Pakistan and India recently took a historic step when they agreed to build Kartarpur corridor for Sikh pilgrims to visit the Gurdwara in Kartarpur, Pakistan. To better diplomatic relations, the opening of the border for people is a great step taken by the governments. Although it has not come as a major breakthrough to thaw the relations but it has kindled hope of good relations between India and Pakistan.
Caught in strained ties over several issues for decades, the two countries must initiate talks and negotiations, and never think of war as an option that may resolve issues.
As the two neighbors have been criticized internationally for their intolerance towards minority communities, the corridor can help them project a more tolerant image towards these religions. India can also use the corridor to show the Sikh community that something is being done for it before the national elections that are due in April/May next year.
With Kashmir issue central in their bitter relation, a solution to it is key for the two countries to improve their ties. Though both the countries have tried several formulae –from diplomacy to talks and even war for settling the issue – no formula has worked. Talks remain the best option to settle the issue.
On 4 December 2018, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said that “Kashmir can’t be resolved through a war”. He added that Pakistan was serious to develop peaceful ties with all its neighbors. This is a significant statement because it has come at a time when Pakistan is passing through a critical phase –politically and economically.
Politically, Pakistan is in dire need of stability so that its social sectors like education, sports, and anti-corruption institutions could get suitable conditions to operate. The political stability will help Islamabad to improve its ties with the other disgruntled nations with it for its purported sympathy with the non-state actors.
Economically, Pakistan desperately needs a boost to improve its private sector, reduce unemployment and pay foreign debt. Loans and aids from foreign countries and the global institutions are needed to boost the economy. Analysts and global institutions believe that Pakistan requires around $ 28 billion to meet its financing needs.
The political and economic stability is not possible unless there are good relations with the neighboring countries. Such relations create conducive conditions for foreign trade and keep anti-social elements away.
Pakistan’s bad relations with its immediate neighbors Afghanistan and India can never help it. America is putting a lot of pressure on Islamabad to support its ‘peace efforts’ in Afghanistan. Pakistan does not want to interfere in Afghan affairs, a matter that has annoyed Washington. In reaction, the US has not only cut military aid to Pakistan but also gone closer to India besides making IMF loan difficult for it to get.
Soured ties with India are affecting Pakistan from another angle. Taking full advantage of the bad ties between US and Pakistan, and China (Pakistan’s main ally) – US rivalry, India has strengthened her ties with Washington. America sees India as its close ally in the region and projects her as a South Asian leader.
Moreover, the Financial Action Task Forces’ (FATF) listing of Pakistan in the ‘grey -list’ over the charges of global ‘terror finance’, is giving a strong excuse to Islamabad’s rival neighbors to isolate it regionally and globally. In 2016, India refused to participate in the SAARC summit held in Pakistan. Some other SAARC countries followed suit.
Perhaps, the prevailing situation in Pakistan forced PM Khan to say that ‘a war cannot resolve the Kashmir issue’. But, he stopped short of saying that good ties are essential for talks to begin. To establish good ties, Indian and Pakistani leadership must act wisely and consistently. Domestically, both must gain public support and bring on board their respective deep states.
Also, there is a need of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) before talks can begin. High-level visits from both the countries at the political, military and diplomatic level can prove good CBMs. Sports, trade and cultural programmes can also do a good job.
With the election of Nawaz Sharif as Pakistan’s Prime Minister in 2013, it was expected that dialogue would be preferred to build trust and resolve the ‘thorny’ issues. And when Narendra Modi invited him to India for the swearing in ceremony in May 2014, Sharif took a realistic path by participating in the ceremony. This move by the premiers was seen as a CBM. But there was no progress afterwards and the deadlock went on.
Some people opine that India should go for a military strike against Pakistan but such an action can lead to a full-scale war between the two countries, pushing them to use their nuclear weapons. Its immediate casualties will be the poor people of both sides and the economies of both the countries. Further, foreign debt will rise and the prices of basic essentials will mount.
Moreover, Pakistan has about five lakh troops armed, a strong air force, powerful missiles and possibly more nuclear warheads. Hence, India cannot have a cake walk exercise to force submission from Pakistan. Pakistan can muster courage from its capacity of retaliation to counter attack. That will lead New Delhi into a tight corner, leaving it with no other option but to step up the conflict. Thus a catastrophe can result in the region only to consume both men and resources regionally and globally.
Therefore, India cannot go for a military campaign. It has other options to use and get rich dividends. For example, it can use diplomacy, watchfulness and talks as the best ways to deal with Islamabad. India’s policy of “no talks unless insurgency stops” needs a review.
Talks and not war is the best option to solve all bilateral issues including Kashmir dispute. Both the nuclear armed states uselessly use their media to attack and undermine each other and to score political points with their electorate through rumors, war threats and blame games. North Korea-US negotiations is a recent example of the utility of talks in resolving issues.
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