New Hope for India-Pakistan Relations? - Asia Society

New Hope for India-Pakistan Relations?

Nadia Rasul, Asia Society, May 11, 2012

In recent months Pakistan and India have made unprecedented strides in improving bilateral trade relations. Last year Pakistan decided to grant India "most favored nation" status, and recent reports show that Pakistan will soon be importing petrol and energy from India, while India will allow foreign direct investment from Pakistan.
The two countries plan to collaborate on higher education programs, as well, and a new integrated check post for commercial traffic and trade has opened at the Attari-Wagah border crossing. India and Pakistan are also expected to discuss reforms in their visa regime at the upcoming Home Secretary level talks in Islamabad on May 24 and 25.
We asked Asia Society experts on the region to comment on what sets apart Pakistan and India's recent efforts to improve bilateral relations from previous attempts, and whether the current discussions are more likely to produce positive results.
Moreover, as former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently commented that Pakistan should unilaterally abolish its visa regime with India, we asked our experts why Sharif didn't take this step when he was in office (twice) — and what's changed in the past 14 or so years.

Vishakha Desai (President, Asia Society)

The current discussions and efforts about improving the bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan seem more promising because the discussion is around the economic and civil society efforts rather than political trust or lack thereof. It seems more grounded in reality and not just in political rhetoric. Also, it feels more multi-pronged. So I feel that there may be a better chance for a real improvement in the bilateral relationship. Political efforts have failed in the past, so why not give these new efforts a chance?
It is remarkable that Nawaz Sharif has called for the abolishing of the visa regime with India. Clearly, this is partly related to the new economic realities and efforts. If India and Pakistan can sort out the visa restrictions and trade barriers, it can be hugely beneficial to both sides. The problem will be with the Indian side because of worries about the potential of export of terrorist actors and activities.
The more Indians and Pakistanis meet each other, work together and do business together, the more we will build trust, and it will have a greater chance for a lasting goodwill than anything governments can mandate.

Hassan Abbas (Senior Advisor, Asia Society)
Professor of International Security Studies, National Defense University

There is an increasing realization in both power corridors that without peace between the two states their people will suffer more and geopolitical tensions will only increase. I think both countries have learned the hard way that "conditions for dialogue" (read: "Kashmir on top of the agenda" or "dealing first with cross-border terrorism") are not going to help resolve the lingering issues.
It appears that after a long hiatus democratically elected governments on both sides are now engaged in both open and Track II-level discussions. The business communities on both sides are pushing for more openings in bilateral trade relations. Civil society activists also are more assertive than before, as is evident from the Aman ki Asha initiative from the Times of India and Jang Group in Pakistan — so all of this augurs well for positive results this time around.
Nawaz Sharif's statement is indeed significant but this is not the first time any mainstream political leader from Pakistan said such a thing. The late Benazir Bhutto made similarly courageous suggestions. I think Nawaz Sharif tried to take important initiatives in this direction during his 1997-99 government but Pervez Musharraf's Kargil adventure got in the way. Also, political realities have changed over a period of time — but, most importantly, "it is better late than never."
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