular columnist in the Dawn wrote that “two countries are developing at radically different rates, every day that passes weakens the negotiating position of the laggard till the only recourse left is capitulation or the madness of mutual destruction.”

The biggest hurdle to their development is their arch-rivalry primarily over the Kashmir issue. It begets the issue of territorial nationalism consequently creates hurdles in economic cooperation. Altaf has strongly advocated for economic cooperation between Pakistan and India. He revealed that how this has not happened due to “India-centric anti-trade hysteria” among Pakistani influentials/elites for whom blind nationalism is at the bottom of this stance. However, such instances halted the growth of nation by pushing millions of people into a swamp of poverty.

In the world of 21st Century, the core values of regional integration, economic engagement and cultural exchanges have been taking stage to direct the world politics and international relations. At the same time, nation-states have been trying to make their people as stakeholders by creating jobs for them in many economic engagements. The Eurasian re-integration, a world’s biggest project, is going to be revealing example of people-to-people connectivity transcending the barriers of national borders. Both India and Pakistan have also been trying to contribute in this mega project but with different nationalistic propositions based on historical grudges. Geopolitically, they have been trying to outmaneuver each other.   It not only makes their geopolitical location futile but also amounts to huge geo-economic damage to growth. Consequently, poor people of these countries have to suffer from high prices of imported goods due double distance-based transit charges.

India and Pakistan have been developing many models of contribution in Eurasian integration since the collapse of USSR. Pakistan has been undertaking the connectivity projects like The Quadrilateral Traffic in Transit Agreement (QTTA, 1995) between Pakistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, Gwadar port, China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC), Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) gas pipeline, Afghanistan–Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) and other roads and infrastructure development. India, on the other hand, has been considering projects bypassing Pakistan such as International North-South Trade Corridor (INSTC), Chabahar port, Turkmenistan-Iran-India (TII) gas pipeline, under-sea pipeline and road-rail route development in Iran and Afghanistan to connect with Central Asia. Pakistan’s denial to India for using its land for trade and transit compelled India to go for alternative routes. As a result, both nations have become geopolitical rivals thereby slowing down the infrastructural development process. 

Verily, to have dominating sway in the Eurasian region, both the South Asian nuclear powers have to stabilize and resolve intra-state and inter-state matters. After the recent Pulwama Terrorist attack in India and resultant India’s non-military pre-emptive air strike on Pakistan, both the leaderships have tried intelligible approach to de-escalate the war-like situation in the region. This shows that both countries stand for peace but on their own conditions. On the flip side, India snatched away the status of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) from Pakistan, which is likely to put a stop on their future diplomatic and economic engagements.    

If they real want peace, they have to come forward to the negotiating table and jointly root out the terrorism which is the main problem. They need to develop a sense that eradicating terrorists is not an absolute solution; efforts should be made in the direction to tackle the root causes of terrorism. The world is full of such examples that the torture and military strike assassinations of civilians compelled them to become terrorists. Civilian causalities must be stopped during military conflicts and their security needs to be determined.

“Will, not force is the basis of a state.” And ‘Will’ should be aligned with engagement and welfare. India has done batter in the past to develop cooperation but Pakistan did not reciprocate. Now, the international community is looking towards India and Pakistan to curb the menace of terrorism. The PM Imran Khan gesture of peace towards India has still kept the ray of hope alive.

Friendly ties between India and Pakistan would be a boon for Eurasian integration and huge economic advantages thereby reducing poverty and unemployment in the region if they reciprocate. Moreover, the huge reserves of energy resources in heart of Eurasia and short distances would minimize the shortage of electricity in the region. However, it is not as easy as it sounds but can be thought of.