The question of India and Pakistan resuming normal relations comes up for debate from time to time despite the caustic rhetoric. It appears that another such moment has arrived with the possibility of opening trade relations under discussion.
One factor could be the dire economic situation in Pakistan where not just the poor but even the business and trading community may be facing the pinch. India the biggest market in the region is thus an obvious option but one that has remained closed due to political standoff over terrorism and Jammu and Kashmir.
Dawn News quoted Indian Deputy High Commissioner Suresh Kumar discussing the possibility of opening India Pakistan trade while speaking on March 18 at an event at the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Mr Kumar said India wants “better relations with Pakistan because we cannot change our geography”, and called for normalising trade ties,” as per the Dawn.
He added that India was interested in tapping Central Asian markets, which Pakistan could facilitate through transit trade.
Dawn news remarked that it is significant that the Lahore Chamber invited an Indian official to its function, and that New Delhi’s representative spoke of improving ties.
Data on India Pakistan Trade and Passenger Movement
The data on India Pakistan passanger movement in the past one year 2022-23 has increased substantially from 10.342 to 42, 572 as per the Attari Land Port Data. [See Table 1 below].
However trade and cargo movement is down substantially from a high of Rs 4370 Crores to 1314 Crores and over 49,000 to 2410 in numbers from 2018-19 to 2022-23 resepctively.
Dawn News welcomed the departure from the toxic rhetoric that has been witnessed over the past few years, especially since the events of 2019 in occupied Kashmir.
Given multiple challenges faced by Pakistan over the past few months if not yeara,
India has remained on the sidelines and has not commented on the developments. Instead it is apparent that India is extending a hand for opening trade relations with Pakistan and wants to move towards normalising business ties.
This is evident from the speech by Suresh Kumar, India’s deputy high commissioner to Pakistan while speaking at the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) which could not come about without approval from Delhi.
The move may not be fully altruistic from the Indian point of view as New Delhi would be looking at transit trade with Central Asia a big market and India needed access to it.
Similarly, Central Asia also needed access to India.
Will there be adequate support to this move by India to reach out for opening trade ties which in turn will soften Pakistan’s approach towards Jammu and Kashmir remains to be seen?
Another Year for Normalisation
For sustainable engagement Dawn indicates that the election cycle in both the countries in 2023 in Pakistan and 2024 in India will have to be gone througj.
Dawn recomments that Pakistan needs to internally discuss all contours of its India policy thoroughly involving all stakeholders — the civilian leadership (including the opposition), the establishment, trade bodies — who should then pursue a unified policy, “without resorting to embarrassing U-turns later in the day”.
This can occur after a new government takes charge in Pakistan and next year’s elections in India bring a new administration to New Delhi.
In the meantime, both states can start the spadework by restoring their respective diplomatic missions to full strength, and easing visa restrictions, recommends the Dawn.