ISLAMABAD — After more than 57 years, an agreement by India and Pakistan to allow people within the divided state of Kashmir to cross the border by bus, beginning in April, is the most important confidence-building measure yet achieved in the two countries’ yearlong peace process.
In the next few months a variety of other confidence-building measures are planned, such as additional bus and train connections, to facilitate greater contact between Indians and Pakistanis.
The peace process has brought about an era of reconciliation, but the durability of it depends on two key ingredients.
First, the emerging Indo-Pakistani relationship must take root in a tangible form. While improvements in cross-border transportation are welcome, most Indians and Pakistanis cannot afford to make such journeys. For such people, the image of the other side will continue to be drawn by their memories of three major wars and a series of skirmishes between the two countries.
The mind-set of the vast majority of Indians and Pakistanis can be changed only by a process that encourages greater trade between the two countries. For most Indians and Pakistanis, proof that bilateral ties are improving will come when they see products from their former enemy on the shelves of their local stores.
As trade grows between India and Pakistan, links will expand between the business and industry sectors. Even if India and Pakistan end up paying the same unit value for imports from each other as they do now for imports from other countries, they will benefit from lower transportation costs.
Second, the international community must encourage India and Pakistan to remain at the negotiating table as the entire world has a stake in preventing a nuclear exchange in South Asia. A return to the brink of war would have repercussions reaching far beyond the region’s borders.
As peace continues to consolidate in South Asia, the West should consider innovative new ideas such as tying large new aid packages to the normalization of relations between India and Pakistan.
Movement toward an enduring peace cannot be defined exclusively by the reduced scale of the military and nuclear buildup. India and Pakistan must also demonstrate a commitment to diversifying their relationship beyond questions of war and peace.
New bus links offer an opportunity for Indians and Pakistanis who left their ancestral lands after the 1947 partition to visit their former homes. Yet this generation of Indians and Pakistanis, now their 50s, 60s and 70s, are hardly going to be the leaders of tomorrow.
A new generation, with no personal memory of their bitter past history, will come of age in the two countries and decide the course of relations between the two countries. Their future choices are set to be driven by economic relations rather than hostile politics. Trade interests are drawing nations around the world closer together.
Once cross-border buses become an established mode of travel, they are bound to be followed by trucks, flights and ships carrying cargo. If things go well, the eventual development of a trade bloc cannot be ruled out.
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