India-Pakistan Relations: Peace Through Economics?

Pakistani Truck

Photo Courtesy Of AFP/Getty Images

In the last half century, India-Pakistan relations have seen three wars; threats of nuclear force; and strains due to a variety of hot button issues. They include terrorism, control of water resources, and the territory of Kashmir. The NYTimes’ Jim Yardley explains that new economic ties may prove to be more successful than traditional diplomacy at repairing this relationship. Last February, the first Indian trade show was held in Pakistan. There were over ten thousand participants including India’s and Pakistan’s commerce ministers. Yardley explains that these new ties to Pakistan are part of a larger trend, with India increasingly relying  on the private sector to “serve as an intermediary abroad”.

Both the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry have increased their international presence, opening offices around the world and hosting diplomatic events. Policymakers are cautiously optimistic that cooperation on economic issues may spillover into defense issues. The CII has previously facilitated better relations between India and the US, cohosting an event with the US Aspen Institute to bring top American and Indian thinkers together in Udaipur. Now, the US and India are military partners, participating in joint exercises.

Not everyone, however, has responded positively to India’s increased economic ties. Some have pointed to the private sector, which was averse to political change, to explain India’s tentative response to the Arab Spring. Pakistan itself may be less receptive, as many Pakistani interests groups are fundamentally opposed to cooperation on issues like Kashmir and terrorism. Yet relations are improving. India’s middle class has vested interests in economic growth, and may have an interest to open a dialogue and cooperate. Ashok Malik explains that the “the growth phenomenon has made the Indian middle class less tolerant of adventurism, lawlessness, and war”. After February’s trade show, Pakistan agreed to increase the number of goods imported from India, and just last week Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari visited India, the first visit by a Pakistani President in seven years. This may suggest that India and Pakistan are ready to move past the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and reopen a cooperative dialogue. 

-Kimberly Hopewell

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