′Myopic mindsets′ undercut India-Pakistan relations | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 15.08.2014
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'Myopic mindsets' undercut India-Pakistan relations

More than six decades after independence, ties between India and Pakistan continue to be marred by mutual distrust. Experts say more people-to-people contact, trade and tourism are needed to establish cordial relations.

A day after Pakistan marked the 68th anniversary of its freedom from British colonial rule, India followed by celebrating its independence on August 15. The celebrations were accompanied by dances, parades and ceremonies on all levels of society.

Addressing the nation in his maiden Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described himself as India's "prime servant" and not prime minister.

Delivering his message at New Delhi's Red Fort, a 17th century fortress that was once home to India's medieval Mughal rulers, Modi touched on a host of issues plaguing the South Asian nation such as lack of sanitation, widespread poverty, skewed gender ratio and growing sexual violence against women, among others.

Modi also urged Indians to give up the "poison" of communalism and casteism, adding that it was a shame that these social evils were still prevalent in society even so many years after independence.

But the premier's speech marked a significant departure from the past in terms of foreign affairs as for the first time in many years, there was no mention of Pakistan in an Indian PM's Independence Day speech.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, however, referred to India in his Independence Day message a day earlier. Speaking on international relations before the Parliament House in Islamabad, Sharif said that improving ties with neighboring countries is the main focus of the country's foreign policy. "We want a peaceful solution to the Kashmir conflict, so Pakistan and India could improve their relations," he stressed.

Tata Nano Werk in Indien - Employees of Tata Motors work on the assembly line of a Nano car during the inauguration of the Nano plant in Sanand, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Ahmadabad, India, Wednesday, June 2, 2010. Tata Motors inaugurated the factory Wednesday to produce its super-cheap compact Nano car, nearly two years after violent farmer protests forced the company to relocate. The new factory in India's business-friendly Gujarat state promises to unleash production of the pint-sized car, which Tata plans to export to Europe, and eventually the U.S. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

Experts say the economic potential between the two rivals remains under-exploited due to simmering political tensions

A 'myopic mindset'

Over the past 66 years, the two South Asian nations have fought three major wars and been involved in a number of minor conflicts. Their differences revolve around a number of issues ranging from border disputes to water access and terrorism.

Analysts such as Robert Hathaway from the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center believe the apparent unwillingness or inability of leaders from the two sides to settle these differences has led to a "huge drain of resources," which could have been directed at tackling more pressing problems such as poverty or access to education.

This view is supported by the data published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). According to the research center, the two nations spend large amounts of money - around 2.6 percent of their GDP in 2011 - on modernizing their armed forces and acquiring new weapons. In contrast, public expenditure on health care amounted to only 1.1 percent of the GDP in India and less than one percent in Pakistan, according to the World Bank.

A deep sense of mutual suspicion has permeated bilateral relations for over six decades. "Both India and Pakistan have been antagonistic towards each other since independence," Hathaway told DW.

This view is shared by Moeed Yusuf, a senior Pakistan expert at the US Institute of Peace, who believes leaders in both countries are acting with "myopic mindsets." Yusuf argues that since the two countries don't cooperate with each other and only try to undercut one another, they have made South Asia one of the least integrated regions in the world.

A range of opportunities

Indeed, commerce between the two countries, although increasing, is remarkably low. According to a study commissioned by the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan, bilateral trade was valued at around 2.7 billion USD in 2011. The authors of the study also point out that trade could reach 11 billion USD, if ties were to normalize, thus highlighting the economic consequences of the long term rivalry.

A report compiled by the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a business organization of South Asian countries, also came to a similar conclusion. Underlining that the trade potential between the two rivals remains under-exploited due to simmering tensions, the study points out that India and Pakistan "indulge in informal trade to the tune of 13 billion USD annually through avenues like cross-border smuggling and personal baggage."

Furthermore, the researchers noted that Pakistan's gross domestic product (GDP) could soar by 2 per cent in the next three years if commercial ties were to normalize between the two nations.

The 'blame game'

Despite efforts by several administrations on both sides to resolve their differences, there seems to be a trend that whenever India and Pakistan edge closer toward negotiations, some incident derails the process.

"Every time there is an attempt to normalize relations, you see the number of terrorist attacks rise. It is an open secret that there are a number of actors in both Pakistan and India who do not want to see any improvement in the ties. There is a blame game between the two sides," Yusuf told DW.

This pattern appears to be repeating itself once again. In what seems to mark a reversal from friendlier tones after his historic electoral victory, PM Modi recently accused Pakistan of waging a proxy war of terrorism.

Pakistan's foreign ministry reacted to the accusations by saying that Modi was "repeating baseless rhetoric against Pakistan," and urging New Delhi to adopt a more constructive approach. "The press reports of Indian accusations, at the highest political level, are most unfortunate, especially as the leadership of Pakistan wishes to establish good neighborly relations with India," the ministry said in a statement.

The way forward?

Analysts remain skeptical about the possibility of any significant breakthroughs in bilateral ties in the next couple of years, particularly given the domestic political situation in Pakistan. "I think that the peace process was stillborn to begin with. There is far too much internal turmoil in Pakistan to enable PM Sharif to make any credible commitment to Modi," Sumit Ganguly, India expert and professor of Political Science at the Indiana University Bloomington, told DW.

Indien Narendra Modi trifft Nawaz Sharif in Neu-Dheli 27.05.2014 - India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) shakes hands with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif before the start of their bilateral meeting in New Delhi May 27, 2014. Modi was sworn in as India's prime minister in an elaborate ceremony at New Delhi's resplendent presidential palace on Monday, after a sweeping election victory that ended two terms of rule by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi (INDIA - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

"There has never been a "real peace process between India and Pakistan," says Sulehria

Farooq Sulehria, a Pakistani journalist and researcher, has a similar view. He argues that there has never been a "real peace process between India and Pakistan. It is only 'cooling down' of emotions and tensions for a brief period of time. This has been happening since 1947," said Sulehria.

Indians' perception of Pakistan, in general, is of a country beset with problems created by Islamic fundamentalists, the Pakistani army and its intelligence agency, said India-based political analyst Sameer Jaffri. But a majority of Indians want peace and good relations with Pakistan, Jaffri underlined.

Wajahat Malik, a documentary filmmaker based in Islamabad, is of the view that people-to-people contact, trade and tourism are the best way forward for the two countries. "When people come together, the states will follow suit."