There are some who may complain that the process of normalising relations with India has been virtually inanimate because both countries are still fixated on Kashmir and terrorism, and hence will never be able to find a solution to these problems. There may be some grounds for pessimism, but to completely dismiss the entire peace process would be a folly. The two countries took their latest — hesitant — steps towards peace when the interior secretaries of Pakistan and India sought to reach an agreement to ease their harsh visa regimes allowing businessmen, pilgrims and groups to visit either country on more flexible visas. Tourist visas are also planned; a first by either country. The negotiations have taken over a year to materialise but it has been worth it. There is no better way to foster healthier relations between people on both sides than to make it easier for them to travel to each other’s countries.
This planned visa agreement also shows that both governments are committed to the peace process. They are smart enough to realise that hawks on both sides have the ability to destroy any attempts at peace. Hence, the initial relatively small, non-controversial steps; once these lead to greater tolerance and understanding, Pakistan and India can move towards thornier issues.
Next, the two neighbours may want to consider demilitarising Siachen. In Pakistan, the idea has been proposed by surprising figures like opposition leader Nawaz Sharif. India, too, could take some unilateral steps like allowing Pakistani cricketers to play in the IPL and making it easier for artists to visit either country. As much as people may scoff at this step-by-step approach, in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks it is the only way to repair relations. India still places great priority on arresting and jailing Jamaatud Daawa chief Hafiz Saeed. We, however, have preferred to treat Saeed as an asset rather than an enemy of the state. It now may be time to ask ourselves if we would prefer to side with an unreformed jihadist or a neighbour which is the biggest economic power in the region.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2012.