Since the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, the relations between India and Pakistan have never been peaceful. The partition itself, carried out in a hasty manner, keeping many issues unresolved, creating a secular (India) and a religious state (Pakistan), laid the foundation for ongoing tensions and conflicts.
In the immediate period after independence, the nations witnessed violent communal clashes, large-scale migration, and the tragic loss of lives. Subsequent wars in 1947-48 and 1965 for Kashmir, the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh, the 1999 Kargil war and numerous other adventures by Pak military-backed terrorists, including the 2008 Mumbai attack, have ensured that the relations between the nations never return to their normalcy.
While India is a largely stable democracy, aspiring to be a world leader, it naturally prefers peace in the region and normalcy in the relations. The same cannot be said about Pakistan. It is a military state with its army having a huge stake in the continuance of the Indo-Pak conflict. And things have become more complex with both nations acquiring nuclear weapons. The resolution appears difficult, if not impossible.
Various Issues in the Relations
Although both the nations and their people understand the potential of improved Indo-Pak relations, there are multiple issues and stakeholders which spoil any progress in the normalization of their ties. While there are many unresolved issues in Indo-Pakistan relations, there are a few which are more important than others. These are:
- Kashmir Issue (the border problem in Jammu Kashmir & Ladakh)
- Sir Creek issue (the dispute on the Gujarat-Pakistan border)
- Cross-border terrorism (Pak military-backed terrorists attacking India)
Options Available to India
There are limited options when it comes to India’s choices while dealing with its neighbour. Unfortunately, India hasn’t even utilized them to their potential. The governments appear to have been stuck between taking populist decisions or trying to fundamentally solve the problem.
The first option available with India is diplomatic engagements. By increasing high-level talks, taking confidence-building measures, by both parties agreeing to put the Kashmir issue in deep freeze, with Pakistan agreeing to control the terrorists within its land and India opening up for trade with Pakistan, the situation can be resolved. However, the chances of success with this method are slim since the elected governments don’t enjoy much power in Pakistan and the vested interests of the military won’t allow for peaceful negotiations.
Declaring a full-scale war against Pakistan and defeating may seem a simple option to many Indians since it is militarily stronger than Pakistan. However, both nations are nuclear powers. And while India’s weapons are under civilian control, the same is not true for Pakistan. In any event, it cannot be trusted not to use nuclear weapons and hence an open war is not an option anymore.
International mediation can be the one approach to improve relations. However, India already had its share of international mediation on the issue of Kashmir when the UN intervened first in 1947. Since then, India has decided to go solo in the matter. And now, when it seeks to become a world leader, it is even less likely to seek international help.
Some scholars, find it easier to put the entire blame of Indo-Pak relations on the internal politics of Pakistan. In the words of Rajesh Basrur “To a significant extent, the future direction of the relationship is beyond India’s control as much depends on events and processes inside Pakistan.” While the statement may have an element of truth, such statements serve no real purpose, except perhaps promoting an inaction.
The approach of present government is also not encouraging with the foreign minister simply not wanting to discuss Pakistan. As Sushant Sareen puts it, “India is dealing with Pakistan less as a policy imperative and more as a pathology.” While this may appeal to the sentiments of people, it also doesn’t serve any real purpose.
It is important to note that, although it is difficult to deal with Pakistan, and even 75 years of diplomatic efforts have not produced any tangible output, we don’t have a choice. As former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee puts it “We can choose our friends, but we cannot choose our neighbours. We can change history but we cannot change geography.”
The Idea of a Failed Pakistan
While there are many in India who cherish the idea of a failed Pakistan, it getting divided into Pashtun, Baloch, Punjab and Sindh, it is more dangerous than present Pakistan. The country posses 165 nuclear warheads with a maximum missile range of 2750km. With the state collapsing, there is every danger of these weapons falling into the hands of terrorists in the middle east. Such a scenario is not impossible and shying away from it will not defer it.
So, what should worry India more than an insurgent Pakistan is a failed Pakistan. In the words of Professor Atul Kohli,
India has a vested interest in the stability of Pakistan. If Pakistan fails, it will be more difficult for India to maintain its security and stability.Atul Kohli
or as Professor Amitabh Mattoo puts it,
A failed Pakistan would be a nightmare for India. It would be a breeding ground for terrorism and extremism, and it would pose a serious threat to India’s security.Amitabh Mattoo
Significance of Improved Relations
We cannot expect much from Pakistan as a nation. But because the stakes are high for India, it needs to do more. And there is also a lot to gain from cooperation with our neighbour. As Ramchandra Guha puts it. “The India-Pakistan relationship is a tragedy. Two countries with so much in common, so much potential, and so much to offer the world are locked in a cycle of conflict. It is time for the two countries to break this cycle and build a new relationship based on peace, cooperation, and understanding.”
We observe from history that the political stability in a region contributes to economic and cultural prosperity. The progress of the post-war EU and recently the ASEAN are excellent examples of this. The improved Indo-Pak relations will mitigate the arms race between nations. It will reduce the need for the military of both nations to ever remain in alert mode. This will not only save economic resources but also valuable human resources which are deployed in the region.
The nations share the history of more than 3000 years. Their geographies are also similar, and there is enormous potential for trade, investment, tourist and cultural exchanges. The cooperation will also ensure energy security in the region through better management of hydropower and pushing forward the stalled gas pipeline for India.
Peaceful relations will improve the connectivity in the region, giving access to Central Asia for India and perhaps India’s no-objection to China Pakistan Economic Corridor. The cooperation between governments will also ensure that transnational issues like drug trafficking, organized crime, money laundering etc. are resolved for the betterment of both nations.
The Only Problem
The biggest problem that still remains unaddressed is – how to save Pakistan and save ourselves in the process. There is no denying that Pakistan is failing. Its debts are at all-time high & foreign reserves low. Democracy is in peril, more than ever. The judiciary, which appeared strong in the recent past, is again looking weak. While Imran Khan’s regime looks promising, he’s no longer in charge, rather facing multiple charges in court and has recently escaped an assassination attempt.
While India can make economic progress without Pakistan, it can never achieve its true potential in this manner. As Atul Kohli puts it,
The fate of India and Pakistan are like two ships tied together. If one ship sinks, the other ship will sink too. It is in the interest of both countries to work together to ensure that neither ship sinks.Atul Kohli
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