The ‘hate-to-love’ relationship between India and Pakistan has for long marred the prospects for regional cooperation in the broader South Asian region. An international report highlights the rationale behind regional cooperation in South Asia lies in the opportunities it offers to its member states from the enlargement of markets and the management of shared resources.
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India-Pakistan stands to gain from the economic and social opportunities of a more open region, according to Australian Institute of International Affairs. Pushing the assumption aside that roots of conflict between the two nations are too deep to be dislodged, experts indicate that there are strong institutional foundations on which policymakers could build more cooperative relationships based on a recognition of shared values and interests.
The think tank states that both countries need to take the initiative in spurring regional interconnectivity. “A pertinent example is the fact that the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) cannot function effectively if India and Pakistan continue to disallow the use of their territories for transit between neighbouring states and the rest of South Asia.”
India is a predominant power in South Asia and has fought three wars with Pakistan. According to The Conversation the 1947 – 1948 war gave the latter control over the strategically important territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, which shares borders with Afghanistan and China and through which the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) now passes.
Moreover, in the face of the failure of United Nations resolutions adopted from 1948 to 1951 to enforce the conduct of a plebiscite in the Muslim-majority province, the war brought about a transfer of territory that signified progress towards a settlement of the issue. Nonetheless, Pakistan regularly issues calls for the Kashmir plebiscite.
But because of India and Pakistan’s ‘hard-nut-to-crack relation’, South Asia ranks amongst the lowest in the world in a vast majority of development indicators. “A 2012 World Bank research noted that South Asia is home to over 550 million people who live on less than $1.25 a day, equating to 44 per cent of the population being defined as poor in the developing world.”
The research stresses regional cooperation as a vital tool in spurring economic growth and reducing the level of poverty. Economic cooperation through trade and intraregional investment is central to the future of regional cooperation in South Asia.
“At present, intraregional trade between SAARC members lies at a paltry 5.7 per cent of total trade in the region. Pakistan and India need to open their markets to each other before South Asian intraregional trade can really take off and each stands to gain from the enlarged markets and subsequent economic growth.”
Other countries in the region should push India and Pakistan to recognize their joint responsibility in spurring the development of South Asia. Both neighbours should acknowledge the fact that their inability to cooperate has a debilitating impact on the wider region.
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