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Road to Reconciliation? Pakistan Eyes Restoring India Ties Despite Diplomatic Strains

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Flags of India and Pakistan - Sputnik India, 1920, 03.04.2024
On March 23, at Pakistan's national day, the newly appointed Foreign Minister of Pakistan stated that Pakistan is considering the restoration of trade with India, despite the strained relations between the two neighboring countries.
Since the inception of the two South Asian states, India and Pakistan, both nations have experienced fluctuations in diplomatic relations and mutual hostility. However, tensions escalated significantly following the Pulwama incident in 2019 and India's constitutional changes regarding the status of Kashmir.
As a result, since August 2019, relations between Pakistan and India have deteriorated, leading to a complete severance of ties between the two neighboring countries.
Discussions have begun following the official statement by Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Muhammad Ishaq Dar, indicating that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan will consider resuming bilateral trade relations with India, which have been on hold since August 2019.

"Pakistani businessmen want to recommence trade with India. We will take a decision after consulting all stakeholders," Pakistani media quoted the minister as saying.

Moreover, the FM stated that imports from New Delhi are still coming through third-party countries, resulting in additional costs. Mr. Dar expressed a willingness to explore the possibility of resuming bilateral trade, emphasizing the significance of consultation and coexistence with India, as changing neighbors is not an option.

Seeking Stability Amidst Neighboring Challenges

As the renowned author Tim Marshal said in his book "Prisoners of Geography," we cannot choose our neighbors, nor can we change them. This implies that we are captives of our geographical location.

With this in mind, given Pakistan's current economic situation, which includes high inflation, IMF loans, external debt, liabilities, significant fluctuations in foreign currency reserves, and domestic debt, it cannot afford to have any additional conflicts with its neighbors.

Furthermore, the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan has become strained, and Iran, a neighboring country confronting American sanctions, has further exacerbated the situation.

"I think, before seriously considering the restoration of bilateral trade, it is essential for Pakistan and India to first normalize their diplomatic relations. However, in this regard, international powers such as the West and the US are leveraging India against China in the region," Professor Faisal Javaid, a think tanker, D.Director of ORIC at Federal Urdu University Karachi & a Geo-Political analyst, told Sputnik India.

He further added, "We can look at India and China, and despite territorial issues, both nations engage in trade, setting an example for us. However, with Afghanistan, we have a political issue as Afghan soil is being used against regional peace by spreading cross-border terrorism."
Third countries such as Singapore and Dubai conduct the current trade between Pakistan and India, resulting in increased expenses and additional duties. That is why the business community is now urging Pakistan to address this issue.

Is it Possible to Restore Bilateral Trade?

Bear in mind what Napoleon once said: "To know a nation's geography is to know its foreign policy." According to Robert D. Kaplan's "The Revenge of Geography," geographical factors can cause tensions and conflicts between nations. These variables include competing claims about strategic military installations, water, natural resources, and land.
Geography significantly impacts the geopolitical dynamics, as evidenced by the strained relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan over the Durand Line dispute and the protracted conflict between India and Pakistan over the territorial contention in Kashmir.

"Both nations have been at the center of a blame game. Pakistan has accused India of sponsoring militancy in Balochistan, while India has accused Pakistan of meddling in Kashmir. The result is a severe breakdown in confidence between the two countries," Dr. F. Javaid expressed.

No official from India has reacted to Pakistan's latest assertion yet.

Nevertheless, in this matter, there are Indian political experts who believe that resolving the Kashmir conflict and tackling regional terrorism would be prerequisites for India to contemplate resuming trade.

They argue that Pakistan should take action against anti-India elements like the members of Jaish e Muhammad (JEM) and Lashkar e Taiba (LET).

"Establishing confidence-building measures and improving diplomatic relations must be top priorities for both nations if they are to seriously address these concerns," Prof. F. Javaid further told Sputnik News.

Hope for Improved Relations

On Pakistan’s side, Pakistan's foreign office spokesperson, Mumtaz Zra Baloch, confirmed a proposal to revive trade with India during the foreign office's weekly media briefing. Baloch emphasized that Pakistan is reevaluating its trade relations with India, as per Geo News Report.

"Like any foreign policy question, our relations with our neighbors remain subject to regular assessment and examination. Pakistan’s relations with India are an important aspect of Pakistan’s foreign policy," M.Z. Baloch Spokeperson of FM said.

Similarly, the Pakistan High Commission in India also emphasized that sustainable peace and stability in South Asia hinge on a peaceful resolution of all issues, including the central Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
"While the rhetoric from the Pakistani business community has been one that supports the normalisation of trade, a pre-requisite for it would be political stability and intent without malice for the establishment of free and fair bilateral trade," Dr Aparaajita Pandey, a political analyst, told sputnik News.

"In context of the current state of affairs in Pakistan, the re-establishment of bilateral trade seems like a far fetched and distant possibility.
India would welcome bilateral trade till it comes with the assurance of curbing of terrorism," She concluded.

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