Myth and Reality

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Nawazish Ali

“Peace is not the absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” –Ronald Reagan
The defence expenditures of India and Pakistan are approximately US$ 72 and 11 billion; 2.5 per cent and 3.4 per cent of GDP respectively.
Nevertheless, it does not have a direct bearing on the military potential/capability of the respective country per se for numerous ins and outs. However, it certainly affects the economic capacity of the nation. Pakistan and India have an intricate and largely hostile relationship rooted in a multitude of historical and political events. Their history can be characterised as one of lost opportunities, mistrust, and hostility. Since independence, Pakistan and India have had numerous wars, border skirmishes, and military stand-offs. They continue to have unresolved disputes, lingering irritants, and a history of broken promises.
There is no reason today why Pakistan and India, as responsible nuclear weapon states, should not be willing to negotiate “a no-war agreement.”
Pakistan is considered the most secure country in terms of nuclear security amongst the non-NPT states. It has established a comprehensive and effective national nuclear security regime, which is at par with international standards and guidelines. Nuclear weapons promote strategic stability and prevent large-scale wars. Principled compromise approaches can increase the probability of reciprocity; transform zero-sum confrontation into positive-sum cooperation; reduce security expenditures and with greater interactions, allow less mutually hostile narratives to emerge.
Contrarily, there has never been a successful and durable “no-war pact” between any two countries in recent times. This does not preclude India and Pakistan from normalising circumstances for improving bilateral relations, especially in enhancing trade; aiming at simplification of living for poverty-stricken on both sides of the borders. Playing to the gallery on Kashmir in the prevailing circumstances is of no help to the impoverished masses of the Subcontinent and the Kashmiris, but reaching a principled mutual understanding could greatly help such an endeavour. The question is: if not now, then when?
South Asia is a different place today with China’s assertive military and financial clout generating challenges for India’s neighbourhood policy. China’s rise and the linked great power competition have complicated Islamabad’s and New Delhi’s strategic calculus, as both look to balance relations with Washington and Beijing. Nevertheless, ties with China will remain an overriding priority for Islamabad. Pakistan’s greatest security challenges will continue to emanate from India and the unsettled situation on its borders with an unstable Afghanistan. India’s position on almost every issue regarding Pakistan has hardened ever since the emergence of India as a “strategic partner” of the United States and other Western powers.
The history of Pakistan-India relations can be further characterised as one of the lost opportunities. There is little patience among the Indian hardliners for “peace talks” with Pakistan. Mistrust, hostility and conflict have undermined efforts for harmony and stability and continue to have unresolved disputes, lingering irritants, and a history of broken promises. India’s human rights violations in Kashmir also raise huge concerns about state violence against minority communities.
Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan for over forty years (for maintaining relevance with the US) has been a gift to India by default. The economic and political crisis now enveloping Pakistan, shaped by its wayward masters and bureaucrats, manifests itself as a listless gloom. Ever since the loss of erstwhile East Pakistan and the judicial murder of our first elected prime minister, Pakistan’s story has degenerated from the tragic to the pathetic to the absurd. I accuse every major institution and influential group of people of failing Pakistan, including the government, the army and intelligence apparatus, the judiciary, parliament, political leaders, the media, civil services, and elites.
Considering that any unexpected escalation between India and Pakistan has the potential to threaten world peace, both countries must find ways and means to peacefully resolve their disputes. I believe much of the hostility, hatred, and poison stems from the failure to enact and pursue a peace and reconciliation process. Peace can set both countries on a journey to heal tensions and quash hatred. The frequent acknowledgement that they have much to gain from trade and connectivity in economic areas has taken a back seat.
The potential pay-off for India and Pakistan trade if they normalised relations is mind-boggling and could increase from $2 billion to $37 billion if both countries took steps towards removing tariff barriers, strict visa policies, complex procedures, and waiting periods at the borders. That would bring many other allied benefits; lift communities out of poverty, and boost investment in education, health, development, and green technologies. No amount of tub-thumping nationalism, flag-waving, and arguments can cover just how awful the social, welfare, health, and education situation is in both countries today. The number of out-of-school children in both countries for lack of investment, poverty, and inequality is one example for consideration. Although conflicting issues are long-standing, I believe a “No-war Arrangement between India and Pakistan” is one workable option.
Leaders on both sides of the border need to develop a national consensus to support the peace process and bring all stakeholders, including core constituencies, media, and opposition parties, on board. Prudence demands that we pick up the threads from where we left off in the past and find common ground together. Only then can lasting peace become a viable alternative to endless hostility and conflicts. The value of peace is beyond measure. We must focus on the dividends that peace brings. Peace is not a utopian dream.