India and Pakistan are closing in on a historic trade deal – one that would open cross-border commerce and connectivity not seen since the end of British rule in 1947. As the FT reports:
India and Pakistan have agreed to a target of raising bilateral trade to $6bn within three years…Mrs [Hina Rabbani] Khar [Pakistan’s foreign minister], who was appointed in June, said Pakistan had been encouraged by India’s acquiescence to preferential European Union market access for Pakistan after last year’s devastating floods. She said Pakistan wanted to improve its regional connectivity with energy pipelines and roads, adding that “one day it would be possible” for Indian trade with central Asian nations to transit through Pakistan.Visa restrictions that have long frustrated business leaders in both countries are also expected to be lifted in coming weeks.The two countries’ principal land crossing, at Wagha, is being modernised with the construction of a new freight handling facility. Cross border banking facilities are also planned to support greater trade across the Line of Control in Kashmir.
In the short term, anything that reduces the chance of war across the world’s only land border between hostile nuclear states is a good thing. And in the longer term, helping both states move past the dreary zero sum logic that has defined their relationship since Partition is important to both.India can live with this headache forever; Pakistan cannot. The confrontation with India and the fixation on it by the Pakistani security establishment is literally killing that country, dooming it to a slow motion decline that blights the lives of the Pakistani people and endangers the region. Normalizing trade relations would be a sign that sanity has a fighting chance to save Pakistan from itself.This is, however, at most the beginning of a long and painful process. Let’s hope for the best, but the India/Pakistan boundary remains one of the most dangerous places in the world.