Civil and military officials alike have linked the recent resurgence of terrorism in Pakistan to Indian spy agency RAW, further denting prospects of any “normalization” of ties between the neighboring states. This is a sorry state of affairs for the states that as recently as 2015 appeared to be inching toward amicable ties, with Narendra Modi paying a “surprise” visit to Lahore to meet his then-counterpart Nawaz Sharif. However, the stop-start process hit a wall due to worsening tensions in Kashmir, which hit their zenith after Delhi unilaterally abrogated the disputed region’s special constitutional status, with then-prime minister Imran Khan declaring there could be no talks with India until this step had been reversed.
There is no denying the economic benefits of open trade and transit between Pakistan and India. Observers had hoped that expansion of such ties would eventually also lead to a resolution of the longstanding Kashmir dispute. But the 2019 Pulwama attack, which India blamed on Pakistan, followed by the Balakot airstrikes later that year, made clear that this was not to be. A 2021 Pak-Indo joint statement committing to the 2003 ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control was a positive step, but served as little more than a stopgap in the absence of concerted efforts to expand “normal” ties.
The real tragedy is that the minimal cross-border trade initiated between the two states during the early 2000s had created a constituency of peacemakers in New Delhi and Islamabad, shifting public mindsets and encouraging peace. This initiative could have been advanced to boost peaceful relations, while also facilitating the economic prosperity of people living along the shared border. Today, Pakistan remains amenable to reviving ties with India—most notably through former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif expressing willingness to resume bilateral dialogue—but the vitriol emerging from Delhi makes it difficult to imagine that the two states would return to behaving as “normal” neighbors barring any major regional shift in the near future.