Seventy years ago, India and Pakistan were divided into two separate nations by the British, which led to one of the world’s largest migrations of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs in history. The violence has killed and separated millions. Hindus were afraid they wouldn’t be welcomed in Pakistan while Muslims were afraid they wouldn’t be welcomed in India. Seventy years since separation, three wars have been fought between the subcontinent countries, and they eventually became nuclear powers. The bitter tensions still remain, but it is vitally important for both India and Pakistan to move forward towards normalization.
Are India and Pakistan Still Living in the Past?
The British announced that India would be divided based on religious majority areas as well as considering the opinions of Princely States that were ruled by the Maharajas.
The Maharajas decided whether to be a part of India or become a part of the Muslim majority country of Pakistan, but the problem was that the Muslim majority areas were both in the west and the east of the subcontinent. Louis Mountbatten, the last viceroy of the British Raj, was the officer who oversaw the partition. The 1947 partition of India and Pakistan changed the dynamic of history, but Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs who felt like minorities in certain areas decided to move and this resulted in around a million casualties during the migration, and around 14 million fled their homes on both sides of the border.
Shortly after partition, India and Pakistan went to war in 1948, and in 1971, another war broke out in the disputed territory of Kashmir. Ever since the 1971 war, Kashmir has been divided by the Line of Control (LOC). When Cyril Radcliffe drew out the international borders of the two new nations, he did not finish the project, and after the Punjab was divided in half, Kashmir’s fate was unclear after partition.
Now that separation turned into a reality, why can’t India and Pakistan live together? There is a Hindu majority in India and a Muslim majority in Pakistan, but it remains unrealistic that the trajectory of India-Pakistan relations will change because of competitive nationalism. For example, on the Kashmir issue, many Pakistanis want this issue to be resolved first before any more dialogue between India and Pakistan can be facilitated. However, many Indian elites wanted a peaceful resolution than the Pakistani elites because the Pakistani elites were dominated by the military, and wanted to continue the conflict. In 2017, we still see a hardening of tensions on both sides of the border, and there is a lack of appetite for a rapprochement or engagement between New Delhi and Islamabad. The rise of nationalism is still a significant reason why many Indians and Pakistanis are living in the past.
Normalization is the Only Way: For Better or Worse
The wounds of 1947, which India and Pakistan thought they had dealt with in their own ways, have reopened. An area that both sides have a huge disagreement on is on the terrorism issue. India blaming Pakistan for smuggling terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba across the border in Kashmir, and Pakistan accusing India of supporting separatist movements in Baluchistan.
On this issue, both countries need to start dialogue from which both New Delhi and Islamabad are running away, and both countries are being run by hawks that are only building on competitive nationalism and negative attitudes that only make relations worse. For the time being, there is no real solution to any normalization of creating an atmosphere for dialogue where India and Pakistan can discuss serious global issues.
At this moment, India-Pakistan relations do not look very hopeful, but relations cannot get any worse than what we are seeing right now. For seventy years, both countries have failed to talk to each other because they play the blame game at each other instead of using peaceful dialogue to resolve regional and global issues.
In addition, India and Pakistan need to invest in each other, and they are two of the world’s bigger countries that never trade with each other. In fact, South Asia is one of the least economically integrated regions in the world when it comes to trade, so the trade issue remains to be an unexplored area for New Delhi and Islamabad, but it can be a good start to accelerate a normalization process.
The example that inspires Pakistanis to think about better trade relations is India’s trade relationship with China because even though there have been some disagreements on border disputes between India and China, they hold strong trade relations that have produced growth in their respective countries. There could possibly be a good appetite for Pakistani goods and services in India while there can be a need for Indian products and services in Pakistan.
Beyond trade, India and Pakistan should think about new ideas, and intellectual engagement. For example, urbanization is a serious problem in both countries because both countries are going to have dozens upon dozens of cities with population zones of larger than five million people, and some of these places like Lahore are not built to hold so many people. Urbanization has been a topic that is ignored in the entire region and Indians and Pakistanis need to sit down to talk through these serious issues.
India granted Pakistan ‘most favored nation status’ when it comes to trade, but this is still a two-way street. Despite being offered ‘most favored nation status’, there are still a wide range of non-trade and non-tariff barriers that prevent Pakistani goods and services from reaching India and the hawks from Pakistan see these barriers as an argument against opening up trade with India. Trade can solve a lot of problems, but there is also no real opposition in India to a more open trade relationship with Pakistan.
There is still a tremendous outburst of nationalism on both sides of the border, but a big concern that is not mentioned much is building cultural links. People being able to share cultural links like Bollywood actors and writers is a new thing that is trending in the relationship, but what we have never had in the past seventy years, even in a hostile political climate, an easy intercourse of Indians negotiating with Pakistanis and meeting each other. Both peoples do recognize that there are commonalities, but there are worries that cultural links can shut down for example, Pakistanis not being able to act on Bollywood, and it is these kinds of trends that are concerning about shutting down these commonalities.
There are many reasons for this. One is the idea of Hindu nationalists abandoning all things that are Pakistani and they fail to distinguish problems between the military and intelligence wings with the vast majority of Pakistanis. For example, Hindu nationalists take the terrorism issue and use this issue as a target to all aspects of the India-Pakistan relationship.
Plowing Through Resistance
If we look at the current hostilities between India and Pakistan, India has strengthened its relationship with the United States, especially on the security side, and Pakistan is a part of China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative, as well as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project. However, the more India gets closer to the United States, China does not feel comfortable about it, and the more China invests in Pakistan, the more concerned Washington feels about this.
New Delhi is not necessarily concerned about the One Belt, One Road Initiative, but it is concerned about the transfer of nuclear technology from China to Pakistan. However, on one hand, India should not be concerned about Pakistan’s economic relations with China because the OBOR and CPEC can bring some much-needed foreign direct investment to Pakistan and these projects can also develop Pakistan’s crumbling infrastructure.
Many international experts believed that Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi could have turned out to be transformational leaders and at every stage in which they made some efforts towards bringing the countries together, they also gave into resistances domestically and internationally.
One of the lessons from the Modi-Sharif era is that moral leadership, which can plow through domestic opposition, is incredibly important and every time the two leaders tried to make an effort for normalization, the environment for dialogue seemed to change. Whilst Sharif and Modi failed in the normalization process and gave into their domestic constituencies, future leaders in India and Pakistan can stilt make a difference on moral leadership for a better future.