Perhaps no other area of the world displays as many attributes of a common regional identity as South Asia does. Yet it remains the least integrated region, hostage to a lingering rivalry between India and Pakistan that threatens to replay havoc in Afghanistan post-2014. The future of South Asia rests considerably on the amicable resolution of this rivalry. It is therefore important to assess the objective political conditions in India and Pakistan amid prevailing regional circumstances, to see whether they facilitate or obstruct the intertwined processes of conflict resolution and regional cooperation in South Asia. Of course, major structural and ideological barriers to peace undeniably persist in both countries, which is why their peace process often fails to meet expected results and collapses recurrently. Nawaz Sharif’s re-election as prime minister in 2013 and Nerendra Modi’s rise to power in 2014 had renewed hopes about Indo-Pak dialogue making quicker gains in terms of rebuilding confidence and resolving conflicts. Initial signs were indeed promising, but then mutual recriminations and border tensions resurfaced soon to prevent the revival of the stalled diplomatic dialogue in late 2014.
However, despite renewed tensions, Modi and Sharif offer reasons for cautious optimism towards reviving peace efforts. Both leaders had declared at the time of election to start a “new chapter” in relations between the two countries. They subsequently pledged to pursue a shared economic agenda, which is conducive for the region as well as respective national interests of the two countries: For India’s priority lies in overcoming recent stagnation in economic growth, and Pakistan’s interest lies in tacking internal security as well as economic crisis aggravated by security quagmire. These pragmatic reasons for possible policy shifts by the two countries as well as their respective barriers to peace and costs of conflict create the context for a viable roadmap for mutual peace. A conflict resolution mechanism rooted essentially in geo-economically-driven cooperation can indeed help both nations overcome trust deficit, prevent recurrent security tensions, settle territorial disputes like Kashmir and find a common ground in Afghanistan. The ensuing bilateral and regional cooperation in trade, energy and investment will accrue substantial benefits to both India and Pakistan, besides paving the way for effective integration and lasting peace in South Asia.
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