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March 12, 2015
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Mending walls

Opinion

March 12, 2015

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The uneasy relations between Pakistan India often remind me of the poem ‘Mending Walls’ by Robert Frost in which the poet describes going out with his neighbour each spring to mend the stone wall that divides their property.
Frost does not like the wall himself because he feels it unnecessary. However his neighbour, who seems to be steeped in tradition, believes that “Good fences make good neighbours.” This old saying implies that you can make better neighbours if there exists a wall to ward off potential conflict.
This holds true for Indo-Pak relations to some extent as in their case, despite the conspicuous presence of iron walls built over ages, the potential for conflict has not subsided. This is because the level of mistrust is too deep-rooted to be ignored, strongly embedded in emotional sentiments shaped by fierce hostility over the years.
In the backdrop of cataclysmic events – two wars, the Kargil misadventure, Mumbai attacks, Samjhota express bombing, Kashmir, involvement in Balochistan and Fata, cross-border militancy and intermittent violations along the LoC – the wall of mistrust has scaled new heights.
On the other hand, there are ample instances when the wall crumbles, visibly, as if it never existed. So that trade and cultural exchange continues, diplomatic relations are ongoing, and civil society forums engage periodically. On the political front there were noteworthy initiatives like Vajpayee’s bus yatra, the prime ministers greeting each other on Modi’s oath taking ceremony, a smiling handshake in Kathmandu, and the recent bonhomie of foreign secretaries that helped the period of détente greatly.
So when challenges have become transboundary in nature and countries are increasingly interconnected through trade, exchange of visitors, information and communication technologies how relevant it is to sustain a wall between India and Pakistan? One point of view holds that it is futile when globalisation has made it

imminent that policy decisions in one country have a substantial impact on the other. Therefore, restoring economic relations in such a scenario becomes necessary which in turn would contribute to addressing political issues as well.
The decision to grant MFN status to India is a case in point. The other group advocates that the core issue of Kashmir should be settled before the neighbours establish normal economic relations. Delhi’s argument has been consistent that political problems, including Kashmir, should not affect commercial relations with Pakistan. Their relations with China follow this trajectory because both countries have realised that political issues must not deter their path for bilateral economic cooperation.
Keeping in view the troublesome history of Indo-Pak ties we may argue that it is impossible to completely segregate politics and economics in the case of these two neighbours. Therefore the recent foreign-secretary level talks rightfully touched upon all issues of mutual interest ranging from political irritants like Kashmir, Sir Creek, water, cross-border terrorism, economy and trade.
Without questioning whether the parleys were under the ambit of a Saarc yatra or bilateral agenda, the meeting was nevertheless important since it made significant headway to resume the stalled foreign-secretary level talks cancelled last year and dispelled tensions after eight months of nerve-wracking ceasefire violations across the LoC and the Working Boundary that had severely strained the relations between the two neighbours.
These talks have in a way advanced the agenda of the India-Pakistan Parliamentarians Dialogue V1 held in Delhi in December 2014 that suggested among many modes of engagement, a holistic approach on conflict resolution on all issues, including Kashmir, trade and people to people contact through dialogue.
Now when CBMs are being talked about mutually it is important that the long awaited demand of liberalising the visa regime must take precedence over all measures and unnecessary restrictions may be removed in the best interest of the people of both countries.
India has recently launched online visa and payment facility for 43 countries, at nine airports, allowing applicants to apply from the comfort of their home without going to the Indian mission, and receive the visa in 72 hours of date of arrival to India, valid for 30 days. Ironically, there is a bar for eight countries including Pakistan – terming it a ‘high risk’ country. This speaks volume about the deep-rooted wall of mistrust that needs to be scaled down.
The visa policy has become more stringent now in the Modi regime in India. The processing time for a diplomatic visa is 15-20 days and 45 days for non-diplomats, which is inordinately long for countries sharing a border, believing in better border controls, and having multiple intergovernmental forums for dialogue. Then there is a restriction on the number of entries in a year and number of cities to be visited – not to speak of the endless ordeal of police reporting in every city that makes the visit a Herculean task.
Easing the visa regime would be good news for religious tourists in Pakistan and cultural tourists in India besides providing incentive for the civil society to engage more often and businessmen to trade across border freely. This is where the two neighbours do not need a wall.
The writer holds an LLM degree in international economic law from the University of Warwick. Email: [email protected]

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