In Another Lifetime: A Roadmap to Peace for Pakistan and India –part 2

The second part of this 3-part series continues with the two remaining “Opportunities” that both countries can utilize to improve relations. After this, it delineates the pre-requisites to the proposed roadmap to peace.

Collaboration in Different Sectors

This although related to trade (more specifically trade in services), has little to do with the transference of tangible goods across the border but more with direct participation and collaboration between, and in both countries – such as FDI (foreign direct investment), JVs (joint ventures) and investments in different sectors.

There are a plethora of distinct areas where both countries can work together – however, the paper touches upon just three such areas, namely IT (information technology), sports, and tourism. The IT sector in India has experienced enormous growth in the past two decades or so due to a shift of jobs from the West to the East as India offered lower business costs. IT in India consists of two major components i.e. BPO (Business process outsourcing) and IT services.

According to NASSCOM, the IT sector accumulated revenue of $160 billion in the year 2017. India is considered one of the hubs of IT in the modern-day world. Pakistan, although, not on par with India is rapidly accelerating in the IT sector as well. Some authors claim that Pakistan is paralleling India’s past growth in the sector.

According to a New York Times article, Pakistan’s IT sector is carving a niche for itself as a preferred destination for app designers, freelance IT programmers, and coders. Tens of thousands of Pakistani IT graduates enter the IT market every year. Pakistan’s IT sector is experiencing exponential growth and has reached $3 billion; it has doubled in size in the past two years and experts anticipate a further 100% growth in the next 2-4 years’ time.

Outlook India reported that low end IT jobs are now shifting to Pakistan from India. Rather than adopting a competitive approach, both countries should look to take advantage of each other in the IT sector. Pakistan should take advantage of India’s established IT market while India should reap the benefits of Pakistan’s nascent yet quickly growing sector and ride its wave.

Highlighting future prospects, scholar, Maria Syed, states that India should invest in Pakistan’s growing IT sector. Once better bilateral trade relations have been established, it can facilitate cross-border investments in areas such as IT. Furthermore, he notes that establishing research and development facilities across Pakistan and India would benefit the BPO and IT industries of both states.

Sports, especially cricket, has always been a massively popular past time for both Pakistanis and Indians. Although all of Pakistan would want to win against India and vice versa in a cricket match (or any sport for that matter), the cricket stars from both nations are highly respected in their home and neighbour country. Thus, cricket should be used as entrainment but more importantly, a unifying cause for both countries – cricket stars should be ambassadors of the game.

Cricket has even been used as a diplomatic tool when Pakistan’s President General Zia UlHaq was the first to execute “cricket diplomacy” when he made an impromptu trip to India to watch a cricket match between both countries amid escalating tensions in 1987. This visit eased the strains that arose from an Indian military exercise on the Pakistan-India border.

Unfortunately, even before the current high-level tensions between both countries, India refused to play cricket with Pakistan in Pakistan, India, or any neutral venue such as the UAE. This has deprived Pakistanis, Indians, and the rest of the world of one of the biggest rivalries in sports history and sends an extremely negative message to the world. Sports has always been a great equalizer for countries especially ones that are on negative terms.

Pakistan-India cricket matches should be held in both countries to display goodwill. An annual “Pakistan-India Peace Tournament” could work well to bring both countries closer together. A similar kind of initiative should be taken for Kabadi, hockey, football, and other popular sports in the subcontinent. The stratagem employed by Pakistan tennis star, AisamUlHaq, and Indian tennis star Rohann Boppana to compete together in men’s doubles was well received and sent a positive message to the world.

Both countries’ ministry of sports should make a joint team to create, manage, and oversee Pakistan-India tournaments in various sports. Other than sports, Pakistanis and Indians love each other’s film, TV, and music industries. Pakistani music and dramas are enjoyed to a great extent in India, while Indian movies and soaps are extremely popular in Pakistan. Pakistanis, in particular, are pulled to Indian movie stars while Indians seem to adore Pakistani musical sensations.

More lately, however, there has been an increase in stereotypical movies and television shows about one another that propagandizes the reality of each country. It must be contemplated that cooperation in the film industry can bridge the gap of contentiousness between both countries. Harmful movies and soaps depicting a false and exaggerated image of each country should be avoided.

In times of extreme tensions, akin to the present, Indian movies and channels are blocked in Pakistan and vice versa. Joint peace initiatives on established Pakistani and Indian channels should be started and aired to promote cultural and political harmony. For example, the Indian channel “Zindagi” was launched to air the best Pakistani shows throughout the years in India.

Movies and TV shows with both Pakistani and Indian actors, directors, and producers should become a symbol of collaboration and goodwill. It is not only the job of the governments to improve relations but the civil society, NGOs, and different sectors like TV and film to play their respective roles. Other than the aforementioned sectors, cross-border tourism (religious and familial) should be highlighted.

For example, the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor (a visa-free corridor near the border) which allowsSikhs from India to visit a religious site in Pakistan was hailed as a momentous move.Visa regimes should be liberalized, akin to Kartarpur, to an extent to allow people to visit shrines; meet relatives and loved ones – and even indulge in tourism where people could visit each beautiful country, immerse themselves in cultural festivities and socialize with the locals.


Subsequent to the departure of the U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan in 2014, and the demise of large economic and military payments to Pakistan, China filled this gap with CPEC. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC is the star project of President Xi Jinping’s mega Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

BRI is a series of infrastructural networks (roads, railways, and ports), trade projects, and financial institutions meant to encourage economic activity in Africa and Eurasia and to connect China to the latter. CPEC is a Pakistan specific mega-project within the aegis of the BRI that will consist of a 3,000 km network of roads, railways, and oil and gas pipelines from Gwadar port in the South of Pakistan to China’s Kashgar city.

Unfortunately, India is not a part of the BRI or CPEC due to its severe reservations about these projects – mainly that CPEC passes through disputed territories, and if successful, it will increase Pakistan’s relative power and will allow China geostrategic influence over India. Although India and China are currently engaged in a border flare-up in Ladakh, trade has not suffered. Therefore, CPEC has become another cause of contention between Pakistan and India but this is a myopic consideration of the situation.

CPEC is a once in a lifetime opportunity for both countries to increase trade, energy cooperation and eventually improve bilateral relations. Through CPEC, Pakistan will become a stronger entity with respect to infrastructure and its economy while China will benefit by gaining a gateway to Central Asia.

Pakistan can use the incoming Chinese investment to improve road and rail links with India and get augmented access to Indian markets – and concurrently, China could achieve improved access to Indian economic and energy markets via Pakistan. India, on the contrary, will not only get improved connectivity to Pakistan and China, but also to Afghanistan and Central Asian states – which has been a policy goal of India for decades.

As CPEC has the potential to cement Pakistan as a regional trading hub, India should look to take advantage of this. While India opposes BRI and CPEC, it is on board with the BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar) economic corridor that looks to connect all four countries. The Chinese have offered to include the BCIM into the aegis of the BRI, but India has opposed this vehemently.

However, work on the BCIM has been very slow on this and the future remains uncertain. The BCIM is a 2,800 km economic corridor that would connect Kunming with Kolkata while crossing Bangladesh and Myanmar. The preliminary reason for this initiative is to expedite trade and enhance connectivity with north-eastern India and south-western China. The last BCIM forum was held in 2019 after years of slow progress, if any at all – however, things have turned sour due to border clashes between India and China in Ladakh that began in May 2020 and are still ongoing.

China, before the border skirmishes, stated that India should shed its misgivings regarding BRI and join the megaproject – furthermore since Beijing endeavours to connect the CPEC and BCIM together to synergize the BRI, it is a prime opportunity for India to fulfil its east-west connectivity goals (i.e. get a direct route to Afghanistan and Central Asia and vice versa).

In December 2017, China revealed plans to expand CPEC into Afghanistan; a move that Pakistan has embraced. Economies of scale can be achieved if CPEC’s north-south (Kashgar to Gwadar) linkages are complemented with an east-west corridor (India to Afghanistan and Iran). This signifies how an east-west corridor can benefit Pakistan, China, and India if such an endeavour is undertaken under the BRI.

What India must comprehend is that due to its active opposition to the BRI, it will cause further stalling of the BCIM as well (as China seeks to pursue BCIM under BRI’s framework), which will eventually lead India isolated vis-à-vis improved connectivity. Like China, India is a regional hegemon, is energy-hungry, and desires to connect itself with surrounding countries (with road, rail, and sea links) to placate its energy security.

India’s issues with the BRI have a degree of validity, but in maintaining their current stance of antagonism, the country under the economically-oriented BJP government will only suffer. India cannot rival China and its economic endeavours and corridors in the regional landscape, and so the obvious choice would be to reach an agreement and insert itself into the BRI initiative. India should learn from how the GCC states responded to the BRI.

The GCC countries, although initially concerned about BRI due to their major rival, Iran’s, substantial role in it, later opened their doors to this mega initiative to further their own relative power. China released the “Arab Policy Paper” which details, among other things, how they want to continue and expand their relations with the Arab world, particularly the GCC, under the framework of BRI. This includes but is not exclusive to infrastructure construction, nuclear energy, agriculture, new energy, and trade, etcetera. Since then, the GCC and China have built a better understanding and have initiated various projects under the BRI framework. To think that Pakistan and India, two rivals, cannot initiate or be on board with interconnectivity projects, would be a huge mistake. Pakistan and India, despite their issues, have realized the importance of interconnectivity.

Initiatives like the TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) which will carry natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and finally into India, are initiatives that will mend broken fences and be a symbol for progress amid escalating tensions. TAPI was expected to be completed by 2019 but work has been slow. Despite slow progress, TAPI signifies that there is hope that Pakistan and India can find a compromise with regards to other interconnectivity projects specifically China’s BRI.

South Asia is one of the least integrated regions and trade experts cite the trust deficit, along with other factors, as the primary reason for poor connectivity. Therefore, dialogue and strong-willed initiatives at interconnectivity must be pushed, as these economic endeavours, if successful, will help deter conflicts and political tensions in the future.

Roadmap to Rapprochement

Before the roadmap is outlined and expanded, some pre-requisites and sequencing of events are necessary to enable a stronger chance for the roadmap to succeed in its objects. The sequence of the events should be conducted/unfolded in the order written.


Strong leadership in Pakistan and India

Pakistan’s Imran Khan is a relatively strong Prime Minister. He is considered a forward-thinking and honest politician – seen in Pakistan after decades – and wants Pakistan’s dependence on loans to end. His political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) controls the federal government, the Punjab government (the most politically significant province of the country), Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and is a junior coalition partner in Balochistan.

Only in the Sindh province is the PTI in opposition. This means that Imran Khan and his PTI has been given a strong mandate to govern the country. Imran Khan, after becoming Prime Minister, invited India to discuss peace even though the Indian media had lambasted Imran throughout Pakistan’s election process. However, a caveat must be mentioned here that Pakistan’s opposition forces have recently come together (late 2020) to topple the government and have amassed quite a lot of support.

Many of Pakistan’s public are tired of the high inflation rate in the country and so there is legitimate opposition. Since 2014’s landslide victory, Modi enjoys an even stronger mandate than Imran Khan. The BJP won even more seats in the 2019 Indian general elections. The BJP not only controls the federal government (302 seats out of 543 in the lower house) but also 18 out of 31 states and union territories of India.

Modi’s base is very strong in India but many have turned against him due to unpopular decisions such as the revocation of Kashmir’s special status, the passing of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a struggling economy, as well as not being able to control the coronavirus. Regardless both leaders are still considered strong (but not as much as they were before) and strong leadership is mandatory when it comes to peace.

Kashmiri Protests Subside/Resolved

The resolution of Kashmiri angst, at least in the short term, is an important pre-requisite before a proper peace engagement is initiated. Currently, there is little hope of initiating any dialogue with India, since India unilaterally changed the status of a disputed territory – India revoked the special autonomous status of J&K and made two union territories out of the region.

This incensed Kashmir’s Muslim population as well as Pakistan and China. India also initiated a lockdown in the valley to curb the anger of the Kashmiris, which is ongoing and has been for over one and ahalf years. Besides this, the human rights violations in Kashmir, which the UN has called out India on, remain unabated.

Since the roadmap suggests that Pakistan should not discuss the territorial aspect of Kashmir for 10 years, this kind of news might not go down well with the Kashmiris, and the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC)who might see this as Pakistan selling them out – although, this is further from the truth and will be discussed ahead in detail.

In this paper’s opinion, a peace dialogue should only be initiated when tensions and emotions are not at boiling point in Kashmir. Therefore, before a roadmap is presented, India, as the international community has been clamouring for months, must try to resolve the Kashmiri angst (the Kashmiris had been protesting before the curfew was imposed).

Pakistan can, of course, make India aware that they are willing to start a historic peace dialogue with India, but the Kashmiri protests must be handled delicately and humanely and the hardliner approach (such as extended curfews, shooting protesters, disabling communication links, and so on) must cease.

Support of the International Community

The support of the international community especially China and the U.S. is required if a peace process is initiated. If these powers do not play their part, the peace process can easily be undermined no matter how pure the intentions and actions of both Pakistan and India are. China would welcome such an endeavour, but it is difficult to predict how they would react now since its border flare-up with India.

America under Trump showed positive intent when the president did mention eagerness to mediate the Kashmir situation, but only time will tell if Biden will be as keen. Nonetheless, as much international support should be raised for the roadmap to succeed.

This paper continues in 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'.