When Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna arrives in Islamabad later this week, his visit will do little to excite popular opinion both in India and Pakistan. As a consequence of a gradual but continuous improvement in India-Pakistan ties in recent years, the overall mood with regard to bilateral relations has only improved. This is in contrast to a time when the prospect of Indian and Pakistani leaders coming together was a widely noticeable ice-breaker.
In large part, this visit may indeed be a development worth celebrating. The two countries have spent a lot of their independence years distrusting each other. But efforts to overcome this mutual distrust may just be the beginning of a journey to transform the lives of more than a billion people in India and Pakistan. For ordinary people, the relationship needs to begin delivering a more robust economic partnership for it to be meaningful and productive.
The business community in Pakistan is seeking substantial growth in trade with India. This follows India’s business community seeking more liberalisation in trade with Pakistan. Perhaps, a testimony to the events of the past 12 to 24 months is, indeed, the mood at the Wagah border crossing in to India, just outside Pakistan’s city of Lahore. At Wagah, Indian and Pakistani authorities have expanded the infrastructure to facilitate trade. India and Pakistan have the scope to expand their ties in other areas of professional services such as education and health care.
Yet, a transition which eventually creates openness of the kind enjoyed and cherished by inhabitants of European countries will only come about after a resolution of key disputes. India and Pakistan not only inherited disputes, but added new ones in the past 65 years.
For any observer of India-Pakistan relations, the word ‘Kashmir’ instantly brings back memories of military conflict. The countries have fought three wars. Based on this history, it is clear that an enduring peace process will require India and Pakistan to eventually settle the dispute.
There are many who may be tempted to place this matter in the so-called proverbial ‘cold store’, as a way to seek normalisation through closer trade and economic ties. It is possible that there may be a relative improvement in relations between these two countries. But there is equally a danger of the momentum getting lost in times to come, unless the political dispute over Kashmir is resolved.
The dispute over Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram mountain range is another obstacle to building bridges of trust. The fact that this dispute, which dates back to the 1980s, is still unresolved, which says much about the ability of India and Pakistan to resolve the trust deficit.
Other unresolved matters include disputes over sea and land boundaries. It is vital for India and Pakistan to demonstrate that they are making substantial progress towards resolving the Kashmir dispute as a first step. This is not just important to prove to the world that India and Pakistan have the capacity to overcome their most pressing differences, but it is also vital to work as a building block towards establishing a future relationship. That allows both India and Pakistan to emerge as key members of an increasingly active and important new bloc in global relations.
Unless India and Pakistan successfully break from their past, it will be difficult for the two countries to press for greater global recognition, for instance, by virtue of their status as the world’s newest nuclear powers. Instead, they will then face the risk of remaining not too far from each others’ throats, notwithstanding the enthusiasm that appears to have cropped up recently with growing trade and economic relations.

The writer is a political and economic analyst. This article has been reproduced from the Gulf News.