In Another Lifetime: A Roadmap to Peace for Pakistan and India –part 1

This paper is part one of a three-part series. The overall paper describes how it might be possible to improve relations between both states (at least in theory). Part one begins by discussing the primary issue between both countries i.e. Kashmir – after which the paper highlights1 out of a total of 3“Opportunities” that both countries can leverage to achieve rapprochement. Part 2 of the paper discusses the remaining 2 “Opportunities” and then describes the pre-requisites of the proposed roadmap to peace. Part 3 outlines and details the roadmap to peace itself.



Pakistan and India gained their independence in 1947 as British India came to its culmination. Since independence, the two neighbours have been all but neighbourly towards each other. Their relationship has been defined by political turbulence in the least and all-out war at the most – both countries have fought three full and one limited war.

This rivalry stemming from the disputed territory of Kashmir has resulted not only in a massive trust deficit but has converted the region into a global flashpoint due to both countries’ nuclear arsenal and their engrossment in an arms race for supremacy. Although there have been many negotiations, peace initiatives, and CBMs (Confidence Building Measures) since independence, major success stories have been negligible.

The countries have been ensnared in an enduring deadlock that continues to the present day. This paper endeavours on providing a solution to improve the stagnating relations between both countries. It does this by initially highlighting what the Kashmir issue is and then deliberating upon the opportunities (to mollify relations) before delineating a roadmap for peace.

The roadmap suggests that rather than bickering on the territorial aspect of Kashmir, the status quo should be maintained for at least a decade. Instead of discussing whom Kashmir belongs to, both countries should rather focus on improving their economic relations. After some kind of economic interdependence has been established, political and cultural gaps should be addressed via political, socio-cultural, and even military CBMs.

Once the trust schism is filled to an extent after a decade or so, Kashmir should be discussed with a rational head rather than the prevailing emotions and distrust. Although the final section of the paper has some “ifs and buts” and hypotheticals, it attempts to stay within the realm of reality as not to paint an idealized or fictional scenario. The paper ends by concluding that a viable friendship can and should be achieved if both countries (and the international community) play their cards right.

An “outside the box” mentality and “people of Kashmir first” policy must be applied to bring peace into the region; if not, the stagnation will continue – such is the dilemma of Kashmir. A huge caveat that the paper must state before delving deeper is that as things stand currently, there is more chance of war between Pakistan and India than any chance of complete peace.

There are a plethora of reasons for this but the main include India’s revocation of Jammu & Kashmir’s (J&K) special status which angered Kashmir, Pakistan, and China; India’s humanitarian abuses in J&K under Modi; China and India’s recent border skirmishes, and the Indian Ocean tensions; and Pakistan’s Air Force downing two Indian fighter jets when tensions were high post-Pulwama.

In the present scenario, especially when India changed the status of J&K by abrogating two constitutional articles, neither Pakistan nor India wants to do anything to do with the other. However, if things were not as bad as they are today, this paper opines that the path to peace presented could be feasible.


Kashmir is the root cause of Pakistan and India loathing each other. Subsequent to the 1947 war over Kashmir between both states, UN resolution 47 was passed in 1948 that asserted that the issue must be resolved through a plebiscite. The Indian government promised that a plebiscite would be conducted, but this never transpired making UN resolution 47 one of the oldest resolutions in the UN.

Historically when it comes to peace talks, Pakistan has always proclaimed a Kashmir first policy and maintained that Indian transgression against Kashmiris was the main problem, while India states that cross-border terrorism from Pakistan into J&K is the primary issue. The facts are simple: both Pakistan and India have exacerbated the Kashmir situation since its inception.

Without going into too much history, the Kashmiri people in J&K never felt integrated with India despite the state being given semi-autonomy. Due to Delhi’s manoeuvring around the plebiscite issue, its meddling in J&K elections, and Kashmir becoming a mock-democracy, the people had enough. In 1987, things escalated – the Kashmiris came out to protest against India, and soon after an insurgency began.

This insurgency was a product of both Indian miscalculations and Pakistan’s support to Kashmiri (and foreign) militants. Eventually, Indian counter-terrorism and slipups by Pakistan caused the movement to simmer down (the Kashmiri grievances were still present but violence faltered). In 2004, President Musharraf ended support to the militants due to international pressure after 9/11.

The modern-day Kashmiri struggle is primarily a product of India. India’s human rights record in Kashmir has always been ghastly – 100,000 Kashmiris killed since 1990 – but since BJP has begun its Hindutva agenda, things have begun worsening yet again. Draconian laws such as the Armed Forces (special protection) Act (AFSPA) are still enforced in the region despite there being a plethora of international calls for its elimination.

The AFSPA gives widespread powers to military personnel and police such as shoot to kill, right to arrest without a warrant, right to raid houses, and it also grants security forces impunity from civilian prosecution. Modi’s intentions seemed clear when he nominated a controversial far-right politician to become an M.P. – Dr.Swamy has made his disdain for Muslims very transparent – in 2017 he tweeted that Kashmir should be “depopulated” of its Muslims who should be sent to south India as refugees. In July 2016, mass protests erupted due to the killing of a popular militant commander, Burhan Wani, by Indian forces. In response to the protests, the Indian security forces killed over 90 Kashmiris and put Kashmir into one of the longest curfews in its history.

Analysts like Joanna Slater highlight that today the militancy in Kashmir is “smaller and less deadly than at the insurgency’s peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s.” Scholars like Simple Mohanty caution that if the Indian government continues its political-military status quo, the current Kashmiri protests have a real danger of escalating into an armed militancy.

Adding fuel to the fire, the BJP government abrogated Article 370 and 35a of the Indian constitution that gave a degree of autonomy to J&K. Modi has also shut off internet services intermittently so that civilians cannot communicate to the rest of the world. In fact, right after the abrogation, India enforced a curfew that has been ongoing for 400 plus days.

India’s steely response has driven away even moderate Kashmiris – soldiers barge into homes, cut off roads, use live ammunition when protests erupt, kill or blind innocents including children. In 2018, the United Nations accused the Indian government of using excessive force in Kashmir since 2016 and called for an international inquiry into human rights violations. Kashmiri women, too, are a major casualty of the conflict in the valley – they have to face harassment almost every day and are often the victims of rape at the hands of the Indian security personnel.

Many human rights groups have also lambasted the Indian government for not giving them permission to investigate the human rights violations being conducted. India continues to blame Pakistan for its involvement but international commentators agree that Pakistan’s military support has dropped down significantly – Pakistan has increased its diplomatic support, however, under Imran Khan.

Jeffery Gettleman, the South Asia bureau chief for the New York Times notes that where once, years ago, Pakistan supported militancy in J&K, “Now, the resistance is overwhelmingly homegrown,”. “Homegrown,” he clarifies, means that the Kashmiri conflict is today shaped by “internal Indian politics, which have increasingly taken an anti-Muslim direction,” rather than by geopolitics.

There have been several vicissitudes to the Kashmiri freedom movement, but the one today is characterized by stone-pelting Kashmiri youths than by armed men – however, things could be headed to militancy again due to unabated Indian transgressions.


There is no love lost between both countries and more oft than not there appear to be attempts from one side to malign the other – for example, quite recently the EU DisinfoLab uncovered a massive Indian disinformation campaign against Pakistan titled “Indian Chronicles”. However, there exist opportunities that can be leveraged to improve bilateral relations

Most of these opportunities are economy centric as economic interdependence initially between both countries can eventually lead to amicable cultural and political ties. Pakistan and India are strong regional powers, but currently, in terms of economic development and strength, there is a huge mismatch.

Pakistan’s economy is the 23rd largest in the world in terms of purchasing power parity but citing the untapped potential (human resources and otherwise), it should be much sturdier than this. Due to mismanagement of funds, corruption, and political and security instability, the true potential of the economy has not nearly been achieved.

The dollar, at the time of writing this paper, is placed at 161 rupees. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan had pledged to solve the economic crisis of the country but things could be much better. According to the Asian Development Bank, Pakistan’s GDP is expected to contract by 0.4% in 2020 and grow by 2.0% in 2021. Since Imran Khan’s arrival and the coronavirus crisis, inflation has risen to 9%.

Pakistan needs to initiate economic reforms, exploit the abundance of natural resources and industrialize its economy among other things to improve its economy and tackle unemployment. Since, the country is in an economic crisis, economically collaborating with neighbour and rival India should be considered as a viable option.

Conversely, India had been much better economically than Pakistan and was one of the fastest-growing economies globally until some bad economic policies and the coronavirus ravaged the country in 2020. India is the third-largest economy by purchasing power parity and the sixth-largest in terms of nominal gross domestic product.

One of the primary reasons Modi was elected was due to his promise of economic development and job creation for India specifically its youth. The ABD forecasts that the economy will contract by a whopping 9% in 2020 and will grow by 8% in 2021.India’s annual consumer price inflation in September 2020 was 7.34%.

Both countries have suffered due to the coronavirus but India has deeper wounds due to it having the second-highest number of cases after America. Since both countries require an economic uplift more than ever, working together economically (in the very least) is necessary. However, again to reiterate, the paper does not see any kind of cooperation to take place.


The paper opines that trade could be of utmost significance for both nations’ rapprochement.  Unfortunately, in August of 2019, trade was formally suspended by Pakistan when India revoked Article 370 and 35a. Even prior to this, the potential for trade was never realized. Although improvements in recent years had been made, much more can be achieved in today’s age of globalization.

Unfortunately, even when trade was ongoing, high tariff and non-tariff barriers owing to political chasms severely hindered it. Two primary reasons why trade has suffered is due to Pakistan’s refusal to grant India most favoured nation (MFN) status and India’s denial to eliminate non-tariff barriers on Pakistani goods.

Granting MFN status to a country means that the grantor country promises the grantee country lower tariffs or high import quotas – all for the sake of better trade. Although free trade initiatives like the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) exist under the aegis of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), tradecan hardly be defined as “free and fair”.

The chief reason for the inefficacious implementation of SAFTA and other trade agreements is owed to the distraught relations between the antagonistic neighbours. According to the 2016-2017Annual Report of the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Pakistan and India’s total trade was around $2.61 billion in 2015-2016. This figure has burgeoned lavishly since 2003-04 when it was an inadequate $345 million.

The trade balance between both countries has been predominantly in India’s favour, with its exports to Pakistan totalling $2.17 billion while Indian imports from Pakistan only valuing $441 million in 2015-2016. However, according to the former governor State Bank of Pakistan, Ishrat Hussain, this trade deficit should not hamper the trading relations between Pakistan and India, as it is a win-win situation.

Pakistan and Indian trade occurs on an official (now suspended), indirect, and illegal level. Trade through authentic channels is official trade. Trade that takes place through other countries such as UAE, Singapore, Iran, etcetera is referred to as indirect and amounts to around $2 billion. Both countries should seek to minimize indirect trade and endeavour to achieve cost-effectiveness by trading directly with each other.

Illegal trade, lastly, consists of the goods smuggled through mostly the land border. Trade has also historically fallen victim to both countries’ use of positive, negative, and sensitive lists which dictates what can and cannot be traded. The trade potential of both countries is somewhere around $10.9 billion with export potential being $7.9 billion while the potential of imports accounts for $3 billion.

Others suggest even larger figures –Ajay Bisaria, former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, mentioned that through the stabilising of relations, elimination of non-tariff barriers, and liberalisation o fthe visa regime,trade can rise to a massive $30 billion. The negative list of Pakistan is made up of 1,209 items predominantly from the electrical machinery, automobile, pharmaceuticals, steel, and textiles sector.

Pakistan’s negative list aims to shield its auto-component and automobile industry from Indian imports (Taneja et al, 2013). Scholars retort Pakistan’s apprehensions by highlighting that the country can benefit from inexpensive automobile imports from India – a more cost-effective alternative juxtaposed to the pricier imports Pakistan receives from Japan and Thailand. India on the other hand endeavours to protect its textile and clothing industry. India places high tariffs and duties on ready-made goods to protect its domestic industry.

While India is trepidatious that Pakistan’s strong yarn and fabric manufacturing industry will undermine its small to medium scale sector, in reality, imports from Pakistan are more likely to contend with the mill sector rather than the power loom sector in India – therefore there is no justification to guard the larger companies against imports. 

The positive list approach is muddled with misgivings, lacks transparency for traders, and not to mention leads to high transaction costs. The authors also note that minimizing NTBs and granting MFN status will boost market access for both countries. Trade liberalization of other items would also be beneficial for both countries.

India exports numerous goods that Pakistan exports from countries further off such as tea, electrical generating sets, sugar, petroleum products, etcetera, hence Pakistan can reduce transportation costs and save money if it begins importing these goods from India. Likewise, Pakistan can export surgical instruments, cement, wheat, sports goods etcetera to India which the latter relies on other countries for – this would be more inexpensive for India to import and a boon for Pakistan’s exports.

Pakistan-India trade is also massively inhibited by subpar transport and infrastructure facilities. Due to the political environment of Pakistan and India, rail and air travel has always been subject to disparities while roads are not only limited but underdeveloped. Although new facilities were added for cross-border road transport, the land infrastructure leaves much to be desired.

The Attari-Wagah border in Punjab is the only operational land route between both countries (not including Kashmir) used for trade and tourism. The facilities at Attari-Wagah are underwhelming vis-à-vis the storage, handling, and clearing of goods, especially perishable ones. Due to manual security checks, it is tedious and time-intensive to load and unload goods.

Despite launching an Integrated Checkpost (ICP) in 2012 at Attari-Wagah, which included parking space, CCTV cameras, a separate trade gate for cargo trucks, and dedicated cargo storage, the trade facilities still remained relatively manual and time-consuming. A lot of the trade is also time-consuming due to security concerns on both sides of the border. Both countries, especially due to their egregious history, remain fearful of narcotics, weapons, ammunition etcetera entering from the other side.

Security agencies in Pakistan and India are therefore cynical of opening the border completely for trading and tourism. For years, businessmen from Pakistan and India alike have pressured their respective administrations to expand trading relations and reduce border disruptions that range from harassment by security forces to bureaucratic inhibitions. In the aftermath of 9/11, the debate on balancing security and trade became prominent.

Innovative mechanisms were adopted to not only maintain security but also keep a steady trade flow going. Despite being an arduous challenge, this has been undertaken by various nations commendably. Pakistan and India should learn from the international community and set up a more automated and effective border system that balances trade with security. For example, despite being strong trading partners, America has been weary of narcotics coming in from Mexico.

The delays in clearing freight-carrying trucks across the U.S-Mexico border cost both countries around 51,000 jobs and around $6 billion in 2005. In response to this, both the American and Mexican governments initiated the Unified Cargo Processing (UCP) program. The UCPprogram has proven successful in different parts of the America-Mexico border as waiting times have contracted as much as 85%.

The UCP program ensures that both American and Mexican staff jointly inspect cargo – therefore dual checks on each side of the border are removed. Furthermore, automation mechanisms such as gamma-ray truck scanners, weighbridges, X-ray scanners, surveillance systems, and the latest computers are of the utmost importance. The Ugandan government purchased cargo scanners valued at around 1.5 billion Ugandan Shillings to negate manual checking at the border.

Companies such as Cotecna have worked with many governments to supply, finance, install, operate, and even maintain an integrated border system based on cargo scanning technologies. Security dilemmas stretching from threats to genuine attacks in Pakistan and India have ignominiously dented the trading partnership.

Both countries should take inspiration from the aforementioned trading innovations as well as others and augment trade while not compromising upon security. India, in 2018,decided to add full-body truck scanners to the Attari ICP and replace vintage cameras with advanced CCTV ones. This was a great endeavour; however, a coordinated effort into improving both sides of the Attari-Wagah border would be more advantageous.

Pakistan and India should mutually decide on border requirements and implement these in a coordinated fashion – similar to how both countries incepted the ICP in 2012. Both countries should also enforce strict fines on smuggling and other illegal activities on the border. Lastly, Kashmir, both Azad Kashmir in Pakistan and Jammu & Kashmir in India, must not feel eclipsed.

Unfortunately, currently, intra-LOC trade is closed due to political tensions and the coronavirus.In 2008, both countries agreed to one of the biggest CBMs i.e. the inception of the intra-LoC trade through the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot routes.There are only 21 permissible items that can be traded. There are trade facilitation centres (TFCs) on both sides with trade officers present for regulation purposes.

The intra-LoC trade has remained resilient for the most part despite border escalations; however, trade at times is interjected due to a myriad of ceasefire violations on the Poonch-Rawalakot route. Agricultural products, shawls, spices, and so on are primarily traded. The intra-LoC trade is a great endeavour as it aids the economy and development of the Kashmir region – not to mention has led to greater people-to-people contact across the border.

It is projected that around $211 million has been traded from October 2008 until December 2011 across the LoC. Intra-LoC trade follows a barter system and has zero tariffs applied to them. Despite the promising start of intra-LoC trade, there is much room for improvement; if certain inhibitions were removed, it would advantage the Kashmiri people and region noticeably.

Traders have incessantly cited some severe qualms regarding intra-LoC trade and have threatened to stop trading if these concerns were not alleviated. Firstly, communication links between traders on both sides must be started – currently, they cannot call each other. Due to security concerns, India has disallowed the international direct dialling system from J&K to any part of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir. It is also not possible for the traders to meet their counterparts across the LoC.

Secondly, akin to the inadequate trading services on the Attari-Wagah border, the TFCs on both sides of the LoC suffer the same fate. Manual systems and massive security checks waste the time of traders and undermine trading flows. The use of X-ray cargo (truck) scanners has been suggested by traders. Furthermore, cold storage and generally improved storage for goods need to be provided since most of the goods are perishable such as vegetables and fruits.

Thirdly, traders have also desired more items to be allowed to be traded. The annual potential trade volume across the LoC is estimated to be around $974 million – unfortunately, trading volumes in the past do not even come close to this figure. Fourthly, establishing banking and financial channels and discounting the barter system is necessary to improve trade.

Currently, no banking system has been provided and no decision has been made regarding the currency to be used for trade. Traders cited this issue as one of the direst in need of resolution.

The paper will continue in part 2 and part 3.

Sarmad Ishfaq
Sarmad Ishfaq
Sarmad Ishfaq is an independent researcher and writer whose work has been published by Harvard Kennedy School Review, the Diplomat, Open Democracy, Paradigm Shift, Mondoweiss, and Eurasia Review to name a few. He has also been published by several international peer-reviewed journals such as Taylor and Francis' Social Identities. Before becoming an independent writer, he worked as a research fellow for the Lahore Center for Peace Research. He has a master's degree in International Relations from the University of Wollongong in Dubai where he was recognized as the 'Top Graduate'.