Yesterday, I was attending one event, the topic of discussion was India Bangladesh relationship. Notwithstanding the Teesta dampener, India Bangla relationship have progressed very well, though we will have to see whether the improvement in relationship can be sustained when the opposition party comes to power in the impending elections. Most of the people in the event tried to draw parallel of this relationship with India and Pakistan. Time and again, in similar vein, its suggested that $100 billion trade happens between India and China, even though they have border disputes , and have fought war as well. I think such comparison are gross overestimation. It’s vital to bear in mind the complexities of Indo Pak relations and its causes. Trade is an important step in this regard but cannot be panacea to the complex problem of Indo Pak relationship.
The current trade between India and Pakistan is around $2.5 billion and it’s suggested that it has potential to reach up to $25 billion USD, if the negative lists are eliminated and MFN (most favoured nation) framework is implemented. India granted MFN to Pakistan in 1996, which has been recently reciprocated by Pakistan. It’s believed that Informal trade between India and Pakistan is close to around $10 billion USD (means goods and services routed through other countries. There is no doubt that there is a huge scope of bilateral trade improvement between two countries but we should not expect some big ticket cross border acquisitions.
Trade should be one of the steps of encouraging People to people contact but we should be cautious of “vested Interests” scuttling the peace process. As depicted in the photo, which talks of how trade with India can be disastrous. It is a double edge sword; for instance, proposed plan of Indian railways to lease 50 locomotives to Pakistan, may increase the good will of India in Pakistan, and increase people to people contact. But the same can be used as political weapon by Bus mafia, which we all know how they are active in Pakistan. The Bus operators have false perception and see Pakistani railways as their competitor, and thereby potential increase in efficiency can be scuttled, using anti India sentiments can be handy in their objective. In similar context, the present UPA govt of India is facing elections next year, they have been always accused by opposition ongoing “soft with the terror” which is blindly projected as something emanating from Pakistan, hence any further concessions might hamper their prospect in elections.
Last but not the least, trade is not the only solution of impending problems between two countries but developing the constituency of peace can set the path of normal relationship. Working on obstinate mindset, which sees each other with hatred, defines their existence in relation to others is something to eradicate .Trade, people to people contact and above all evolution of domestic politics which doesn’t draw short term mileage of anti India or anti Pakistani sentiments needs to be removed . On humanitarian grounds, normalisation of trade can assist in the development of Afghanistan, since Pakistan is transit between them and India. The free flow of goods and services from India to Afghanistan and reverse has potential to be a turning point. Pakistan sees India’s involvement in Afghanistan with skepticism but once the trade ties are normal, there is a likely chance that the need for “strategic depth” may get diminished .
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