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Give peace a chance in these pandemic times. The coronavirus has provided a unique opportunity for India and Pakistan to resolve the animosities in ties.

The Human race has always demonstrated its ability to develop a united front whenever faced with catastrophic circumstances. India and Pakistan are no such exception. I fervently believe that the coronavirus pandemic has presented a unique opportunity to resolve the disputes which continue to plague this relationship because for far too long people across both sides of the Indo-Pak border have traded barbs against each other. The time to set the relationship back on the path to reconciliation is now.

The recent observation by the Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO) of both countries to strictly observe the ceasefire agreement signed by India and Pakistan back in November 2003 is a welcome first step.

Fruits of Positivity

The late political scientist Samuel P Huntington in his magnum opus book ‘Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of World Order’ prophesized that the future of the world would manifest itself in a clash of religions and civilizations. While this remained by and large true, it is time that both India and Pakistan turn this argument on its head and embrace each other.

Benefits of Normalization of Indo-Pak

Firstly, it is said that economics is the panacea for fixing rocky bilateral ties. The Indo-Pak relationship contains a lot of scope for increasing trade. Indian cement, cotton and sugar inter alia are in great demand in Pakistan and hence must be encouraged. Both India and Pakistan must restore the MFN (Most Favored Nation) status for each other as a commencing point to bolster bilateral trade.

Secondly, it will help India gain access to Central Asia which is a hydrocarbon hub that will give India a much-needed boost to its fledgeling oil and natural gas production.

Thirdly, it will help in bolstering people to people ties, helping people stranded across the border to gain access to their brethren which will help in healing old scars and wounds of partition and thereby develop a relationship akin to America-Canada.

Caveats Remain

Despite all the rosy possibilities of improving ties with Pakistan, persuading the Islamic republic to improve presents a unique conundrum in itself because of the dominance of the deep state in the state. They certainly don’t believe in having good ties with India because animosity with India will drive northwards the allocation of the country’s vital resources for defence purposes. Tilak Devasher, a former bureaucrat and Pakistan expert articulates in his book, ‘Pakistan- Courting the Abyss’ that the Pakistan armed forces devour the lion’s share of the federal budget since the inception of Pakistan in 1947.

Another pressing concern is the Islamist threat in Pakistan, the potency of the threat lies in the recent negotiation that the Pakistan government was forced to engage in with the extremist Tehreek-e- Labbaik which has been demanding the expulsion of the French Ambassador for the last six months over the Laicite( French secularism) issue. They are akin to a time ticking bomb which threatens to tear asunder the already fragile social fabric of Pakistan.

But perhaps the most critical irritant in Indo-Pak ties is the use of terrorism as the state-sponsored policy to try and achieve parity with India. Its tendency to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists has been the single most point of contention in the ties for the last forty years and more. It is for this reason why the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) grey list has been hanging on to Pakistan’s fate like the Sword of Damocles. Whether Pakistan jettisons the use of this policy is a matter of pure speculation and is ultimately up to the Pakistani army and civilian elite.

Conclusion

India needs to be cautious while dealing with its recalcitrant neighbour, Pakistan has time again betrayed the trust of India which only enhanced the bellicosity of ties. Perhaps the mandarins in South Block will be better off treading cautiously while at the same time make the outreach to Pakistan which will be a landmark event in reshaping the geopolitics of South Asia.

Title Image Courtesy: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/4/23

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies

Pranay Shome

By Pranay Shome

Pranay Shome is a columnist and writes for leading newspapers like the pioneer, the hills times, the Indian Express etc. He is currently pursuing his masters degree in political science with a specialization in international relations from Jadavpur University.