My Report Debate II: Trade Ki Jhappi is the Best Solution
(Aditya Sharma’s essay is among the Top 10 of the My Report Debate II. Participants were asked the question: How to fix the India-Pakistan relationship – Jaadu ki jhappi or surgical strike?)
Kebabs, qawwali, and cricket unite India and Pakistan. Seven decades of mistrust divide them. Their 2,900 km border lies atop fault lines of nuclear arms, proxy-terrorism, and war. Beneath sagas of lost lives lie sagas of wasted economic opportunities. Pakistan and India could be strong trading partners. Trade with neighbours is ‘easy,’ low cost and efficient, yielding enormous benefits. Canada and Mexico account for 30 percent of American trade. Pakistan accounts for under 1 percent of India’s.
Non-tariff barriers stemming from political edginess are mostly to blame. For instance, at the sole border crossing of Wagah/Attari, trucks line up for miles, their produce rotting. Shipments are often routed through Dubai, defying logic and multiplying costs exponentially. Visas are stingily granted, and business people must report to the police every morning. Many Indian banks refuse to recognise Pakistani Letters-of-Credit. The immense potential of Indo-Pak trade is readily acknowledged. Think-tanks such as ICRIER and trade associations such as Pak India Business Council (PIBC) estimate a potential $20-40B over the current $2.5B, mostly in agriculture, IT, entertainment and health. It is political exigencies, alas, that hold business hostage.
Every terrorist incident or border skirmish evokes knee-jerk reactions – closures at Wagah/Attari and cancellation of talks. Closing communication and trade never resolves issues, and these reactions paradoxically impede dialogue and consensus.
The EU is a prime example of this process – on a continent bathed in blood for hundreds of years, a continent that has been my home for most of my life, countries that once cut each other’s throats over a few muddy yards of territory are now engaged in a system of constant engagement, their interests deeply linked with each other’s.
The peace that now prevails over Europe stems largely from, it must be acknowledged, the economic integration that began with the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952.
To be frank, we must acknowledge that, above all, it is money that mostly makes the world go around. While this is not always a good thing, it’s certainly better than the current factors that dictate the Indo-Pak relationship: Religious hysteria, a constant cycle of misleading information, and chest-beating militarism.
If India and Pakistan were to just trade with one another, it would lead to interdependence and a creation of ties between a much larger number of interest groups in society. It is economic development that most directly increases security in countries, by lowering the factors – poverty, unemployment, restlessness – that lead to a febrile ground for terrorism. If more interests are at stake, there is more resistance against a spike in tensions between the two countries. In trade, interdependence, and common interests lies the answer to Indo-Pak peace.
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