South Asia has the largest population among all regions in the world. It is rich in natural resources, has strong market potential and skilled manpower. However, the pace of development leaves a lot to be desired. The main reason for lack of development in South Asia is instability and often hostile ties between the two big powers – India and Pakistan. The two states are often at odds with each other and so far peace efforts have failed to yield substantial results. Global and regional developments require both countries to start negotiating to improve ties and join hands for mutual development. The upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, to be held in China’s beach city Qindgao, provides a great opportunity for both states to discuss their conflicts and seek a way forward. This SCO meeting is special as both India and Pakistan will attend as members for the first time.
It is a good opportunity as only last month Pakistan and India have restarted a peace initiative. The Bajwa doctrine by the Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, Qamar Javed Bajwa, was the first step. It talks about Pakistan’s desire for peaceful ties with all its neighbors including India. New Delhi responded positively to Pakistan’s gesture and last month the Indian delegation attended a Track II diplomacy meeting.
However, in the past there have been several instances of Track I and Track II diplomacy efforts – formal and informal channels have been used to bridge the gap between Islamabad and New Delhi. Sadly, bilateral ties are so fragile that even a small incident can derail the whole peace process.
Pakistan has been trying to mend ties with India and there have been several efforts by Islamabad to offer a hand of peace. The problem lies with the policies India pursues for its interests in the region. New Delhi is still going by the geopolitical approach instead of letting geo-economics lead relations.
It is not only Pakistan, even smaller South Asian states are not happy with New Delhi’s attitude. One of the main reasons for the failure of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is the uncooperative behavior of the Indian leadership. The organization was founded with a vision to promote cooperation and economic activity in the region. However, it could not produce the envisioned results.
The SCO’s predecessor, the Shanghai Five mechanism, concluded a Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions in 1996 and the Treaty on Reduction of Military Forces in Border Regions in 1997. It ensured peace between SCO member states and enhanced mutual trust. That was a very important step toward the formation of the SCO. Pakistan and India can sign a similar agreement or at least discuss similar possibilities in order to maintain peace along the Line of Control and the international border. The most important prerequisite for the development of South Asia is regional peace. Kashmir and water disputes between India and Pakistan are among the issues that need to be addressed. Both parties can discuss these issues and seek the advice of SCO member states to resolve the crisis.
The SCO has been cooperating to discourage terrorism, separatism and extremism. India, if it has reservations, can raise the issue and try to learn the facts from Pakistan using the SCO platform. South Asia as a region has been a victim of terrorism and they can learn from the experience of other member states. Terrorism is an international issue and it is not possible for one state to singlehandedly deal with it.
The present SCO members make the organization largest in terms of global population and area. One can imagine the opportunities being offered on such a platform. Uneasy or conflicting ties between India and Pakistan would prevent them from reaping the benefits offered by other members.
Peaceful ties with Islamabad would provide New Delhi several opportunities such as access to the Central Asian market through Pakistan. India’s economy is booming, but a vast majority of the country still lives below the poverty line with no access to even clean drinking water and sufficient food. Both countries need to seek a people-centric approach while drafting their domestic and foreign policies.
At a time majority of Asian countries are being connected through the Belt and Road initiative, India will miss the boat if it does not tag along and soon its neighbors will surpass it in terms of economic, social, technological and scientific development.
More importantly, it is high time for South Asia to rise as a region and that is possible only when Islamabad and New Delhi start negotiating peace and join hands. It is desirable that in their first meeting as SCO member states, Pakistan and India will take steps toward amity; otherwise political issues between the two will keep delaying their progress and growth.