As the foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India meet on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia conference, there appears to be a beacon of hope for those who want peace between the two belligerent countries. Although chances are that this meeting will not amount to much, nevertheless, it might result in the initiation of dialogue between the two countries that had been suspended ever since the Pathankot incident. This is good news since the recent capture of the alleged Indian spy, Kulbhushan Yadav, had further slowed the stuttering line of communication between the two countries. As Pakistan pressed for the international recognition of the alleged Indian subversive activities on Pakistani soil India denied all allegations on Yadav, which directly make the Indian state complicit in perpetuation of terror in Pakistan. India claims that Yadav is a retired Indian naval officer, and now a businessman who was nabbed by Pakistani agencies on Iranian soil. It is true that such serious allegations by the two countries complicate the already intricate dynamic of Pakistan-India relationship. As the foreign secretaries initiate talks on the initiation of comprehensive bilateral dialogue, they should not let any negative event of the last few months act as an impediment, which would result in nothing but another clichéd stalemate.
Unfortunately, if past incidences are any indication, Pakistan and India have adopted recalcitrant positions on much less serious issues and over the most pedantic technicalities, and this needs to change if any meaningful progress is to be made in improving relations between the two states.
The conflict between Pakistan and India stems from a territorial dispute, which has been transformed into an ideological war in the collective memory of the people of the two countries. For two states to be engaged in ideological warfare means that the existence of one undermines or negates the existence of the other. For example, the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran can be appropriately called an ideological war as the revolutionary character of Shia Islam poses a threat to the conservative Wahabi moorings of the Saudi Kingdom. Hence, it is absurd to think that the Hindu majority neighbour of Pakistan poses an existential threat to Pakistan, as Islam and Hinduism are two fundamentally different religions. Moreover, if religion has not been a determining factor in most of Pakistan’s other bilateral relations then why is it assigned such a primal role when dealing with India? Pakistan has been able to maintain its strongest alliance with China, a country with a majority of atheists and Buddhists.
The main impediment to the improving of relations between Pakistan and India is the heightened public sentiment against each other that has been produced through decades of government propaganda of the two states. As the Kashmir dispute has been elevated to a sacred position, the two states have been trapped into a stalemate of their own doing, as any progress on the issue is seen as capitulation by their respective populaces. Hence, this environment of distrust needs to be done away with in order to lay the groundwork for future cordial relations between the two states. It is indeed true that the big issues such as Kashmir, cross-border terrorism, Siachen, and Sir Creek need to be addressed, but they need to be buttressed by public support in favour of their resolution. Hence, the foreign secretaries should also come up with mechanisms that would increase people-to-people contact, one way of doing that would be making the mechanism of obtaining visa easy and quick. Moreover, cross-border cultural events should take place more frequently along with greater cooperation in the field of educational exchange. As people of the two states would frequently come into contact with each other, their bonds of empathy would strengthen as their obtuse stances of real and perceived animosity subside. The people of the two countries greatly enjoy the rivalry of the two states on the field of cricket, and this needs to be promoted by hosting sporting events more frequently. It is indeed true that sports can act as bridge of peace between Pakistan and India, and the two states need to make use of every available means of improving relations.
Meanwhile, the two states should move away from their intransigent positions over the Kashmir dispute and cross-border terrorism. Indian reluctance to not talk about Kashmir coupled with its emphasis to discuss the issue of cross border terrorism is often met by Pakistani resoluteness to talk about Kashmir. The two states should initiate dialogue and talk about all of the issues but they should also be prepared to meet each other halfway. India should realise that Pakistan is too important to ignore, and instead of dismissing its grievances with nonchalance it should try to find a solution. Pakistan should also acknowledge the fact that India is an emerging power, and it should seek rapprochement with the state as it not only promises great potential in the form of bilateral trade but also peace and security in the region.