August 10th, 2013
03:40 PM ET

Time for optimism over India-Pakistan ties?

By Global Public Square staff

Washington’s efforts to broker Middle East peace have given this age-old conflict a high profile and raised expectations once again. But there is another decades-old dispute, thousands of miles away, that is getting very little attention. And for the first time in many years, there are reasons to be optimistic about its prospects: We’re talking about India and Pakistan.

Yes, the two countries have fought three full-scale wars and are locked in a nuclear arms race. They have frequent skirmishes over disputed territory in Jammu and Kashmir, as they did once again this week when five Indian soldiers were killed in an ambush.

But if you take a step back from Kashmir and examine the broader political climate in the region – India, Pakistan, and also Afghanistan – there are reasons for cautious optimism.

Pakistan’s new government could be the game changer. Nawaz Sharif is back as prime minister. The last time he was in power, in 1999, Sharif brokered a peace agreement with New Delhi. That deal, the Lahore Declaration, could have set the stage for a breakthrough on the main sticking point: Kashmir’s disputed territories. Instead, Pakistan’s army sparked a conflict by raiding Indian territory and then it deposed Sharif as prime Minister.

More from GPS: Surprising Pakistan

Even in his years in exile and opposition, Sharif continued to stress the importance of peace. He has pointed out that Pakistan will progress only when it stops treating India as its biggest enemy. He has also called for cutting the army's funding. And he's right on both counts. Trade between India and Pakistan amounts to only $2.6 billion a year – about one-fifth the value of trade between Pakistan and China, and about one twenty fifth the value of trade between India and China. This despite the fact that India and Pakistan share not only a border, but a common history, culture, language. They are natural trade partners.

Pakistan's army could prove to be the biggest obstacle again. A climate of peace would threaten its vast budgets. Pakistan is the 44th largest economy in the world and yet it maintains the 7th largest army in the world. About a fifth of its annual budget is spent on defense. Meanwhile, most of the country suffers from a lack of electricity and basic resources. But Nawaz Sharif now has a mandate to tame the military.

What about New Delhi? There's a small window for talks ahead of national elections next year. The fact is, India knows that Sharif presents their best chance for a peace deal, or at least for the laying of the groundwork for friendship. India also knows that factions in Pakistan – militants and jihadists – could try to derail any moves towards peace. If there are further attacks, there will be calls across India to retaliate. New Delhi will need to hold firm, as it actually has so far. The solution isn't to abandon peace efforts but to redouble them. And if the New Delhi government is looking for a legacy, given its abysmal performance with the economy lately, foreign affairs does seem a possible way to be remembered.

All of this matters for the United States. As Washington pulls out of Afghanistan, India and Pakistan will compete for power there. That will influence whether Afghanistan moves forward towards stability or again becomes a failed state. If the two countries—India and Pakistan— can actually move towards better ties, the whole region becomes less of a cesspool of radicalism and terror.

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Topics: India • Pakistan • What in the World?

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    It looks like that jerk Obama has found something else to make himself look good. This will also be good for the Muslim Elitists as well as they practice Islam in name only to pay it lip service. These jerks will sell their own children for money and prestige, I bet. These people don't care about morality any more than the current European leaders or the politicians in Washington do. It's all about money grubbing!

    August 10, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Reply
    • Quinton

      Thank you Joseph, you said it all!

      August 11, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  2. Muin

    You can't just put kashmir aside. Kashmir is a big issue. India hold off popular vote on kashmir. Kashmiri people actually prefer to be independent. Pakistan's part of kashmir sorta like pakistan but prefer to be independent. Indian part of kasmir don't like India at all.

    August 11, 2013 at 1:15 am | Reply
    • Subhash chandra Kumar

      Population of Kashmiris in Indian side is much more free,better fed and more independent as compared to the population in Pakistan occupied Kashmir ,the difference is only religion,Indian side has mixed Hindu and Muslim population while pok population is mainly Muslim .on the basis of religion Pakistan creates chaos in Indian side by sending terrorists ,trained by Pakistan based terrorist organizations in pok and those terrorists gets support from the Indian Muslims from Kashmir to create disturbance in the state of Jammu and Kashmir of India.

      August 13, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  3. kirtidev Bhatt

    Fareed, you are right, there are some very good chances for peace between India and Pakistan except for the Pak-Army. The Army in pakistan realizes that its main support from the Gov't budget depends upon their playing up the Indian scare. If India and Pakistan declare peace the Pak-Army will be the biggest loser. The Army knows it and will do everything to stop this. They have already killed five jawans on the Indian side to make sure that peace does not break out between the two countries. At the same time, India's opposition parties will never let the UPA government to lower the temperature in India. They will take advantage of the situation with Pak-army helping

    Kirtidev Bhatt

    August 11, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    Farreed, indeed the military in Pakistan, especially the ISI is seen as a "state" in a state. It had ruled the country indirectly since its independence. The last government was the first in Pakistan's history to finish its term without being overthrown. Yet it had been constantly at loggerheads with the military, which sees India as its natural enemy. It will be interesting to see if Nawaz Sharif can rule without interference, although he has voters on his side.

    August 12, 2013 at 10:07 am | Reply
    • Ali

      it will be interesting to see you get your head outta ur ass
      j von what the hell do you know about Pakistan
      and your talking with such a confident as your one of our ministers
      keep your senseless opinions to yourself

      August 12, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Reply
      • k.madhukar

        What we see about Pakistan is its only threat now is intrenal.Threats from Taliban,Jehadis,and sectarian violence.Pakistan does not need any Army.It faces no threat from any country. The three wars it fought with India was started by them and not India. Instead of Army, they need an effective police force to fight Taliban , jehadis and various brands of Islamists.Money saved by disbanding the Army can be used to develop the economy.

        August 18, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
      • Sumant Bhalla

        @ Ali. Maybe it's you who needs to get his head outta his behind!! The whole world knows the Pakistani Military is rotten to the core. They have to play up the non existent "Indian Threat" to lay claim to major allocations of the Pakistani budget. Remember 1971 when India tore pakistan into two pieces. It could happen again.

        August 23, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
  5. Subhash chandra Kumar

    India and Pakistan both are suffering for last sixty years ,fought three wars ,expenditure on defense is very high for both the countries poverty elimination gets back seat due to the animosity amongst them ,but army of Pakistan gets the priority in the budget because of this animosity and hence they want continuation of animosity ,create disturbance when so ever the two governments try to come close .

    August 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  6. Ali Hashim

    If we look at the matter of Kashmir closely we see that the interests of both Pakistan and India are surprisingly similar. Both India and Pakistan want to keep control over their parts of Kashmir. Both have hopefully realized after three wars that they cannot get the other part.

    Opinion surveys conducted on both sides of Kashmir over the period 2005-2010 have shown that less than 10% of the Moslem population of Indian Kashmir would like to join Pakistan. Likewise Pakistani Kashmiris do not want to join India.

    Given these realities, Pakistan and Pakistani Kashmiris will lose control over Pakistani Kashmir and gain nothing in return if an independent Kashmir were to be formed.

    Therefore it seems to me that it is the interests of both Pakistan and India to have a divided Kashmir along the line of control.

    August 13, 2013 at 7:37 pm | Reply
    • Amit-Atlanta-USA

      Well Said!

      August 14, 2013 at 10:56 pm | Reply
  7. Ali Hashim

    Continuing with the last comment-
    Indian Moslem Kashmiris do want independence, essentially to get rid of the alleged Indian suppression there. However, if the Kashmir issue is settled along these lines, the lives of the Indian Kashmiris would also become peaceful.

    In view of this the political leaders of both countries do owe it to their people to try and solve this matter. They will need to spend political capital to do so and achieve a break though. However, they may get the Nobel peace prize if they do.

    August 13, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Reply
  8. Jayakumar

    The only way Shariff can achieve friendship with India, is if he can control his army, which he cannot. Unlike India, the pakistani army answers to no civilian authority. Anytime, the pakistani civilian establishment tries to establish friendship. the army scuttles it by attacking India. Interests conflict. The army needs the conflict with India to continue, since only then can they explain their funding and their existence. At the same time, the Indian establishment stands to gain nothing by having a conflict with Pakistan.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:23 pm | Reply
  9. Amit-Atlanta-USA

    Neither the "so-called" Palestinian, or Kashmir, or Chechnya, or the various other ISLAMIC ORIGIN problems in Thailand, Burma, right here in the US/Europe, can EVER be solved.

    More than the ground realities as long as worldwide Muslims (incl. the much pampered, highly educated, so-called moderates such as CNN's Fareed Zakaria) associate every single problem facing the Muslim world to the West/Israeli/Indian discrimination against Muslims, this problem can NEVER be solved. It has NOT been in 1,400 yrs, and it will NOT be in the next 1,000 yrs.

    In fact even the "so-called" moderate Pakistani President Zardari had said that Pakistan is willing to fight a 1,000 year war with India on Kashmir.

    August 14, 2013 at 11:13 pm | Reply
  10. omz

    new delhi has held firm so far? really? what about reported civilian killings by the indian army in response to the alleged ambush by the pakistani army? not worth reporting?

    August 15, 2013 at 5:30 am | Reply
  11. Zhang


    December 22, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Reply
  12. egekafe

    piasports, jewseek,

    May 18, 2018 at 12:08 pm | Reply

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