April 9th, 2012
02:15 PM ET

Tharoor: An India-Pakistan thaw?

Editor's Note: Shashi Tharoor, a former Indian Minister of State for External Affairs and UN Under-Secretary General, is a member of India’s parliament and the author of a dozen books, including India: From Midnight to the Millennium and Nehru: the Invention of IndiaFor more from Tharoor, visit Project Syndicate's great new website, or check it out on Facebook and Twitter.

By Shashi Tharoor, Project Syndicate

India and Pakistan are enjoying one of the better periods in their turbulent relationship. Recent months have witnessed no terrorist incidents, no escalating rhetoric, and no diplomatic flashpoints. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari just made a successful, if brief, personal visit to India (mainly to visit a famous shrine, but with a lunch with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh thrown in). Sixteen years after India granted Pakistan most-favored-nation (MFN) trading status, Pakistan is on the verge of reciprocating. The peace process is resuming, and the two sides are talking to each other cordially at all levels.

And yet it is important to understand that the problems that have long beset the bilateral relationship will not be resolved overnight. Even if, by some miracle, the Pakistani civilian and military establishment suddenly saw the light, concluded that terrorism was bad for them, and decided to make common cause with India in eradicating it, the task would not be accomplished with a snap of the fingers. Extremism is not a tap that can be turned off at will. ­­­The proliferation of extremist ideologies, militant organizations, and training camps has acquired a momentum of its own. As Satyabrata Pal, a former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, put it:

“These jihadi groups recruit from the millions of young Pakistanis who emerge from vernacular schools and madrassas, imbued with a hatred for the modern world, in which they do not have the skills to work. So while young Indians go to Silicon Valley and make a bomb for themselves, young Pakistanis go to the Swat Valley and make a bomb of themselves, the meanness of their lives justifying the end. Pakistan has betrayed its youth, which is its tragedy.”

This is not a counsel of despair. It is, instead, an argument to offer a helping hand. A neighboring country full of desperate young men without hope or prospects, led by a malicious and self-aggrandizing military, is a permanent threat to India. If India can help Pakistan transcend these circumstances and develop a stake in mutually beneficial progress, it will be helping itself as well. Therein lies the slender hope of persuading Pakistan that India’s success can benefit it, too – that, rather than trying to undercut India and thwart its growth, Pakistan should recognize the advantages that might accrue to it in partnership with an increasingly prosperous India.

Such an India can build on the generosity that it has often shown – for example, with its unilateral assignment of MFN status to Pakistan – by offering a market for Pakistani traders and industrialists, a creative umbrella for its artists and singers, and a home away from home for those seeking refuge from the realities of Pakistani life. Creating more points of contact – back-channel diplomacy conducted by special envoys (a formula used effectively by Singh and former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf), direct contact between the two militaries (of which there is little), and extensive people-to-people contact – is indispensable to the peace effort.

Unfortunately, India responded to the November 2008 Mumbai attacks and other Pakistani provocations by tightening its visa restrictions and restricting other possibilities for cultural and social contact. This might be an area in which risks are worth taking, since the advantages of enhancing opportunities for Pakistanis in India outweigh the dangers; after all, the Mumbai terrorists did not apply for Indian visas before sneaking ashore with their guns and bombs.

I strongly favor a liberal visa regime, which would require India to remove its current restrictions on which points of entry and exit Pakistani visa-holders can use, the number of places that may be visited, and onerous police reporting requirements. For starters, prominent Pakistanis in business, entertainment, and media could be made eligible for more rapid processing and multiple-entry visas.

Some would argue that Pakistan will not reciprocate such one-sided generosity. That might be true, but India should not care. Parity with Pakistan would lower India’s standards. India should show a generosity of spirit that might persuade Pakistanis to rethink their attitude towards Indians.

Concessions might also be made on issues that do not involve vital national interests. Specific problems like trade, the military standoff on the Siachen glacier, the territorial boundary at Sir Creek, the dispute over water flows through the Wullar Barrage, and many other disagreements are amenable to resolution through dialogue. It seems silly that public passions in Pakistan are being stirred by false claims that India is diverting water from the Indus River; candid and open talk to the Pakistani public by Indian officials would help dispel such suspicions.

More immediately, India should seize upon Pakistan’s newfound willingness to reciprocate India’s grant of MFN trade status by taking concrete steps to reduce non-tariff barriers, such as security inspections and clearances, that have limited Pakistani exports to India. India’s financial-services industry and its software professionals could offer their skills to Pakistani clients. They would gain a next-door market, while providing services that Pakistan could use to develop its own economy. These are all “easy wins” waiting to be pursued.

The big questions – the Kashmir dispute and Pakistan’s use of terrorism as an instrument of policy – will require much more groundwork and step-by-step action for progress to be achieved. By adopting a position of accommodation, sensitivity, and pragmatic generosity, India might be able to shift the bilateral narrative away from its 65-year-old logic of intractable hostility.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Shashi Tharoor.

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Topics: India • Pakistan

soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Iftikhar Qureshi

    If Pakistan has a 'malicious and self-aggrandizing' military, then India has thugs, criminals, and terrorists in uniform, killing and maiming innocent Kashmiri Muslims day in and day out.

    April 9, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Reply
    • Subhash Chandra Rao

      Muslims THRIVE in India today, no matter what lies Pakistani propaganda spreads. We have had a Muslim president, as well as many famous Bollywood actors. Protected by secularism, a Muslim can live decently in India. Meanwhile, religious minorities in Pakistan are violently persecuted and harassed, and people who try to assist these minorities (Salman Taseer) are killed by these same intolerant Pakistanis.

      And btw, Kashmir was completely Hindu before the Muslims attacked and drove out / slaughtered the Pandist living there.

      April 9, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Reply
      • Hahahahahaha

        Suck on that iftikitakiturvy! Hahahahahahaha

        April 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
      • krm1007

        We have seen the sadness on the faces of the Indian muslims, the suppression in their voices and the meekness in their demeanor. The majority of the muslims are living in fear in India. They have been demeaned, marginalised, pushed aside and have no hope nor future in India. A silent revolution is in the making in India and when it happens the Indian Spring will erupt with ferociousness never seen before. And from the ashes will emerge a new India.....more gentler...kinder India....a smaller India,,,and will no more be called India...but Kashmir, Kerala, Bengalistan, Rajisthan, Sikhistan et al.

        April 9, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        It's time for both neighbours to make peace. Pakistan's economy is a skeleton and relies much on foreign aid. India has been enjoying economic growth for years and can help its neighbour develop a viable economy. A prosperous Pakistan would take the security burden off India's mind. It's a win-win solution. Both countries can move on and India could focus more on global priorities.

        April 10, 2012 at 5:58 am |
    • Raj

      Same old ridiculous drivel by Paki’s who can’t comprehend that unlike their despots in uniform, not every military goes about randomly killing civilians and abducting people who speak out against the military. How many innocent people are being killed “day in and day out” in Balochistan ?? Oh well, since its not Kashmir the Pakis don’t want to think about it! Unlike PoK, where Sunnis are killing Shia’s, Indin Kashmir is a place where Muslims organize pilgrimages for Hindus yearly.

      April 10, 2012 at 1:42 am | Reply
  2. Salman Shafi

    Pakistan can trust India only at its peril. Period.

    April 9, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Reply
  3. isthisislam

    It's ironic to read about the killing of Muslims in Kashmir. Because in the time period, a lot of Hindus were killed by Islamic terrorists and a huge number of them were made to run away leaving their homes in Kashmir. No Pakistani ever likes to admit that. They will twist and turn their position to invent a conspiracy theory that somehow Indian government/military itself organized those killings to make Pakistan look bad, that is if at all they admit Hindus really died. The same way they refuse to believe 9/11 was caused by Islamist militants and blame it on USA/Israel intelligence agencies.

    Facts: Muslims thrieve in India today, Indian president has been Muslim. Many bollywood actors are Muslim. Richest Indian businessmen are Muslim. But Hindus are obliterated from Pakistan. Forcible conversions, harassment, you name it and the trouble is there. From 1947 to 2001, the fraction of Muslim population in India grew from 11% to 21%, while fraction of Hindu population in Pakistan shrank from 9% to less than a percent now. So now who is more tolerant?

    Pakistanis need to get out of the denial mode and see how it's not India, but their own actions are hurting them.

    April 9, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Reply
    • Thair

      "From 1947 to 2001, the fraction of Muslim population in India grew from 11% to 21%, while fraction of Hindu population in Pakistan shrank from 9% to less than a percent now. So now who is more tolerant"

      Muslims just make more babies....

      April 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply
    • krm1007

      The disintegration of India into smaller independent states along the lines of communist USSR is imminent. India has become too big to manage, too bureaucratic and corrupt. It is a done deal that such smaller states will unleash economic demand that the western countries need to survive. It will also reduce risks of nuclear confrontation, reduced extremism and a much more friendly environment in the region. This is part of the pullout plan from Afghanistan that will ensure success there.

      April 9, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Reply
      • Raj

        Nice to know that Pakistani’s still delude themselves with such fanciful ideas of India breaking apart. I guess this is why Pakistan is a failed state that is bankrupt economically, politically and morally as a nation but this is inevitable for a nation such as Pakistan that has nothing to hold it together except radical Islamic ideologies and a persecution complex. It’s no wonder then that today, even Kashmiris look at Pakistan with disgust and as a failure.

        April 10, 2012 at 1:51 am |
  4. krm1007

    This guy Tharoor...a right wing hindu zealot...has it all wrong. The reason there is a thaw is because India has realized that Pakistan has become the new economic gateway to Europe and Central Asia from the Persian/Arabian gulf. Pakistan has disassociated itself from the subcontinent paradigm and left India geographically and politically isolated to babysit Bangladesh, Nepal, Burma etc. In order for India to grow economically it needs Pakistan for geographical connectivity to the West, energy and raw material linakges and to the new silk route. Let us not forget....Pakistan does not need India for its existence.....India does.Therefore time for Indians to cozy up to Pakistan. How quick the tides have changed.

    April 9, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Reply
    • John

      "Pakistan does not need India for its existence.....India does." What a joke! Peace between India and Pakistan is possible if people of Pakistan can remove their current crop of Political and Military elites. The elites require an ongoing conflict with India to survive.

      April 9, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Reply
      • krm1007

        I would pack them up and ship them to India as that is where they belong. The right leadership should be able to deal with India in a matter of hours, put them in their place and resolve all issues without further ado. In other words make them an offer they can't refuse.

        April 10, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
      • Patrick

        What kind of deal?

        April 12, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Raj

      ROFL, I think this is the surest sign of the total failure of the Pakistani state when mass delusions and mad raving are the only refuge from the reality of failure.

      April 10, 2012 at 1:53 am | Reply
      • krm1007

        Not so says the latest publication from Harvard Business School !!! Read up and get upto speed with how the world has changed and slipped right by Indians and India who have been left babysitting Nepal, Bangladesh etc.

        April 10, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  5. Patrick

    The Indian economy continues to grow rapidly, taking in its stride poor harvests and rising oil prices.Industrial output, which had tended to be relatively low, has increased to double-digit levels, accompanied by rising levels of savings and investment. India's healthy export performance has resulted in increased amounts of foreign exchange reserves, insuring against a large balance of payments (BOP) deficit in the future

    April 9, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Reply
  6. Rz

    Over the many years, the US government has been hijacked by an ologarchy (MIC ?) who are sucking the life and prosperity out of the nation and it's people. Fear and misled patriotism have been exploited on an inprecedented scale, and the mainstream population has been too blinded, brainwashed, and enslaved to see it or do anything about it. The greed of the Great American Ghoul is fueled and fed by terrorism and internal conflict abroad. If you give the Great American Ghoul a reason (excuse?), you can expect a very eager response, and even created reasons cannot be ruled out. The sentiment of peace and cooperation between India and Pakistan is not only good for themselves, but also good for the American people. If all of the middle east, and all other nations were to eliminated (or at least stifle) terrorism and conflict, the military presence of the Great American Ghoul would not be required. Help put the Great American Ghoul out of business, help America take back it's republic, and do everyone including yourself a big favor; follow the path that promotes peace and cooperation. If the new air of Pakistan's and India's relationship is real, it is but a tear of joy for a long awaited and needed cry of bliss, Cristian, Muslim, and Jew alike. Hallelujah !

    April 9, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Reply
  7. S.V.P.YADAV

    Repected, Shashi Tharoor Garu, India and Pakistan relationship is likely to solemity. But Pakistan concerns,way of thinking is different and illigitiate tactics is much more. And Pakistan not following Demcratic rules. In my verdict, pakistan merged in India then Pakistan state public will take freedom from Terrorists.

    April 10, 2012 at 2:14 am | Reply
  8. jerseybb

    We need to visit any indian news forum and see how much these hindus hate Pakistanis, I don't see any peace process working unless hindus give up their hate for Muslims

    April 10, 2012 at 9:00 am | Reply
  9. krm1007

    Resolution of all issues between india and pakistan including kashmir should take nor more than an hour to resolve over some shami kabobs. The problem is that the Indian DNA is double dealing and hence nobody trusts them. Latest case in point is India double crossing their buddies, the USA, in Iran. After all that the Americans have done for Indians to face this double dealing in Iran is pathetic and unforgiving. So how can Pakistan and others trust Indians to be friends with them????? Therein lies the dilemma and all of the above that Tharoor lists is BS. Tharoor is stuck in cold war era and his ideas are old, tired and obsolete. He needs to go back for some refresher courses in foreign policy.

    April 10, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Reply
  10. Michael

    Pakistan is a failed state....and its gonna fail completely unless it joins hand with India. Pakistan's ISI is one of the most evil organisations in this world and should be destroyed
    .

    April 12, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Reply
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