As Pakistan and India inch towards better ties, hope lies in the fact that the two governments currently in power seem committed to improving relations in a realistic, concrete manner. Seemingly realising that an accord on Kashmir or agreements on terrorism are beyond the realm of possibility at this time, the two sides have concentrated on trade, where there are mutual benefits to be found. Speaking at a cross-border business conference in Lahore, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani echoed this, saying that he can foresee trade between the two countries running into billions of dollars. Till now, senseless restrictions and prohibitive tariffs have held potential trade between the two countries back. All this seems to be slowly changing as both sides realise that the fruits of trade can help overcome historical enmity.
Another sign of progress is that the main opposition party is trying to outflank the government by being even more dovish in its policy towards India, rather than going after the government for not being hawkish enough. Just a few days ago, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif said that Pakistan should abolish the visa regime with India, even if it has to do so unilaterally. Even the PPP government, as eager as it is to pursue peace with India, will not take quite so bold an action but that it is being pressed to speed up the pace of normalisation with India is very encouraging. If the two biggest parties in the country decide that peace is the only way to go, the military will find it harder to stymie their efforts.
Pursuing peace through trade may be the best strategy to deploy currently, but there are other low-risk steps that can be taken concurrently. While doing away with visas altogether may not be plausible, both countries can certainly make it easier for families on both sides of the border to visit each other. Entertainers, artists and sportsmen should not have to go through hoops just to visit the other country. Such trips can serve to reduce mistrust and build ties between people who have been denied contact with their neighbours. Once mistrust is minimised, governments can get around to discussing thorny, seemingly unsolvable issues like Kashmir.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2012.