INDIA and Pakistan are neighbours with ties of history, culture, language and cuisine; yet they have not been able to coexist peacefully. One wonders what makes South Asia such a tough neighbourhood when for many other regions, geography is not a challenge but an opportunity. The lingering mutual mistrust inherited when British India was partitioned and unhelpful global geopolitics have further complicated South Asian politics. What would it take for South Asia to bury the bitterness and move on like the rest?
‘Peaceful coexistence’ was a term evolved during the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union, signifying that capitalism and socialism must coexist in peace even if they are mutually antagonistic. Lenin had spoken of peaceful cohabitation with capitalist countries. Khrushchev built upon the idea and used the concept to manage hostility with the US. The induction of nuclear weapons also necessitated peaceful coexistence to avoid nuclear war. The Cuban Missile Crisis tested the limits of the concept, but the ultimate Soviet decision to not deploy missiles in Cuba helped solidify peaceful coexistence as a pragmatic political tool.
The concept assumed deeper meaning when the US reached out to the People’s Republic of China in the early 1970s. Soon thereafter, China also modulated its ideological zeal and created space for a market economy while upholding the communist ideology. Dubbed as socialism with Chinese characteristics, peaceful coexistence has become a norm for China’s relations with the rest of the world, creating critical space for China to become an economic powerhouse.
For India and Pakistan, the principle of peaceful coexistence, if followed in earnest, can lead the way to a peaceful and stable South Asia. The concept involves mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, non-aggression, and mutuality of benefit.
How can India and Pakistan shun hostility?
It is not that the two countries have not made attempts to establish good-neighbourly, even friendly, relations. The most successful attempt was the peace process initiated in January 2004 on the sidelines of the Saarc Summit. The process proliferated bilateral cooperation in nearly every domain. Saarc itself became active, pursuing projects in nearly 60 areas of regional collaboration. However, the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008 brought the process to an abrupt halt. Another attempt was made in 2015, but the Pathankot incident stalled efforts to restart the dialogue.
For India, the issue of terrorism remains a high priority. It has been argued by Indian leaders that until Pakistan addresses the issue of anti-India terrorist elements based in Pakistan, there can be no progress. Pakistan’s argument is that every time the peace process picks up momentum, some terrorist incident occurs, and India, in a knee-jerk reaction, suspends the dialogue. In that sense, Indian actions actually serve the purpose of anti-peace elements that do not wish to see India and Pakistan engage cooperatively. Pakistan also feels aggrieved that India is not showing understanding of the fact that Pakistan itself has been a victim of terrorism, and has fought terrorism at a huge human and financial cost.
Another issue that keeps both in confrontational mode is the non-resolution of the Kashmir dispute. India has embarked upon demographic and electoral engineering in the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir, and assaulted the very identity of the Kashmiris. For Pakistan, this is not acceptable because the people of Pakistan and the people of Kashmir share centuries of geographical, economic, social and cultural closeness. The four-point formula which shot into prominence in 2007 was the closest the two countries ever came to finding a solution that could be acceptable to both sides. Some Kashmiri leaders also came on board. Perhaps, at some point, a modified version of the formula could provide a breakthrough.
With both sides sticking to their core positions, South Asia remains least integrated with high levels of poverty and underdevelopment. One alternative approach that could be explored stems from the regional integration experience of the EU and Asean. For the collective good, the member states of these groupings forged mutual stakes for a lasting peace, the central element of which was to develop mutually beneficial trade and investment relations.
Bilateral trade and investment between India and Pakistan can help build peace constituencies in both countries. Sino-US and Sino-India relations also provide a good illustration of how cooperation and confrontation can coexist. There are several other avenues to take towards peaceful coexistence, but establishing mutual trade and investment ties is a tried and tested formula which India and Pakistan can only ignore at their peril.
The writer, a former foreign secretary, is DG Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad and author of Diplomatic Footprints.
Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2022