The problem with both India and Pakistan, which is also a major source of the unending hostility between our two countries, is that we both are too focused on our troubled past and present, and too little on the possibilities of a better future. We have remained prisoners of a conflicted yesterday, rather than becoming sculptors of a cooperative tomorrow.
Yet, this is not what Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, and Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, wanted when our two countries became simultaneously independent in 1947. Soon after Partition, Jinnah told America’s first Ambassador to Pakistan, Paul Alling, that he desired India-Pakistan relations to be like an “association similar to that between the US and Canada.”
Almost around the same time, in March 1948, Nehru said to the students and faculty of the Aligarh Muslim University, which had played a pivotal role in the Pakistan Movement: “It is to India’s advantage that Pakistan should be a secure and prosperous state with which we can develop close and friendly relations.”
We have remained prisoners of a conflicted yesterday, rather than becoming sculptors of a cooperative tomorrow.
Nehru also proposed that a “closer association must come out of a normal process and in a friendly way which does not end Pakistan as a state but which makes it an equal part of a larger union in which several countries might be associated.” Despite this remarkable congruence in the visions of Jinnah and Nehru, the history of our bilateral relationship took a different turn.
Lack of mutual trust, resulting in a near-total absence of constructive engagement, became its defining feature. A silver lining came in 1985, when our two countries came together to establish, along with other countries in the region, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Sadly, SAARC has failed to realise it promise.
Indeed, it has gone into a coma, unable even to hold its regular summits. The principal reason for this is the failure of India and Pakistan, the two most important countries in the region, to overcome their enmity─ above all, their failure to resolve the Kashmir dispute, a bitter legacy from the history of Partition.
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Islamabad accuses New Delhi of being insincere and unwilling to discuss the Kashmir dispute, the “core issue” plaguing the bilateral relations. New Delhi, on the other hand, accuses Islamabad of promoting terrorism in Kashmir and other parts of India. Even though the two countries have fought four wars, peace and reconciliation still eludes them.
An all-out new war is now less likely, since both countries possess nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, the Line of Control (LoC) dividing the two parts of Kashmir has remained a hotspot for decades. It has become hotter after the recent escalation in cross-LoC firing by the two armies, in which both countries are losing soldiers as well as innocent civilians.
Phobias during the Relationships
As a result, far from bilateral cooperation leading to expanded regional cooperation in South Asia, India-Pakistan relations today present a picture of extreme non-cooperation. There is very little bilateral trade. At less than $3 billion annually, India’s trade with Pakistan accounts for a meagre 0.4 per cent of its growing global commerce.
Here is a telling example. In October last year, Dawn newspaper carried an article by Dr Anjum Altaf, a dean at the prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), which made a strong case for mutually beneficial economic cooperation between Pakistan and India.
History, however, is a generous gift-giver. South Asia’s past and present may be conflicted, but history always provides new opportunities for conflict resolution.
He also described how this has become impossible because of “blind nationalism” in Pakistan. “At the time,” he wrote,“when tomatoes were selling for Rs 300 a kilo in Lahore, they were available at Indian Rs 40 a kilo in Amritsar a mere 30 miles away. But a visceral Indo-phobia, shared by many of our influentials, stood in the way of consumers benefiting from the lower priced supply.”
As an Indian, it saddens me to confess that “Pakistan-phobia” in India is stronger than “India-phobia” is in Pakistan. Ultra-nationalists in our country want to have no cooperation and interaction whatsoever with Pakistan ─ no trade, no sports and cultural exchanges, not even people-to-people contacts. These Pakistan-haters have become particularly emboldened after Narendra Modi became prime minister in May 2014.
The lack of cooperation and connectivity between India and Pakistan has made South Asia the least integrated region in the world. We are so near, and yet so far. Two vivid examples should suffice to make this point. There is no land connectivity ─ and hence very little trade and movement of people ─ between Pakistan and Bangladesh, which was East Pakistan until 1971.
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The two countries cannot be connected without the cooperation of India, which lies in between. Similarly, India and Afghanistan cannot have land connectivity without the cooperation of Pakistan, which lies in between. This fragmentation of a subcontinent, in which people of various ethnicities, religions and languages lived together for millennia has had an inevitable consequence.
Despite being the most populous region in the world (combined population: over 1.7 billion), South Asia also has the dubious distinction of being home to the largest number of poor and development-deprived people in the world.
Can this reality be changed? And should this reality be changed? The first question will be answered in the negative only by those who are weak in vision and willpower. And the second question will be answered in the negative only by those who have a vested interest in the status quo ─ arms merchants, warmongers, bigots, and conspirators who want to destabilize South Asia.
Belt and Road Initiative – a win-win promise
History, however, is a generous gift-giver. South Asia’s past and present may be conflicted, but history always provides new opportunities for conflict resolution and opens up new ave the context of South Asia, one such new opportunity has arrived in the form of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its flagship project ─ the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). BRI is the grandest and most ambitious connectivity initiative in human history.
It seeks to link Asia, Africa and Europe ─and subsequently even the South, Central and North Americas ─ with networks of land, maritime and digital connectivity projects, energy pipelines, and trade and industrial hubs. It also seeks to facilitate revival of cultural and civilizational linkages, regionally and globally.
Undoubtedly, BRI will accelerate the decline of the West and the rise of Asia. Where will South Asia be in this historic transformation of the global order? The answer to this question lies principally in the future of India-Pakistan relations. South Asia will become a region of peace, progress and shared prosperity if India and Pakistan decide to normalise their relations. If not, South Asia will surely see destructive eruption of violence and instability in various forms.
Beijing has hinted that it is willing to rename CPEC both to address India’s concerns and also to reflect the extended and expanded geographical area that the future CPEC would cover.
One must also acknowledge here that the future of South Asia is going to be strongly influenced by a new factor: the Rise of China. It is my firm conviction that South Asia’s destiny can be changed only by forging friendly and cooperative bonds that constitute three sides of the trianglular relationship ─ India-Pakistan, India-China and Pakistan-China.
In this triangle, Pakistan-China relations are already strong, and getting stronger. Therefore, bold new thinking is need- ed to transform India-Pakistan and India-China relations for the better. And this is where we have to recognise that history has offered our region a valuable gift in the form of BRI and CPEC.
As far as CPEC is concerned, its initial vision and design is to connect the vast expanse of western China with Pakistan, the latter providing to the corridor a seaport opening at Gwadar. However, both China and Pakistan have made it clear that they welcome other countries in the neighbourhood to join CPEC.
Accordingly, Afghanistan, Iran and several Central Asian republics have already announced their willingness to be part of the extended CPEC. This is because allof them see significant benefit to themselves in this futuristic project.
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India’s Opposition to CPEC and BRI is Myopic
India, however, has stayed away from CPEC. Indeed, CPEC is also the reason why India has stayed away from BRI as a whole. This decision of the Modi government is myopic and ill-advised.The Indian government’s stated reason for its opposition to CPEC is that it violates India’s sovereignty since it passes through a part of Jammu & Kashmir, which is under the effective control of Pakistan.
(India calls it Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or PoK, whereas Pakistan calls it Azad Kashmir.) The sovereignty argument is weak on three counts. First, India had not objected in the 1970s to the construction of the Karakoram Highway, which passes through Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of the original Jammu & Kashmir state. Second, China has repeatedly stated that it is “neutral” in the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir.
CPEC does not recognise Kashmir to be a settled issue and ‘PoK’ or ‘Azad Kashmir’ to be Pakistan’s sovereign territory. Article VI in the 1963 Sino-Pak Agreement clearly states that “after the settlement of Kashmir by India and Pakistan, the sovereign authority will reopen negotiations with China…” Third, nothing prevents India and China from entering into a similar agreement, thereby paving the way for India to join CPEC.
Sadly, SAARC has failed to realise it promise. Indeed, it has gone into a coma, unable even to hold its regular summits.
Significantly, Beijing has hinted that it is willing to rename CPEC both to address India’s concerns and also to reflect the extended and expanded geographical area that the future CPEC would cover.
The most important factor that militates against India’s sovereignty argument is that it is absolutely impossible for India to ever get Pakistan’s side of Kashmir back. Similarly, it is also impossible for Pakistan to ever get the Indian part of Kashmir back.
Neither a new war nor any other coercive means can possibly change the status quo. The only realistic and peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute hinges on the two countries either accepting the Line of Control (LOC) as the international border or agreeing upon the concept of “shared sovereignty”.
Not many observers have realized or noted that the expanded CPEC can help India and Pakistan move towards a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir problem. This is how it can work. If India decides to join CPEC, one of the legs of the corridor can come from the Pakistan side of Kashmir into the Indian side of Kashmir and run further southwards to reach Delhi and beyond.
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Connectivity between the two sides of Kashmir, besides aiding trade, employment and people-to-people movement, will also build a growing degree of inter-dependence between them, and also between India and Pakistan.
This inter-dependence itself will compel the two countries to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution to the Kashmir problem. It is hardly surprising that the people and politicians in the Indian side of Kashmir have strongly supported CPEC and BRI, and are urging India’s participation in them.
India joining the renamed CPEC will bring other advantages and inter-dependencies for both India and Pakistan. For example, this will create connectivity between the two Punjabs, between Sindh-Southern Punjab and Gujarat-Rajasthan, and Karachi and Mumbai. (These two port cities had a regular ferry service until the 1965 Indo-Pak war stopped it.)
This alone can pave the way for the realization of Jinnah’s dream of India and Pakistan having a relationship akin to that between USA and Canada, and Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of India and Pakistan as two nations belonging to “the same family” who care for each other’s wellbeing and prosperity.
An Opportunity for Grand South Asian Integration
There are also other advantages of regional cooperation for both India and Pakistan. India can get land access to Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asian republics and western China. Pakistan, on the other hand, can get access to the vast landmass of India and, through India, to Bangladesh and beyond.
It is worth recalling here that, in the run-up to Partition, the Muslim League had demanded a corridor linking West and East Pakistan. This idea can now be realized in an altogether new and non-divisive manner.
BRI and CPEC also offer other tantalizing opportunities for South Asia’s integration. For example, these can help Iran, Pakistan and India cooperate in making the I-P-I gas pipeline project. Even the realization of the ambitious TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline hinges on India joining CPEC. The two projects are critical for the future energy security of both India and Pakistan.
What is needed is large-scale and multi-level dialogue between Indians and Pakistanis on how mutual cooperation can help us liberate ourselves from the prison of the past and reap the promises of a bright future.
There is another huge promise, waiting to be seized. The Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor ─also known as the K-to-K or Kunming to Kolkata corridor ─ is under discussion for two decades. If implemented, it can change the destiny of that part of South Asia.
I have been repeatedly calling for connecting the BCIM corridor with CPEC, so that we can create a beautiful garland of connectivity and integration for the whole of South Asia. It will be a 21st century version of the 16th century road, built by Sher Shah Suri, connecting what later became the capitals of four countries – Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Let us not dismiss this idea as utopia. After all, only those who dream big, and act with firm resolve to purse their big dreams, can change the course of history. Others remain trapped in history. Europe teaches us a good lesson. After having fought two devastating world wars in the 20th century, it has constructed a peaceful European Union in the 21st century.
Each European nation is sovereign and has its own identity and borders. Yet it cooperates with others for the benefit of all, and people can travel smoothly from Portugal to Poland and from Norway to Italy. Why shouldn’t South Asia, with its richer civilization and more syncretic spiritual traditions, envision a similar future of peaceful co-existence for itself, and strive to turn the vision into reality?
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I know that people in Pakistan doubt whether India will ever overcome internal resistance to join CPEC. True, there is a very strong opposition to this proposal ─ in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which heads the ruling government, in other major parties, and also in the media and intellectual circles.
In fact, as far back as in 2015, Pakistan’s former envoy in New Delhi, Mr Abdul Basit, who had invited me to give a talk on India-Pakistan relations at the High Commission, said to me, “You are the only Indian who is publicly voicing your support to CPEC.” I also attended the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, hosted by the Chinese President Xi Jinping in May 2017, even though the Indian government had boycotted it.
I can say that the Indian opinion about BRI and CPEC is now slowly changing. This is because thoughtful Indians can see how CPEC is modernizing Pakistan’s infrastructure, and how Pakistan can emerge as a “Tiger Economy” in the future. Surely, many thoughtful Pakistanis also see great benefit in India joining CPEC, since this could reduce Pakistan’s excessive dependence on China.
Thus, India joining CPEC and BRI as an equal partner will create win win gains for the three countries, and for South Asia a whole. What is needed is large-scale and multi-level dialogue between Indians and Pakistanis on how mutual cooperation can help us liberate ourselves from the prison of the past and reap the promises of a bright future.
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Let’s Aim at India-Pakistan-China Cooperation Summit
Happily, India- China dialogue is also now improving. The atmosphere of confrontation created by the Doklam crisis last year is slowly giving way to constructive engagement. This is clearly reflected in a remarkable interview given by India’s new ambassador in Beijing, Gautam Bambawale (whoserved as India’s high commissioner in Islamabad before moving to China) in South China Morning Post (March 24, 2018).
He stressed that India regards China as a partner in progress and development rather than as a rival or a competitor. When asked if India would join USA, Japan and Australia in forming a “quadrilateral” alliance, he affirmed that India would not be party to any pact designed to provide a counter-balance to China.
The trade between India and China is steadily growing, and has reached the highest level ever, USD 84.5 billion in 2017, in spite of the Doklam problem. Political-level communication has restarted. Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping are expected to have an “informal summit” soon. They will meet again in June at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), in which both India and Pakistan have become full members.
I have been repeatedly calling for connecting the BCIM corridor with CPEC, so that we can create a beautiful garland of connectivity and integration for the whole of South Asia.
Obviously, China realises India’s importance, just as India realises China’s importance. Constructive dialogue and cooperation between our great Asian nations should be welcomed by the other great Asian nation ─ Pakistan.
My personal dream is to see that the leaders of India, Pakistan, and China form a cooperative triangle and begin to hold regular three-nation summits to discuss all geo-economic and geostrategic issues in the region.
Among other things, this three-nation cooperation can also help bring peace and stability to Afghanistan through a wider regional dialogue. Towards this end, we should begin India-Pakistan-China dialogue at Track-II level, elevate it to Track 1.5 level, and ultimately move towards result-oriented Track-I talks.
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However, nothing of what has been proposed above can materialize unless India and Pakistan move from mutual suspicion to mutual trust, and from a conflicting mindset to a cooperation mindset. Let us remain two separate, sovereign and independent nations, but come together to open a new chapter in our history. To invoke the words of Xi Jinping, it is time for South Asia to create “a community with a shared destiny for mankind”.
Sudheendra Kulkarni, a former BJP politician, currently heads the Mumbai-based think tank Observer Research Foundation. He was an aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and is now an independent Mumbai-based socio-political activist promoting India-Pakistan-China friendship. This detailed article first appeared in the “Global Village Space” Magazine (print) in April edition.
The view expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.