There is no doubt that if peace prevails between India and Pakistan there is no dearth of benefits to be derived, but even one terrorist attack could derail the whole process, says Alok Bansal.
Foreign Minister S M Krishna is slated to visit Pakistan for three days from September 7 at the invitation of Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who had visited New Delhi in July 2011. The bilateral talks between the two leaders at Islamabad are slated on September 8.
The talks will be preceded by a meeting of the foreign secretaries of the two countries on September 7. The two ministers will also co-chair the plenary of the India-Pakistan joint commission to be held in Islamabad on September 8. The minister will also call on the President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and the leaders of other political parties at Islamabad.
Significantly he would visit Lahore on September 9 and meet the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leadership as well as the members of the civil society and local businessmen. This is probably the first time when a visiting foreign minister would be meeting the opposition leaders in Lahore.
The visit comes at a time when both the Indian and Pakistani governments have been besieged with domestic opposition and are on a weak wicket. The Indian government is fighting an opposition demand for the prime minister's scalp for certain alleged acts of omission perpetrated whilst he was handling the coal portfolio. In Pakistan, the prime minister is walking the path that has already been treaded by his predecessor Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani. He is resisting a directive by the Pakistani Supreme Court to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against his party co-chairman and President Zardari.
Pakistan is also going through a tumultuous period as Pakistan Army prepares to attack the Haqqanis in North Waziristan. The Taliban has already commenced its pre-emptive strikes on the armed forces; the attack on Kamra was probably the first in a series of attacks. It has also increased the sectarian violence to create large-scale tumult within the Pakistani society to prevent the army from undertaking operations in North Waziristan.
The relations between the two countries have been stymied by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. The Indian government has since been accusing the Pakistan government of not doing enough to bring those responsible for the attacks to justice. The Indian media has been highlighting the role played by certain state actors and some high-profile non-state actors like Hafiz Saeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Tayiba, which has since metamorphosed as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa.
The allegations gained credence after the interrogation of David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana by the US authorities. Pakistan has consistently denied these allegations maintaining that India has not given it incontrovertible evidence about their involvement in Mumbai carnage. It is unlikely that the two countries will be able to make any substantive progress on this issue during the current visit. It would have been extremely difficult for the two governments to move from their stated positions on this issue at best of times, the inherent weakness of the two governments at this juncture makes it virtually impossible.
Similarly, Pakistan's statement issued before the talks once again mentions the right of self-determination for Kashmiris in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution. It is unlikely that the two countries are going to budge from their proclaimed positions on this issue.
The only pragmatic solution at this point would be to take steps to make the Line of Control more irrelevant. Bus services and trade links need to be augmented. A bus service between Kargil and Skardu, a long pending demand of the citizens of the area, must be started at the earliest. More divided families across the Line of Control exist in this part of Jammu and Kashmir than any other part. Both the countries are close to resolving Siachen and have agreed to demilitarise the region, the only stumbling block being India's insistence and Pakistan's refusal to ratify the present ground positions.
Nevertheless, there are many issues waiting to be resolved at this point of time. The current round of talks could see the resolution of long pending Sir Creek dispute, for which joint survey has been completed long back. This could facilitate the delineation of maritime boundary between the two countries. Similarly, the perceived infringements of the Indus Water Treaty with respect to the three western rivers traversing through Jammu and Kashmir are more a matter of perception than reality and can easily be resolved by greater transparency and interaction.
The talks could usher in greater cultural and sporting interaction and a liberal visa regime. It could also result in greater access to each other's media, although both judiciary and army, two powerful institutions in Pakistan have recently voiced their concerns against the 'cultural onslaught' of the Indian electronic media.
The maximum progress between the two countries is feasible in trade, transit and commerce. India has taken a significant stride by allowing Pakistani investments in India, but even this gesture is being viewed with suspicion in certain quarters of Pakistan. They perceive it as an Indian ploy to facilitate wealth drain from Pakistan. The two countries have agreed to allow each other's banks to operate in their territory to boost trade. The potential for trade is enormous and bilateral trade is expected to reach $ 10 billion after the barriers have been removed.
India could help Pakistan by providing 500 MW of electricity to tide over the immediate problems. Similarly Indian locomotives could haul Pakistan Railway out of the woods. Trade has the capacity to create huge job opportunities on both sides of the border.
Unfortunately, despite Pakistan having announced the grant of MFN status to India, it is by no means a certainty. There are powerful voices within the Pakistani establishment including sections of omnipotent army that have been opposing it. Even some mandarins of the industry especially from the engineering and automobile sector, feel that their industries will be overwhelmed by Indian imports. Nevertheless a common man will definitely benefit by opening up of the trade links.
Cheaper petroleum products, textiles and food grains will bring down the levels of inflation in both the countries and will create stakeholders for peace, who would eventually nudge the two countries closer to resolve more intractable issues. In the long term trade between India and central Asia through Pakistani highways and pipelines could usher in prosperity within the entire region.
Similarly Pakistani highways and railways could connect India to Iran and through it to the Caucasus and West Asia. There is no doubt that if peace prevails there is no dearth of benefits to be derived, but even one terrorist attack could derail the whole process.