India, Pakistan Ties Hinge on Hope
By Mir Ayoob Ali Khan for The Times of India
When hope is lost, everything seems to be lost. But when we hear the adage, Ummid pe dunya khayam hai (the world stands on hope), we visualize a ray of light at the end of a tunnel.
The rollercoaster ties between India and Pakistan are an unending reading in despair. It is hope that makes people believe that one day, some day, we will live like good neighbours. That someday becomes believably close when we hear that Indian and Pakistani politicians, officials and members of the civil society are ‘seriously’ talking about the benefits of developing stronger economic and commercial links between the two nations. Or, when the Supreme Court of India allows aging Pakistani virologist Mohammed Khalil Chishti, a murder convict, to visit his hometown Karachi.
It is an unprecedented move by the Supreme Court which took a humane approach in a murder case. The apex court spoke of Chishti’s age (82), his global reputation as an accomplished microbiologist and his previous clean record to say that he is free to go to his country but on certain conditions. He should be back in India in November to face trial in court. Though the Supreme Court’s order is solely based on the prudence of the judges, there is hope that Islamabad would show some reciprocation with regard to Indians stranded in Pakistan prisons. For instance, many are waiting to see if they would free Sarabjit Singh, an Indian convicted of life imprisonment in a case of mistaken identity.
Chishti and Singh have been in the public eye owing to the extensive coverage of their plight in the media. However, there are numerous Indians languishing in Pakistani prisons and vice versa who have hardly been covered by any media agency or their cases taken up by any human rights organization seriously. They too deserve attention as their loved ones are waiting to see them. In the meantime, the air over India and Pakistan is thick with hope that the two countries are about to enter into a new era of trade and commercial cooperation. Activity in this direction gained momentum ever since Pakistan decided to give the MFN-the Most Favoured Nation-status to India last year.
The two sides have realised that the trade volume was a paltry $2.6 billion in the year ending 2011. Officials and members of the trading community believe that this could be taken to $10 billion to $12 billion in the next three to five years. In the forefront of trade with Pakistan which is expected to grow in the coming weeks, not years, are tomatoes from Maharashtra. About 4,000 trucks carrying tomatoes have crossed over to Pakistan in the past three months. Lorries containing soya beans followed. Not to lag behind, Pakistan has started exporting cement and other construction material to India. Talks are on to allow 8,000 items from Pakistan to enter India in the next couple of years.
Hope is now fuelled by the foundation laying of an oil refinery in Bathinda, a town in Punjab which is160 km from Lahore, by billionaire Lakshmi Mittal and Indian Oil Company Ltd costing $4 billion. Pakistan that is already importing kerosene and diesel from India is hungry for petroleum products. The refinery in Punjab and another one owned by the Reliance Group in Gujarat which is close to Karachi could meet the fuel needs of Pakistan, at least to some extent. There are also talks to dismantle hurdles in matters pertaining to education and IT sectors, visa regimes, especially for the business community and tourists, opening of more land and air trade routes.
In India-Pakistan relations, hope is the key word. Let’s hope that it becomes a reality extending benefits to the people of the two neighbouring nations.