6 things Pakistan and India can do instead of fighting
- Talha Ahmed

They live side-by-side. They started off their journey together. They share history and in some instances much the same culture. They know it and the world knows all the good that they can do so simply by standing together.

Still, it appears that Pakistan and India would much rather fight each other and end up killing scores of civilians rather than join hands in progress.

In case they change their minds, here are six things India and Pakistan can do together instead of fighting:

1. Increase people-to-people contacts
We need this more than ever. The forces of extremism and bigotry are loud on either side, and the way to counter the ensuing misconceptions, hatred and stereotyping is to get the people in touch with each other in a manner unfettered and unfiltered by media biases.

To this end, the governments should facilitate traveling between the two countries. Ease up visa regimes, provide security to tourists, set up student and faculty exchanges, invite professionals, intellectuals and artists over to their sides of the border, organise concerts, host joint exhibitions and events, develop shared publications, invite critique and let guests conduct their research and document their experiences.

The more the discussions, the lesser the mistrust and devious propaganda. And anyway, in 67 years of existence, we both have in fact been hurt more by our own propaganda than the other's.

2. Trade freely
Remove the non-tariff barriers and bureaucratic hurdles impeding trade. Let India get its Non-Discriminatory Market Access to Pakistan. Create separate routes for different tradable items that stay operational round-the-clock. Cut down duties and improve customs clearance procedures.

Yes, India is a much bigger market than Pakistan, but proportionate trade is still possible, if the government sets the right policies. In auto, textile and several other sectors, exports and partnerships can benefit traders from both countries equally.

3. Tell the story of Partition, together

Shouldn't we have had enough of maligning the other, of teaching our kids hate. Let's, for once, work together and come up with a better story to tell our children now -- of one where people did give and love, where men, women and children saved one another from injustices regardless of their religious or regional affiliations.

Educationists and historians from both countries must sit together and work on this narrative which shows that in an event when all begin to go topsy turvy, people had have their humanity in tact and shielded one another from harm.

Indians and Pakistanis have been one people for most of their histories. They may be separate now, but they're clearly not foes, with a shared culture and consciousness in many an instance.

So let's tell the stories of Partition, but let's tell them together. Purge school curricula of political propaganda and make films that tell the stories of people, not ideologies. Write stories that record the joys and sufferings shared through centuries and not the divisions borne over a few decades.

We may be two nation-states now but our attitudes toward life, our cultures and customs, our zest for sport, our love for the arts, our values of friendship, hospitality, tolerance and progress remain the same.
Let's make sure our young ones know that's who we are, that we help and respect each other because that's just what we do.

4. Play each other

Pakistanis and Indians indulge themselves in mostly the same sports and games. Cricket, hockey, football, volleyball, kabaddi, squash, tennis, polo, snooker, bridge — and the list doesn't end. Our sportsmen have run neck-and-neck with each other for decades. A Pakistan-India contest defines the term 'sport' for people all over the world.

Why not play each other more often, then? And not just on the professional level. Get youth from the academies, schools and colleges to participate in games between the two countries. The governments must facilitate here and making visa issues an excuse to be impede contact in this vital arena should not be acceptable.

5. Fight common issues/crises together

Nascent democracies face the same problems all over the world. Problems, especially social ones, are even more similar across Pakistan and India because, again, they come from shared social backgrounds.

So why don't the governments and civic bodies join hands to fight them? A unified voice against child marriages will be much more empowered and will resonate across a much wider area than isolated efforts against the vice.

Let's pool in our resources and efforts. Condemn rape, fight abuse and discourage gender discrimination. Do it aggressively and do it together. Create common platforms and help others adopt the models which worked with one or the other.

Illiteracy, disease, discrimination, exploitation, poverty, unemployment...all are problems where the two countries can do more than they have.

We have two of the biggest populations in the world, and therefore are most vulnerable to emerging global threats like climate change and food shortage.

If we don't stand together, we may not stand at all.

6. Stop selling conflict

It's a myth. A Pakistan-India war is not just unfeasible, undesirable and improbable, but it is actually economically impossible as well.

Still, vested interests within the powers that be on either side of the border keep flaring up tensions and selling conflict to the populations of their respective countries for selfish gains.

The governments and media need to be honest with the people and tell them how things really stand right now.

Yes, there is extremism, insurgency and intolerance and one country may have tackled it better than the other. But that's inconsequential. What matters is to let people know that it exists in pockets and thrives from the support of only a few, and that the state will never let that narrative win.

All of this cannot happen until the war rhetoric ceases from both sides. Both neighbours should stop calling themselves 'nuclear powers' because that is of no consequence other than flaring people up. We keep threatening each other with our nuclear arms without knowing the scale of disaster these arms can cause.

We also need to find a workable solution of the ongoing border tension because while the rhetoric may be all guns blazing from New Delhi and Islamabad, it is the poor families living along the border who are in reality suffering.

The rhetoric from either side needs toning down and the two should establish a narrative of mutual respect, along with easing up treaties and policies towards one another.

If the risk of floods persists after the Indus Water Treaty, rework it.

If foreign fishermen are found too often in your seas, let them off on a small penalty. Jailing and torturing poor ordinary men from the other country will never win you anything.

And most importantly, for the sake of our future generations, let's curb our exorbitant defence expenditures and focus on areas where we can develop our people and give them the tools to live a life of dignity and not one of poverty, neglect and humiliation. 
(Courtesy: dawn.com)

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