ISLAMABAD: Ever since the partition of sub-continent, uncertainty has been the hallmark of ties between Pakistan and India. Though at times tensions have eased somewhat, relations have not improved to such an extent that could allow businessmen to trade goods freely and permit people to easily travel between the two countries.
Earlier, the government had tried to grant India the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status under a different title called Market Access Normalisation in an attempt to give a push to bilateral trade, but to no avail.
The previous administration of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had also strived to give the MFN status to India, but failed due to stiff opposition from various circles.
Tension flared when Modi categorically said during his visit to China that the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project was “unacceptable” to India. Later, he also acknowledged Indian role in the separation of Bangladesh during a trip to Dhaka. Modi, however, called Sharif to congratulate him for the start of Ramazan.
They have got an opportunity to bury the hatchet in Moscow where Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian premier Narendra Modi are likely to be present on July 9 to attend a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). However, foreign offices of the two countries are uncertain about the sideline meeting between the two heads of state.
During the visit, Pakistan and Russia are expected to sign a $2 billion deal for laying a liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline from Karachi to Lahore. Officials anticipate the Indian premier will oppose this energy agreement too as it had done in the case of CPEC.
Experts believe that the SCO summit will provide an opportunity to the arch-rivals to normalise ties if a Nawaz-Modi dialogue does take place. Russian President Vladimir Putin may play a key role in arranging the meeting as Moscow has had very friendly relations with Delhi.
Russia and China are also pleading the cases of India and Pakistan for a permanent membership of the SCO. At present, the two countries have observer status in the regional body.
The SCO has the mandate to improve relations between its member states. Russia and China are ambitious about turning the body into a powerful bloc that could play its part in settling rows between the members. The bloc will also help to provide assistance for nations like Pakistan that are eager to develop infrastructure to increase energy production and supplies.
With the support of many Asian, European and Latin American countries, China has established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and its one of the objectives is to help SCO members come out of the influence of western-backed multilateral financial institutions.
A meeting of the bank, a rival of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, was held recently in Beijing where Finance Minister Ishaq Dar was also present. The SCO summit, being held shortly after the establishment of the bank, is very critical in this backdrop.
For Pakistan and India, the trade and economic ties have not developed over the years as Islamabad believes that Delhi would have to first improve diplomatic relations. They had been discussing an energy trade plan including the supply of oil, LNG and electricity to meet the needs of Pakistan. But there has been no progress on these fronts since Modi became prime minister in May last year.
Pakistan is a net importer of oil and has also started purchasing LNG from overseas markets. It is working on power import projects with Iran and Tajikistan as well.
India too can jump in as it has many oil refineries and is in a position to export electricity and LNG. The time is ripe that India takes a careful look at its policies and undertakes initiatives to improve diplomatic relations with Pakistan.
This will also help Delhi in becoming a part of the Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan transit trade agreement. Afghanistan is supporting India’s bid in this regard. But Pakistan has made it clear that India could not be embraced into the fold unless it improves diplomatic ties.
Experts believe that India is losing more than Pakistan because of the tense ties as friendly relations could have provided it access to the markets of Afghanistan and central Asian states via the land route. Not many are expressing the hope that the Nawaz-Modi meeting in Russia, if it is really held, will lead to some breakthrough.
the writer is a staff correspondent
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2015.
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