Pakistan And India At 76: Where Do We Go From Here?

At no point in history have the ties between the two nuclear-armed neighbours been at such a low. The question is, how long would this historic freeze last, and which way would the water flow once it starts to thaw

Pakistan And India At 76: Where Do We Go From Here?

The month of August is unforgettable for the people of India and Pakistan because not only did the British Empire's 'jewel in the crown' secure independence from imperial tutelage, but two independent countries emerged as a result of a violent partition leading to colossal deaths and migration of millions of people. As India and Pakistan celebrate 76 years of their independence, the two neighbours have yet to move past the legacy of Partition.

Punjab experienced the worst kind of mayhem where Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, who were living with each other side by side for centuries, massacred each other to the extent that West Punjab was depopulated from Hindus and Sikhs and Muslims were cleansed from East Punjab. Religious riots also took place in Bengal, which was partitioned on religious grounds like Punjab, but its intensity was not as lethal as in the western province. 

Indian Muslim writer Mushirul Hasan says the history of the Partition needs to be rewritten in a more just manner. "If the histories of Partition are to be rewritten, there are several reasons why we must judiciously draw upon the intellectual resources made available to us by such creative writers. They expose the inadequacy of numerous narratives on independence and Partition, compel us to explore fresh themes and adopt new approaches that have eluded the grasp of social scientists and provide a foundation for developing an alternative discourse to current expositions of a general theory on inter-community relations."

Now 76 years down the road, it is perhaps time for India and Pakistan to ponder on how the legacy of Partition impacted their relations and why the fourth generation of the two counties is unable to live like normal neighbours.

When the Partition of the Indian sub-continent took place, the then-leadership of the two countries had not expected that their borders would be transformed into something like the ''Berlin Wall'' and the sustained confrontation emanating from the legacy of Partition would all but cease bilateral ties. The generation which witnessed the Partition has almost phased out, and the two nuclear-armed states are unable to manage, if not resolve, their contentious issues ranging from Jammu and Kashmir to water, trade and Sir Creek. Even the sport of cricket is not immune.

One is forced to wonder, what would India-Pakistan relations look like in 2047, i.e. 100 years after the Partition of the Indian subcontinent? 

In an environment of deep-rooted mistrust, suspicion, paranoia and belligerent posturing from New Delhi, one is unable to expect any breakthrough in Indo-Pakistan ties in the foreseeable future

In 2047, one expects India to become the world's second-largest economy after the People's Republic of China. But Pakistan's position in the global economy and affairs cannot be predicted. Will the gap in the economies of India and Pakistan widen or be bridged? It is not only the asymmetrical nature of the Indian and the Pakistani economy but there also exist gaps in technology, governance, education, rule of law and democracy.

Paradoxically, Partition and post-partition polarization in Indo-Pak relations can be termed as an existential predicament engulfing the two neighbours since 1947. When track-I, track-II and track-III diplomacy are almost non-existent since the Indian absorption of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) on August 5, 2019, trade, travel and economic ties have also been suspended.

With the fragility of Pakistan's economy and its political instability, the Indian side has taken this as an opportunity to establish its hegemony. Led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defense Minister Raj Nath Singh and Interior Minister Amit Shah, India today leaves no opportunity to threaten Islamabad of absorbing what they call 'Pakistan Occupied Kashmir'. In an environment of deep-rooted mistrust, suspicion, paranoia and belligerent posturing from New Delhi, one is unable to expect any breakthrough in Indo-Pakistan ties in the foreseeable future. 

Never before in the history of Indo-Pak relations, except during the 1948, 1965 and 1971 wars, did the two countries experience a sustained standoff in their ties. Road, train and air services between the two nuclear-tipped neighbours have been suspended since August 2019, whereas trade and commercial ties are also at their lowest.

A just and fair solution of IIOJK based on the aspirations of the people of that region is imperative for peace in South Asia

For Pakistan, Kashmir is its lifeline and an unfinished agenda of the Partition. For India, this same region is considered an integral part. The Partition of IIOJK is a great human tragedy because the real sufferers of endless conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir are the people of that region. 

According to Indian writer Radha Kumar, "The case of Kashmir is more poignant. Since 1947, India and Pakistan have been embroiled in a conflict that has twice flared into wars over what has been described, in a phrase dear to politicians of both sides, as the unfinished business of Partition. On ethnic grounds, it can be argued that the conflict has continued because India retained the Muslim majority of Kashmir Valley, which should have gone to Pakistan. But following ethnic dividing lines could well entail a further three-way partition of the state – the valley's Buddhist Ladakh, and multi-ethnic Jammu, which would not only set the stage for intensified conflict and ethnic cleansing as much of Jammu lies between Pakistan and the valley but would also dissolve Kashmir."

A just and fair solution of IIOJK based on the aspirations of the people of that region is imperative for peace in South Asia.

Connectivity in the form of travel and the easy issuance of visas is virtually non-existent, and there is also no plausible effort from either side to break the stalemate and resume track-I, track-III and track-III dialogue. Unlike in the 1980s and 1990s, when the aforementioned tracks were operational, the situation in 2023 appears hopeless. In this scenario, one needs to ponder where do the two countries go from here? Is there light at the end of the tunnel, or would things remain the same? 

One can contemplate three possibilities in terms of the present and future of Indo-Pak relations, particularly when past and present fail to have any impact on a better future. 

First, a paradigm shift in the political landscape of India in the 2024 general elections can help mitigate polarization in Indo-Pak relations. If Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party BJP loses the 2024 general elections, in that case, one can expect the new government led by Indian National Development Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) to be forthcoming in resuming normalization of ties with Islamabad.

Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee has openly accused the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that it is planning to stage a Pulwama-type drama as was done in February 2019 and put the blame on Pakistan for sponsoring cross-border terrorism in order to win the 2024 general elections. Pakistan bashing has been BJP's age-old technique to win popular support for political consumption, and there is a possibility that this time also, the Modi regime will play the Pakistan card. To what extent the people of India will believe the false propaganda of the BJP is yet to be seen. If the anti-BJP alliance, known as 'INDIA', remains united and launches an aggressive election campaign exposing the religious persecution of the Modi regime, one can expect BJP to lose elections.

The situation on the ground is fluid as far as the 2024 general elections in India are concerned. The level of confidence the Modi regime has to win the 2024 elections is unprecedented because BJP claims enormous economic achievements in the last ten years of its rule and the surge of Indian influence at the international level.

Second, Pakistan must realize that its stance of not normalizing ties with India unless New Delhi reverses its August 5, 2019, Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act and restores the special status of IIOJK is unrealistic. So far, there is no indication that New Delhi will give second thoughts about its August 5, 2019 act particularly when the case challenging revocation of Article 370 in the Indian Supreme Court is also not producing results. There has to be reciprocal flexibility on the part of India and Pakistan in mending fences.

Both sides must understand that their intransigent position will be detrimental to peace in South Asia. If the Modi regime thinks that it doesn't need to normalize relations with Pakistan based on sovereign equality, it is wrong because New Delhi's ambitions to emerge as a global power would remain unattainable unless it mends fences with its only Western neighbour. If Pakistan needs to be flexible in normalizing relations with India, New Delhi must reciprocate instead of threatening Islamabad.

Third, the new generation of India and Pakistan must not carry the baggage of hostility, insecurity, mistrust and suspicion and move on instead of becoming a hostage of the past. At 76, the people of India and Pakistan sharing their common past, culture, and similar threats such as poverty, social backwardness, environmental degradation, and other human security challenges possess an opportunity to mitigate the hangover of the past.

The only way the violent legacy of Partition can be undone is by promoting the positive role of media, education, political parties and civil society. Enemy images only deepen hostility and serve the vested interests of those groups who want to keep things as they are. Military and non-military Confidence-Building Measures launched during the 1980s and 1990s must be revisited and strengthened with an innovative approach from the two sides for a meaningful breakthrough in their age-old conflict-ridden ties.

If India and Pakistan want to live as normal neighbours by ensuring connectivity in terms of travel, trade and de-escalation of tension, the onus is on the leadership of the two countries to keep the present and future of their people rather than their parochial interests. Otherwise, the future of the two countries will not be different from past and present.

The author is the former Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Karachi, and can be reached at