Home Editorial Editorial: Normalizing Pak-Indo Ties through Trade

Editorial: Normalizing Pak-Indo Ties through Trade

Despite calls to revive trade ties, both Pakistan and India have little incentive to do so due to their competing forms of nationalism

by Editorial

Nazar Ul Islam

Over 75 years since Partition in 1947, it is time for “archrivals” Pakistan and India to move toward “normalization” and past the nationalism that keeps them at odds. This has become especially necessary for Pakistan—poorly governed for much of its history by an extractive elite—to undertake fundamental reforms that can lead to a sustainable and prosperous economy. A useful starting point for policymakers is asking whether Pakistan is in its current condition because of its poorly performing economy, or has the economy suffered because much of the country’s policies are devised on the assumption of a looming war with India?

Since 2019, when India unilaterally abrogated held-Kashmir’s special constitutional status, formal ties between Islamabad and Delhi have been practically nonexistent, with little incentive for either to take corrective measures. Successive coalition governments have left Pakistan beholden to powerbrokers that discourage taking risks, such as offering concessions to India on the Kashmir dispute or reviving ties with the Narendra Modi-led Hindu nationalist government, to appease the electorate. The systemic oppression of Indian Muslims has further hardened views within Pakistan, recently boosted by Modi’s campaign rhetoric of referring to Muslims as “outsiders.” Recent revelations of India funding extrajudicial killings on Pakistani soil, meanwhile, make clear that Delhi would prefer to violate international law rather than seek any dialogue.

These competing nationalistic views serve as collective brainwash, discouraging the use of bilateralism as a way to normalization. The easiest path to this is through trade. Experts estimate the trade potential between India and Pakistan to lie between $10.9-19.8 billion, with India’s export potential accounting for $7.9 billion and import potential $3 billion in the lower register. Pakistani businessmen, naturally, are eager to avail this. During a recent meeting with business leaders of Karachi, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was urged to revive trade talks with India for the benefit of the country. The PMLN, ahead of the Feb. 8 general elections, had also cited restoring trade ties with India in its manifesto. But with an opposition eager to enflame nationalist emotions to pressure a weak government, it is unlikely that ties would improve in the near future, no matter the realization of how much this could benefit Pakistan.

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