National flags of India and Pakistan. Photo: iStock
National flags of India and Pakistan. Photo: iStock

Under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Pakistan and India are participating in six days of anti-terrorism exercises in Chebarkul, a town in Chelyabinsk Oblast in Russia.

There is a 110-member contingent from Pakistan, a 200-member contingent from India, and 748 members from China – altogether 3,000 professional troops from all member states are conducting joint anti-terrorism exercises. They will continue until Wednesday.

Pakistan and India joined the SCO in 2017 and attended their first summit this June in Qingdao, China. The SCO is a platform for regional cooperation in security, trade and culture. After joining the organization, all member states are bound to resolve all their disputes through peaceful dialogue.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, just after winning election, in a speech on July 26 said Pakistan wanted good relations with all countries, and he particularly mentioned India. Later on, in a tweet on August 21, Khan proposed talks with India on all issues including Jammu and Kashmir.

He further proposed that bilateral trade agreements be considered as a first step toward confidence-building.

For his part, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also mentioned the possibility of dialogue in his message to Khan on the occasion of his winning the July 25 election.

It is worth mentioning that Pakistani and Indian forces have worked together under United Nations peacekeeping missions in the past.

Traditional rivals

Pakistan and India won independence from British rule in 1947. Since independence, they have fought three major wars and have had numerous border disputes. The two countries are traditional rivals and have engaged in a cold war, an economic war, and a diplomatic war. Yet both countries face similar challenges, such as poverty.

Common citizens are deprived of basic necessities of life such as education, good food, and health care. Both countries face extremism, intolerance and global warming. If bilateral relations were normalized, the money saved on defense expenditures could be utilized for socio-economic welfare. The poor on both sides would benefit.

However, a lot has to be done and hard decisions have to be made. India recently signed a defense agreement with the United States worth US$8 billion, which should be reviewed as it will create an arms race and destabilize the whole region. India has disputes with all of its neighboring countries and any increase in the defense budget may be a direct threat to neighboring states.

The US is extending economic assistance and defense support to India to contain China, but India may not use its strength against China, but more likely against its smaller neighbors. The US is providing India with the latest technologies, the latest weapons, and India has become the largest beneficiary of the US after Israel. India is also collaborating with Israel closely in defense and economic matters.

India is facing serious domestic issues, especially with its lower castes and minorities. Superior-class Hindus and extremists Hindu organizations are given a free hand to suppress “untouchables” and minorities.

Women are the worst victims. The number of rape cases is growing. Homeless people, street children, lack of clean drinking water and toilet facilities, and malnutrition are major domestic challenges. Human-rights violations are widespread. Uprisings in Punjab, Bihar, Kashmir and Nagaland are gaining momentum.

Pakistan is a peace-loving nation and would like to offer all possible options to India to change its mindset and move forward for peace. It has made such proposals to India in the past, and the new government is also offering to normalize relations with India.

We Pakistanis believe in diplomacy and dialogue. The SCO platform is also a good option for resolving disputes. Pakistan is an open-minded country and willing to discuss all possible options based on mutual benefits.

The new prime minister, Imran Khan, is a man of principles and believes in justice for all. He respects others and expects respect in return. He may move two steps forward if India moves one step forward, as he mentioned in his post-election speech.

We already missed an opportunity with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which promotes regional peace, stability, cooperation and development, as India tried to hijack it and turn it into a dysfunctional organization. We should learn the lessons from the past and avoid repeating the same mistakes again and again, especially under the current geopolitical scenario, which is rather tense and hostile.

I am optimistic that India will understand and avail this opportunity of resolving all issues permanently. The ball is in India’s court. I also request that intellectuals, academicians, civil society, think-tanks, and the middle and lower classes of both sides  promote peace. Let the people of both sides enjoy the basic amenities of life instead of hostility.

Zamir Awan

Professor Zamir Ahmed Awan is a sinologist at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) Chinese Studies Center of Excellence, Islamabad, Pakistan. Posted to the Pakistani Embassy in Beijing as science counselor (technical affairs) from 2010-16, he was responsible for promoting cooperation between Pakistan and China in science, technology, and higher education.

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