Talks are therapeutic. That's what any shrink will tell you. Especially, if it is between two warring parties, that have witnessed extreme highs and lows in a relationship. For Indo-Pak tie-up too, dialogue is somehow curative. Both nations are closely engaged in a situation, where they cannot " live with or without each other."
So any strategic shrink would tell them, dialogue is the best way forward to mend ways. A positive step after the 26/11 attacks, where both countries have decided to resume talks and the foreign secretaries will meet this month-end. Whether India agrees to bring 26/11 on the talk table, or Pakistan manages to shove terror talks under the carpet, one thing is certain-this time both countries will discuss Jammu and Kashmir, peace and security and confidence building measures (CBMs).
So as far as the CBMs are concerned, Pakistan should start by formalizing India's most favoured nation status, which it has already agreed to grant before this October. Recently at an Indo Pak conference, one of researchers from Islamabad had expressed doubts that MNF to India will threaten to overshadow Pakistan's economy and in a while, Indian economy will dominate theirs. But for a country, where influence of China has been much stronger and is growing everyday, this perhaps should not be a worry at all.
Another set of CBMs both countries should focus on is linkages between Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan's foreign office has already indicated that the region will be the core issue of talks. Looking beyond standard and contentious viewpoints, its time to get back to building bridges in the region.
The Cross LoC trade, which was started in 2008, has hit a roadblock since the last four months, due to imposition of value added tax on the Indian side. The trade, which takes place on two days in a week, needs better infrastructure and extending the trading days to at least four.
The traders have also proposed increasing the number of trucks from the present limit of 50 to over 200. Also, the list of items to be traded, which is currently restricted to 21, needs a complete revamp and expansion.
The trade, ever since it started, is on barter system and there is no exchange of currency. The trade, in a way, is so far based on good faith and is largely susceptible to risks. If both nations can work out a way to provide banking facility to traders, it would be a positive sign again.
Another cross LoC CBM, which both nations should now look at is educational linkages. There has been a large support for exchange of students between two sides of Kashmir, and to start cultural and social tie-ups. Some of the universities in the region are even recommending reservation of seats for students across the LoC. Some suggestions have even come in for collaborative research and joint degree programmes.
The cross LoC bus service, started in2005, also needs a relook. The number of the bus-travelers has come down, not due to lack of enthusiasm but mainly due to delays in issuing permits. Some of the divided families have been waiting for two to three years to get clearance to travel- a hiccup which needs to be removed. India and Pakistan should also consider recommendations to open more routes like Kargil Skardu, Nowshera- Mirpur, and Sialokot -Suchetgarh in Jammu and Kashmir and even start religious tourism in the sector.
So this month end, when Indo-Pak foreign secretaries sit across the table, they should keep in mind, that in the dark days overshadowed by terrorist violence, economy ups and downs, there is a perfect cure in collaboration- it is time to talk, to heal and move forward.
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