The pace of progress in peace talks between Pakistan and India, since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, has recently sped up. On August 1, the Indian commerce ministry repealed a ban that prevented Pakistanis from investing in industrial ventures in India. This has now been quickly followed by a related decision to allow Pakistani individuals and entities to buy shares and convertible debentures of Indian companies. Earlier this year, Pakistan granted India the most-favoured nation trading status, leading to this latest round of economic liberalisation. Each decision in isolation might seem too small to celebrate but taken together they represent a genuine breakthrough that could lead to, if not lasting peace, then at least a long-term détente.
Hopes that the peace process will continue are raised by the fact that even the main opposition party, the PML-N, is on board with the plan to maintain good relations with India. It would have been very easy for the PML-N to play to nationalist sentiment and accuse the PPP of cosying up to our greatest enemy. Instead, it has put forth policies that go beyond even what the current government has achieved. The PTI, too, sees trade with India as an inevitability rather than a matter up for discussion. The main sticking point, as ever, remains the establishments and their proxies on both sides. The twin issues of Kashmir and militancy will always be the final stumbling blocks as hawks on both sides have shown no sign of softening their stance. The PPP and the Congress cannot ignore these issues forever.
Before we get too optimistic, it is important to remember that the two countries still retain the ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Just when a liberalised visa agreement was ready to be signed, it ended up being scuttled. Since then, no progress has been made on this issue. Person-to-person contact is necessary for people in both countries to realise that enmity is illogical. The next goal should be to make cross-border travel as painless as possible.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2012.
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