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    South Asia
     Oct 24, '13


SPEAKING FREELY
India-Pakistan stereotypes begin to shift
By Tridivesh Singh Maini

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

Engagement between the governments of Pakistan and India over the past decade has been rather erratic, and the current trajectory of relations is predictable.

At the same time, it would be unfair to disregard the progress - albeit incremental - in certain spheres such as trade and people-to-people contact.

An array of Confidence Building Measures (CBM's) such as the



Delhi-Lahore bus, Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus and the Munabao-Khokhrapar rail have played a positive role in enhancing people-to-people linkages. Educational exchanges between institutions, and medical tourism too have had a positive impact in generating a degree of goodwill on both sides.

In the realm of trade, close interactions between business communities of both sides have contributed positively, and some tangible steps such as the setting up of the Integrated Check Post at Attari, and the increase in bilateral trade along the Wagah-Attari land route suggest, that trade has the potential of acting as an important means of building bridges.

Yet, the true potential of both people-to-people contact and trade has not been realized. While there are those on both sides, who are skeptical with regard to the efficacy of interactions between citizens of both countries, this is the most effective albeit incremental way of improving ties between both countries.

Greater interaction between citizens on both sides has the potential of blunting the false propaganda of sections of the media. Trade is important, because it creates robust linkages, which may get affected but are not totally disrupted, even during times of tension.

Some of the steps taken by both the governments are laudable, such as the CBMs which have been initiated and the steps initiated towards building trade relations.

There are some fundamental issues that need to be addressed.

Firstly, it is imperative for policy makers on both sides to do a serious appraisal of why CBM's such as bus and rail links have been abysmal failures. The answer is clear, an unreasonable visa regime, and the hardships which the common citizen has to go through, specifically travelling all the way to New Delhi from Rajasthan or Punjab. Similarly, those travelling for conferences or business also have to go through police reporting, which is extremely tedious.

Either the rail and bus links should be suspended, or the logistical issues discussed above should be seriously addressed.

Second, even deliberations between business communities are not particularly inclusive, with a few chambers of commerce, and a few sections of businessmen dominating the show. Trade ties between both sides could strengthen more, if there are dialogues between medium and smaller traders from both sides. This way, the apprehensions and misconceptions on both sides could be addressed in a more effective manner, and new synergies could be explored.

Third, exchanges between educational institutions are limited, and it is only a select band of institutions from Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and New Delhi which interact. It is imperative for greater exchanges between educational and research institutions from tier-two cities from both countries.

For example, there should be more exchanges between schools and colleges from interior Sindh, Punjab and even other provinces, with those in India. This will help Indians in realizing that Pakistan too possesses an aspirational middle class - outside the big cities - which has to contend with similar economic and social challenges. Young Pakistanis too will begin to question the stereotypes they have been brought up on. Currently, most dialogues and exchanges seem to be vary of moving out of a comfort zone.

Engagement and dialogue between both countries needs to factor in the changing dynamics and demography in both countries, and not be based on hackneyed arguments, that the "new generation wants peace" or "the public wants peace, but the political leaderships are against it".

It is imperative, to keep in mind the fact that individuals on both sides are exposed to nothing except what they see on the media, and while for long, the older generation has been the favorite whipping boy for acrimony between both countries. The new generation will not be particularly sane or rational, if its views of the other country are influenced by the media. Finally, while it is easy to blame political leaderships, it is they who have been engaging over the last decade and a half - though with limited success.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based columnist and policy analyst.

(Copyright 2013 Tridivesh Singh Maini)






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