India’s relation with Pakistan Part VII (Positive Linkages and Conclusion): Target IAS 2018 and Beyond

So far, the relationship of India with Pakistan has been portrayed in generally negative terms.


National ideologies, territorial disputes, terrorism, a military arms race, and differing diplomatic alignments (the Pakistan-China nexus) have generated entrenched ongoing friction and negative relations between Indian and Pakistan.


International Relations (IR) constructivism, geopolitics and realism power imperatives are all in play in such negative dynamics. However, are there any IR strands that can, or could, ease their situation? The IR democracy = peace framework would suggest one avenue for easing tensions. However, Pakistan’s democracy has been fragile, often swept away by recurring bouts of military rule, or sidelined by the presence of the ISI.


The other main IR framework has been IR liberalism-functionalism, the idea of increasing economic trade across borders. There should indeed be ‘security spill-overs’ from economic cooperation between these two neighbours. The only problem here is that Indian-Pakistani economic links have been so low as to be virtually non-existent.



Infrastructure links are the exception rather than the rule, hence the fuss over Atal Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif re-establishing the Delhi–Lahore bus route in 1999. After the Indo-Pakistan war in 1965, trade was almost negligible for a period of nine years.



Bilateral trade did resume in 1975/76, following the 1974 protocol for the restoration of commercial relations on a government-to-government basis, signed by the two countries after the 1971 war, but it remained at an insignificant level till very recently. It stood around US $150m. in 1992/93.


Since 1996 trade between the two countries has been generally increasing, though subject to erratic variations reflecting political hiccups between the two countries, following India’s granting of most favoured nation (MFN) status to Pakistan. Pakistan, in turn, increased its list of permissible items to 600, adding another 78 items in 2003, and another 72 items in 2004. The latter year also saw the two countries signing the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA).



Trade stood at $180m. in 1996, but has been increasing in quantity terms to $616m. in 2004/05, $869m. in 2005/06, $1,674m. in 2006/07, to reach a peak of $2,239m. in 2007/08, before slipping back to $1,810m. in 2008/09 (a decline of almost 20%, partly caused by the global recession but also by the post-Mumbai bombing deterioration in relations). It remained down at $1,849m. for 2009/10.


From India’s point of view, Pakistan is still an unimportant trade partner. Pakistan’s share of India’s total trade remained small at 0.24% in 2003/04, 0.32% in 2004/05, 0.34% in 2005/06, 0.54% in 2006/07, 0.54% in 2007/08, 0.37% in 2008/09 and 0.40% in 2009/10. Admittedly, illegal trade might push these figures up, but then illegal, unofficial trade is unlikely to improve official relations.


Indeed, some specific trade issues are problematic. Two important pipeline projects are the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) and IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) projects. Having crucial energy concerns vulnerable to Pakistan (turning the taps off, as it were), interruption is something that is pushing India to seek alternatives, i.e. establishing links from Afghanistan to Iran’s port of Chabahar, rebuilt with Indian financial assistance, i.e. routing Turkmenistani oil via the International North South Corridor (INSC) route from the Caspian Sea down to Chabahar.




Anyone speculating on Indian-Pakistani relations faces a quandary. The most tangible issue may be resolvable, perhaps with a status quo partition along the current Line of Control, with soft borders and decentralization of power away from India and Pakistan. Something on those lines seemed to have ‘almost’ been agreed in 2004, before the fall from power of Pervez Musharraf.


However, ideologically they remain poles apart, with an inherent readiness to assume the worst of each other and to seek to constrain the other country, in the case of Pakistan with the help of China. IR security dilemmas continue to operate between these two neighbours.


Trade will probably grow, though, as after all their remaining low level of trade means there is sizeable potential for increased trade. However, India may well be focusing its economic interest elsewhere, eastwards to the Bay of Bengal (BIMSTEC), South-East Asia (ASEAN) and East Asia (EAS) frameworks.




Of course, the internal character of each state remains problematic. Pakistan faces two challenges: one is to avoid the ‘Talibanization of Pakistan’, the scenario whereby rising Islamist forces take control of Pakistan (and its nuclear forces) ready to unleash jihadist cadres against India in Kashmir and elsewhere. This would be a nightmare scenario for New Delhi. The other challenge is surviving intact. Some Indian commentators see Pakistan as an inherently flawed creation, and something that is either doomed to eventual re-absorption back into a stillrising India, undoing Partition as it were.


An alternative variant is the disintegration of Pakistan into constituent Baluchi, Pashtun, Sindhi and Punjabi parts, smaller units that would be unable to pose such a challenge to India as Pakistan has. The example of 1971 lies before Pakistan and India, the eruption of Bengali nationalism generating the creation (with Indian help) of Bangladesh, thereby undercutting the whole logic of the two-nation theory and its underpinning of Pakistan’s continuing existence. Meanwhile, what of India?


India faces some similar challenges. First, there could be a Hindu equivalent of the ‘Talibanization of Pakistan’, overturning the secular direction of post-Independence India. The possibility is there: the Hindutva forces restrained by Nehru’s Congress Party did, after all, achieve power in 1998, under the BJP, the first act of which was to conduct nuclear tests at Pokhran-II, ‘the Hindu bomb’ as some called it.


Though the BJP lost the 2004 and 2008 general elections, a return to power could see a Hindutva resurgence. The irony for Pakistan would be that this would echo Jinnah’s own two-nation theory analysis of a Muslim India (Pakistan) and a Hindu India. Such a development would probably be detrimental to IndiaPakistan relations. Second, India might fragment. This was the notorious suggestion by one Chinese think tank, an India fragmenting into 30 pieces.


Such fragmented post-India successor states would be unable to pose the existential threat to Pakistan in the structural way that the Republic of India has managed to do through its sheer size and numbers, almost 10:1.




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