THE Pakistan-India relationship continues on its rocky trajectory, with multiple challenges obstructing the path to peace. Overcoming them is difficult, especially when there is an apparent lack of appetite for peace in New Delhi. However, there is some positive movement where the fight against locusts is concerned. As the Foreign Office said on Thursday, both Pakistan and India have joined forces — under the auspices of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation — to combat the threat these pests pose to regional food security. Under the umbrella of the Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in South-West Asia, which also includes Iran and Afghanistan, both sides are working to counter the threat posed by giant swarms that have devoured crops across the region. After causing havoc here, the locusts have headed eastwards towards India, and it is expected that more swarms will make their way to this region later in the month.
The cooperation over the locust invasion shows that despite the bitterness that affects bilateral ties, both states can work together to tackle common threats. These include pollution — the toxic smog that chokes Lahore and New Delhi knows no boundaries, but can be tackled together. Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic continues its deadly march across the planet, and a regional approach can help both states combat the contagion. This is not to say that differences will disappear overnight; Pakistan has major, legitimate concerns over New Delhi’s brutal tactics in held Kashmir and India’s treatment of its own Muslim citizens, as well as frequent, deadly cross-LoC fire. Yet while these thorny issues need steady efforts and diplomacy to resolve, other problems can be dealt with in a less complicated manner. If bilateralism does not suit the states at this juncture, then multilateral or regional fora, such as the FAO anti-locust body, can be used to tackle common threats. Moreover, Saarc, which has largely become moribund, can also be reactivated to approach the relatively ‘soft’ issues that afflict South Asia, such as climate change, food security, health, etc. It is hoped a regional strategy is chalked out to deal with the locust issue, considering the threat it poses to food security, while multilateral fora can also be used to address other common issues. Once progress is achieved on these fronts, perhaps both states will one day have the confidence to approach the more difficult questions that have bedevilled South Asia for over seven decades.
Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2020