by Shujaat Bukhari
India and Pakistan cricket teams clashing in Bangalore after seven years, the relations between the two “bitter” neighbours are showing a discernible improvement. The sporting relations had also received a beating after the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. India and Pakistan have been proud in fighting each other on the cricket turf but this too had been pushed to the background after the process of normalizing the relations had come to grinding halt. The way the battered relations are limping back to normality, there is a hope for widening the constituency of peace and reconciliation. Notwithstanding the fact that Kashmir issue has been a contentious one, this new bonhomie has been possible only by “ignoring” it for the time being. Still the normalcy from New Delhi to Islamabad is an important bench-mark, which could ultimately push both the countries towards an amicable solution.
In the past few months, India and Pakistan have come closer on many issues, thus promising a new hope in 2013. While the resumption of cricket series is the latest ingredient in this process, improvement in trade, people to people contact and civil society dialogue have given a fillip to this atmosphere of amity. However, this situation has not come in isolation as Islamabad has virtually surrendered before New Delhi on crucial issues. Caught in a serious trouble on the home turf, Pakistan is grappling to come out of the worst ever crisis it has been facing since it was born in 1947. And for that, it sees India as a major player in helping to defuse it. Pakistan has been consistently blaming India for trouble in Balochistan and Karachi. About the former, a mention was made in the Sharm Al Sheikh statement as well, which later cost the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh very dearly. The country that had been talking about giving thousand cuts to India is in reverse getting the same and to wriggle out of that mess, there is no option but to “co-operate” on fighting the terrorism jointly. The way Pakistan responded to Ajmal Kasab’s hanging is in sync with its policy to not to annoy India. Publicly, the Pakistani leaders are swearing by pursuing the Kashmir issue in accordance with its six decades old stated position but in the backroom diplomacy, it has virtually climbed down. To buy peace with India is costing it dearly and there is no matching reciprocity from this side.
As of now, it looks like Pakistan’s weakness is playing a vital role in normalizing the situation between the two countries. It is not touching the sensitive issues and is also ready to even take action against Hafiz Saeed in case the evidence against him is given. But the weakness is not to be exploited as a weakness only. It has to be channelized as an opportunity on both the sides. Kashmir is crucial to sustainable peace in sub-continent. Unfortunately, New Delhi does not recognize that fact and coupled with Islamabad’s weakness, it sees normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir as a permanent gift to harp on strengthening state’s integration. In absence of a clear vision and urge to resolve the issue, this peace can prove as fragile as it has shown in the past.
It is a fact that normal if not friendly relations between the two countries are a key to any palatable process on both sides. And in past few months, the improved contact on both sides has helped to build an atmosphere. The high profile visits of Kashmir Affairs Minister Mian Manzoor Watoo to Punjab and in turn the visits of Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to Pakistan have surely helped to make the peace constituency stronger. Likewise, the debate on Sir Creek and Siachen, organized by Jang Group and Times of India under Aman Ki Asha are some important initiatives which could further the process. Setting up of Integrated Check Posts (ICP’s) for trade on Wagah have given a boost to trade on both sides, thus raising an economic stake in the process. Exports from India, increased by over 50 percent for the April-November period compared to last year — from Rs. 802 crore to Rs. 1,237 crore. And the imports from Pakistan and Afghanistan through Wagah have nearly doubled, from Rs. 544 crore to Rs. 1,075 crore. The number of trucks has jumped from 30 a day to 200 a day. Similarly the agreement on liberalised visa regime also is a strong indicator that both countries have the scope to further cement the relations by throwing the borders open to their people. This surely does help the relations to become stronger and promise a new beginning.
But one common factor that may not help to boost the relations to a desired level is that governments on both sides are almost on way out. While in Pakistan the elections are due by May next year, it will be followed by election mood in India soon after. So the fluid political situation may hamper the further progress. But the common thread is that this normalization has to move on. Whether Kashmir returns to centrality of relations soon or not but both countries must learn to move on in 2013 for a greater good in sub continent.
(Opinion Expressed by the author is his own and don’t necessarily reflect the policy of Kashmir Life.)