From Punjab to Punjab

Tridivesh singh Maini


Engagement at the national level between India and Pakistan has been subdued ever since the rising tensions across the LoC in August last year and the terrorist attack in Jammu in September last year with a nervous UPA-2 government having neither the political capital nor the conviction to forcefully push the envelope, something the Indian prime minister has been trying to do earnestly over the past decade.

Islamabad, on the other hand, is waiting for the electoral verdict of the May 2014 polls, and probably feels that it is more useful to engage with a new government. More recently, even Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma cancelled his Pakistan visit, stating that he would only visit after Pakistan operationalises three decisions that were agreed upon during the recent visit of Pakistan Trade Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan. 

These include 24/7-trade of all goods via the Wagah-Attari landcrossing, doing away with the negative list of 1,209 items and also bringing down the sensitive list of items to 100 in accordance with the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA). It should be mentioned here that Pakistan has been vary of granting the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India, since this gives the impression to hardliners of granting some special privilege to India, an enemy country. If Pakistan removes the negative list, it will in effect be granting non-discriminatory market access (NDMA) without ruffling too many feathers in Pakistan.

Despite the road blocks to meaningful dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad, continuous exchanges between the political leaderships of both east and west Punjab, the business communities of both provinces and members of the civil society a reasonable consensus has evolved in both the Punjabs for a strong relationship in a number of areas such as trade, agricultural cooperation, joint research and more cultural exchanges.

Shahbaz Sharif, the Pakistani Punjab’s CM and brother of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had a successful visit to Indian Punjab in December 2013, where it was decided that both provinces should not just explore potential business opportunities and give a fillip to people to people contact, but also increase cooperation in the realm of agriculture. In November 2012, the Deputy CM of Indian Punjab, Sukhbir Singh Badal, had visited Pakistan Punjab.

More recently, Indian Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal invited Pakistani Punjab’s Agriculture Minister Mansoor Khan for the Progressive Punjab Agricultural Summit from February 16 to 19. Badal who invited prominent political leaders from other states – not only those ruled by the BJP, but other non-Congress parties as well – is among the first Indian CMs who has invited a delegation from Pakistan for such a summit. It would be pertinent also to point out that exactly 15 years ago, the Punjab CM was amongst other eminent personalities who accompanied then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the short but significant bus journey from Amritsar to Lahore.

The Pakistan Punjab Governor Muhammad Sarwar, who happened to be in India, also met Badal on the sidelines of the summit and spoke in favour of greater agricultural exchanges between the two Punjabs. Farmers’ groups from both the Punjabs have been in touch for a number of years, and there has been talk of exchange and collaboration between the Punjab Agricultural University (Ludhiana) and the Agricultural University in Faisalabad. The proposal, however, is yet to take shape.

It would be pertinent to point out that few other chief ministers have invited leaders from within the region for such summits. The focus generally is on showcasing investors from western countries and South East Asia. While Gujarat CM Narendra Modi had invited a delegation from Pakistan for Vibrant Gujarat in 2013, they had to return since they did not have visas for Gandhinagar. 

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had invited former Nepalese prime minister, Baburam Bhattarai for the Global Bihar Summit in 2012. Kumar, whose state does not share a contiguous border with Pakistan, also had a successful visit of the country in November 2012, and met a number of political players including then president Asif Ali Zardari and Shahbaz Sharif, CM of Pakistani Punjab.

Only time will tell whether the summit will pay political dividends in Punjab. This engagement with Pakistan will ensure that if an NDA dispensation comes to power, Badal can ensure that ties between the two Punjabs continue to be strengthened. 

If, like Badal, the CM of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje also realises the immense gains of cooperation between Rajasthan and Sindh, there will be even more pressure on a BJP-led dispensation to have a more nuanced approach towards Pakistan.

The writer is a New Delhi based columnist and independent policy analyst. 



From :      The News  , February 20, 2014