Both India and Pakistan seem to have caught in a dialogue trap. Despite numerous composite dialogues since the 1990s, both countries are dialoguing with each other in a cyclic pattern than in an unilinear upward trajectory. Terrorism and J&K seem to have become two crucial issues; Afghanistan and Indus may get added to this list of intractable Indo-Pak issues, given the current trend.
In the Indo-Pak context, are are there “big ticket items”, which could change the current cyclic pattern between India and Pakistan? Alternatively, are there low hanging fruits? This commentary looks into Cross-LoC interactions as a low hanging J&K fruit.
None would deny the importance of J&K in the larger bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, and also in the composite dialogues. During the last decade, on J&K, substantial ground was covered as a part of the cross-LoC interactions between two parts of J&K. The bus and truck services across the LoC were undoubtedly two revolutionary measures that India and Pakistan undertook since the partition, relating to J&K. Support from majority within J&K to the cross-LoC interactions further enhanced this movement. The State initiatives and the public support in J&K did create an euphoria both regionally and internationally .
Unfortunately, both India and Pakistan failed to make use of the bus and truck services across the LoC, and expand further, leading to better political environment in (and on) J&K facilitating a larger dialogue on a final settlement. While people living on all parts of J&K across the LoC were initially euphoric, slowly pessimism settled in. This was followed by the initiative becoming a trickle and more a formality, than a movement of any substance. Perhaps, India and Pakistan did not realize the importance of the cross-LoC interactions in the larger J&K debate; or perhaps, a section looking inward understood the impact, and started going slow and pulling the interactions down.
Cross-LoC interaction is certainly a low hanging fruit in J&K. Both India and Pakistan could revise the cross-LoC interactions, expand further in certain sectors, and deepen the activities further in those sectors, where a beginning has already been made. Since there is substantial support in all five parts of J&K across the LoC, these interactions would be inclusive. The above support in five parts of J&K is not only politically inclusive, but also cut across different segments – political, business and civil society.
Besides the support from all parts and all segments of J&K, cross-LoC interactions is not only a low hanging fruit, but have the potential to become a “big ticket item” between India and Pakistan.
The bus and truck services need to be revised and deepened. The problems are well known; and so are the solutions. It is time to move beyond the “divided families” and include rest of those who are permanently residing in J&K to cross. In certain cases, where the entire family has moved from one part to another, it is difficult to find a “divided” family on the other side, to get travel permission.
On the bus service, as a part of the expansion, it is time to allow divided families in Kargil-Leh-Skardu-Gilgit also to meet. The bus service between two parts of J&K has been primarily addressing the regions of Jammu, Kashmir Valley, Muzafarabad and Mirpur. There are divided families outside these regions as well. This needs to be explored.
Cross-LoC trade also needs to be revised and be supported with basic infrastructure. When Amazon is revolutionising the trade at the international level with e-commerce and drone deliveries, India and Pakistan cannot advocate the medieval barter system for trading with each other. Cross-LoC trade, as being practiced now is a cruel joke on the business community. Without basic banking and tele-communication facilities, expecting business to make any impact in the 21st century is impractical and even foolish. The State in India and Pakistan should not mis-guide the business communities and create an illusion of trade.
In the cross-LoC trade context, the business community also has to understand certain limitations relating to the list of items and the destination of trucks. Since the business communities across the LoC see it as an intra-Kashmiri trade and expect to benefit from a movement that is between two parts of J&K (and not truly international), there is bound to be restrictions on the list of items to be traded and the destinations. The business community will have to work with the State and consider innovative measures to make the cross-LoC trade productive and meaningful, given the restrictions.
The business community will also have to understand that there would be elements within trying to maximise profits and make use of cross-LoC provisions. Proxy trade and trade diversion are bound to happen, as has been case with any trade with special provisions. More importantly, the business community should look at the trade as an economic activity and desist from making it political. Let the political interaction be led by other actors between two parts of J&K.
The NGOs and Think tanks have a role to play a role in the above by providing creative solutions to make these cross-LoC interactions meaningful. Already, there have been few proposals and track-II dialogues involving both parts of J&K. New Delhi and Islamabad can help these dialogues by allowing them, if not facilitating and supporting. Studies have been already been published on expanding cross-LoC interactions in sectors such as education and tourism.
Cross-LoC interactions between two parts of J&K have been limited, though their potential for a larger Indo-Pak peace is unlimited.
The above was originally published in the Daily Times and a part of a series trying to find few “Big Ticket Items” and “Low Hanging Fruits” in the Indo-Pak context.