heir recent dialogue process provides the best chance yet for bilateral peace and regional stability, but Pakistan and India must still overcome serious mistrust among hardliners in their security elites.
Pakistan’s Relations with India: Beyond Kashmir? , the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, analyses how the deeper economic ties they are building could help repair the breach between the two nuclear-armed powers who have fought multiple wars with each other.
For over six decades, bilateral relations have been overshadowed by the Kashmir dispute. With political will on both sides to normalise relations, however, the dialogue process has resulted in some promising achievements. Broader economic ties would provide a more conducive environment to address longstanding disputes like Kashmir.
“Pakistan and India need to build on what they have achieved to reach sustainable peace”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group’s South Asia Project Director. “Deeper economic ties have been formed. But an effective integration of the two economies requires measures that enable greater movement across the border”.
Numerous challenges still threaten the chance for peace and stability. Pakistan’s fragile democratic transition, pivotal to the success of the dialogue, is endangered by a powerful military that is deeply hostile toward India and supports anti-India-oriented extremist groups. Another Mumbai-style attack by Pakistan-based jihadists would make the dialogue untenable and could even spark a new war.
Liberalised trade, stronger commercial links and deeper bilateral economic investment would strengthen moderate forces in Pakistan’s government, political parties, business community and civil society. But New Delhi’s heavy-handed suppression of dissent and large military footprint in the portion of Kashmir it controls alienate Kashmiris, undermine Pakistani constituencies for peace and embolden jihadi groups and hardliners in the military and civil bureaucracies.
There are other impediments. With India constructing several dams in the Indus River Basin, the Pakistani military and jihadi groups now identify water disputes as a core issue, along with Kashmir, that must be resolved if relations are to be normalised. Averse to talks that do not prioritise the terror threat, Indian hardliners could also impede normalisation.
India’s concerns about jihadi groups are legitimate but should not define and encumber dialogue with Pakistan. Given its neighbour’s fragile democratic transition, New Delhi should be more flexible and patient. Such an approach, if sustained, would enable the Pakistani civilian political leadership to take the initiative on security-related and territorial disputes, including Kashmir.
“Pakistan’s ability to broaden engagement with India depends on a sustained democratic transition, with elected leaders gaining control over foreign and security policy from the military”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “This would result in new prospects to move beyond a rigid, Kashmir-centric approach to India”.