Can India and Pakistan ever be Friends?


What issues were left unresolved at the time of India’s partition in 1947, and how have they continued to plague both India and Pakistan since independence? MAP/BBC

Ayesha Jalal: Mary Richardson Professor of History, Tufts University.

Unlike family bonds, which are inherited and undeniable even if difficult, friendships and relations between sovereign nation-states are a matter of choice based on affinities and perceptions of mutual self-interest. The congenital differences that divide Pakistan and India are traceable to the dynamics of British decolonisation in the subcontinent and are more aptly seen as a sibling rivalry than a parting of ways between two erstwhile friends. Like all family disputes that spill out into the open, the internationalisation of subcontinental political differences and their crystallisation into the national myths of both nation-states have, over the years, limited the options available for a judicious and enduring resolution of their various disputes.

Shashi Tharoor: Indian MP and Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs.

Can India and Pakistan ever be friends? It’s a tough question, because it reflects a paradox: Indians and Pakistanis not only can be friends, but are, in most places around the world; and yet the official hostility between the two countries seems intractable and insoluble.

When Pakistan was created in 1947, its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, publicly expressed the hope (and the expectation) that its relations with India would come to resemble those between Canada and the United States. His idea was of two countries with more in common than not – separate politically but united culturally, and linked by strong economic ties and close human relationships. As we all know, that was not to be.

General Tariq Khan: Hilal-e-Imtiaz, was the Commander of 1 Strike Corps at Mangla.

India is a big country with an even bigger ego. It has always aspired to dominate the region and find a niche for itself among the more prominent nations of the world. However, Pakistan has been a constant irritant for India and is seen to somehow stand in its way as India tries to achieve the status of a global power. A relationship riddled with a history of animosity and disputes, Pakistan and India continue to view each other with suspicion. Pakistan wistfully hopes that once the disputes are resolved, relations would automatically improve. But India will not cede an inch and is unwilling to discuss matters that have disturbed the bilateral equilibrium. India contends that since it cannot be its own fault, it must be Pakistan’s. The Indian leadership is at the forefront, leading their nation in the hunt for answers that could explain Pakistan’s intransigence. India blames the Pakistan Army, claiming that it justifies its existence through the bogey of an Indian threat. According to them, the army interferes in the governance of the country and holds coups because it wants to promote this image that India is to be feared and must be contained. Central to any Indian argument is the point that the Pakistan Army’s modus operandi is to first create an artificial scare and then justify its own existence by establishing itself as the only viable institution that can handle this scare.

Kalpana Sharma: columnist and former Deputy Editor of The Hindu.

Can India and Pakistan be “friends”? I don’t think so. Indians and Pakistanis can be friends, and are friends. I can vouch for that personally.

But as countries, nations, governments? I somehow doubt it. At least not in the foreseeable future. There is too much history between us to overcome and currently a surfeit of internal divisive politics.

On the other hand, can we live as peaceful neighbours? Yes, that is possible. Perhaps not in the immediate future. But it could happen.

The friendship and affection between Indians and Pakistanis at an individual level is a reality. You love our films. We love your music, your food and Fawad Khan!

Ayesha Siddiqa: author, social scientist and expert on military affairs and South Asia.

It was just a couple of years ago that I was arguing with a trader – head of an informal association representing electronics retail from China – about the efficacy of trading with India. I thought he would argue against opening up. His view, on the other hand, was that opening up trade would strengthen the market and improve his own position in bargaining with China. There were many more trader-merchants like him in Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Karachi, Hyderabad and other cities that craved the opening up of trade opportunities with India. There were even those who thought that Narendra Modi’s election was a great idea, as a stronger government in India would ensure better trade initiatives.

Jawed Naqvi: Delhi-based journalist and correspondent for Dawn.

It has become difficult to guess what so many well-meaning people expect from their untiring display of faith in India-Pakistan peace prospects. Do they mean that the borders should be witnessing peace and tranquillity, a phrase borrowed from the Sino-Indian agreement of 1993? However, even that carefully crafted agreement between Narasimha Rao and Li Peng is up in the air in the Modi-Xi era, isn’t it? So China-India ties cannot be the inspiration any longer for the India-Pakistan peace-seekers. What other model is there, which can be cited as an example to follow between neighbours with unsettled disputes, not the least of disputes being Kashmir. And now there’s CPEC, which has raised India’s hackles. There’s nothing in South Asia as a model, is there?

The question of India-Pakistan peace (or no peace) boils down to expediency – domestic expediency, which may have little or nothing to do with India-Pakistan relations per se. This expediency flows from something more directly connected with power politics on both sides.

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