By:Tridivesh Singh Maini and Yasser Latif Hamdani

One of the reasons cited for the lack of economic integration within South Asia, aside from political bickering, is the poor level of connectivity between India and its neighbors, especially Pakistan. This has begun to change somewhat over the last decade or so, with the commencement of the Lahore bus service, the bus services connecting the Kashmirs, the Munabao-Khokhrapar train services (Rajasthan-Sindh) and, of course, Confidence Building Measures (CBM) between West and East Punjab such as the Amritsar-Lahore bus service.

It is interesting to note that many of these transportation links between India and Pakistan already existed from 1947 to 1965, and that there was a reasonable degree of people to people contact, as well as bilateral trade between both countries, despite partition and the troubled relations. Models of integration and connectivity such as ASEAN and the EU are often cited now, but even in the aftermath of partition, there was a reasonable amount of connectivity between India and Pakistan. For example, there were more land-crossings between the two South Asian rivals.

It is necessary first to question whether the iron curtain went up between the two countries as a result of partition or because of the ill thought-out war in 1965. Second, in 2015, it shall be 50 years since this war and it would be useful to see if we can reverse the pernicious legacy of that momentous war, followed by another war in 1971 and subsequent crises of 1999 and beyond.

Despite partition, it was manifestly the intention of leaders of Pakistan and India to continue friendly and integrated bilateral ties. Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had spoken of a South Asian Monroe Doctrine on several occasions and had wished for a “Canada-U.S.”-type relationship between India and Pakistan. The conflict over Kashmir, while a significant milestone in worsening relations between the two neighbours, did not automatically lead to the closing of the borders or reversal of these intentions.

Interestingly, bilateral trade between India and Pakistan between the years 1948 and 1949 was reasonably high. India’s share of Pakistan’s global imports was roughly 50% (50.6%), while its share of Pakistan’s global exports was well over 20% (23.6%). (Source: Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics, Kolkata). The land routes that were open for trade were Wagah-Attari, Hussainiwala-Kasur, and Munabao-Khokhrapar.

In all, a total of 14 bilateral agreements were signed between the two countries between the years 1947 and 1965. Interestingly, in 1965, there were 9 branches of Indian banks in Pakistan, while Habib Bank had one branch in Mumbai.

If one were to examine people to people linkages between India and Pakistan in the pre-1965 phase, interactions between the two countries also remained unhindered.  The Pakistan India Cricket Series in early 1955 saw a large number of Sikhs and Hindus crossing to watch matches in Lahore. Earlier, the Indian Cricket Team offered Pakistani players a chance to play for the Indian team as well (since Pakistan did not get the Test Status until the mid-50s). Linkages in art, cinema, culture, etc. remained strong.

At some point, Pakistan and India began to see themselves as the opposite of each other. Both countries began to move towards different foreign policy priorities. For instance, while Jawaharlal Nehru did make efforts towards peace, his main focus was on the Non-Aligned Movement. Pakistan, meanwhile, moved into the American sphere of influence, becoming a member of both the CENTO and SEATO pacts.

A narrative began to take shape that India had not reconciled itself with Pakistan’s existence and Pakistan needed friends in the international community to ward off any aggression from its larger sibling. Thus, Pakistan and India inevitably found themselves in each other’s crosshairs. The deepening of Pakistani ties with China, ironically, did not help reverse this trend, as China itself was embroiled in fratricidal inter-Communist conflict with Russia and a war with India.

Importantly, neither country had liberalized enough economically and a lot of the lobbies that are active today in pressurizing both central governments to relax visa regimes were not necessarily in a position to do so then.

Economic policies in both India and Pakistan were inward-looking immediately from independence to the early 1990s. Initial Indian economic policies were influenced by socialist ideals, and there was a heavy dose of protectionism. Conversely, Pakistan’s government was viewed as more business friendly, especially under President Ayub Khan’s dictatorship. During this period, Pakistan retained the paraphernalia of the bureaucratic economic model, though it flirted with socialism only in the 1970s.

Thus the early optimism of closer economic integration between the two states was sacrificed at the altar of Socialist dogma, and the bureaucracies that saw open ties and integration as a threat to their dominance and control.

A lot of the proverbial water has passed under the bridge since 1965, but it is important to revisit this period to realize that relations between Pakistan and India in the economic sphere can drive not just long term peace, but also an integrated South Asian region. This will off course require some statesmanship on both sides.

One of the first steps in this direction would be liberalization of the visa regime. The Minister of State for Home (Government of India), Kiren Rijiju, has made it clear in a written reply that visas are likely to be issued to Pakistani citizens over 65 years of age on the Wagah-Attari Border, for a period of 45 days, to be admitted into 5 cities in India. One hopes this policy will be reciprocated by Pakistan as well. While the visa on arrival for senior citizens was one of the provisions of the Bilateral Visa Agreement signed in 2012 and was supposed to be implemented starting in January 2013, the provision was put on hold due to tensions across the Line of Control.

It is hoped that visas on arrival will become the norm, rather than the exception, especially for business people, students, artists and intellectuals of both countries. This will lead not just to the strengthening of ties between the business community, researchers and civil society, but will also help in countering the jingoistic discourse on both sides, which is dominant.


Tridivesh Singh Maini is a Senior Research Associate with The Jindal School of International Affairs, Sonepat, OP Jindal Global University (India).

Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer and writer based in Lahore, Pakistan. He has authored the book “Jinnah; Myth and Reality”. 

Both writers were Asia Society’s India-Pakistan Young Leaders for 2013-2014


Image: Sonu Mehta-Hindustan Times, Getty

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