Peace between Pakistan and India is a strategic imperative because of their status as de facto nuclear weapon states and the existence of widespread poverty in both of them. The former makes war between them unthinkable because of its likely devastating effects on their peoples and the region. The latter dictates added emphasis on economic development and eradication of poverty, which in turn requires regional peace and stability. It is only in a climate of peace that the two countries can afford to allocate their resources to the massive task of economic growth, instead of squandering them on military expenditures. Admittedly, the second factor has greater relevance for Pakistan, which currently is suffering from economic stagnation and other serious economic problems. But even for India, which has achieved high levels of economic growth during the past two decades, the need for peace is no less because a large portion of its population continues to suffer from grinding poverty. A climate of peace and harmony in South Asia is also a must if India has to fulfil its ambitions of emerging as a great power of the 21st century. An India, which is tied down by disputes and acrimony with its neighbours, especially Pakistan, cannot hope to realise these aspirations. There is no doubt that both India and Pakistan have made mistakes in the management of their bilateral relations. The Kashmir dispute has been and continues to be a major hurdle in the normalisation of their relations. Indias intransigence and refusal to implement the relevant UN Security Council resolutions have been primarily responsible for this lingering dispute, which has bedevilled the relations between the two countries for decades. But Pakistan has had its own share of mistakes, which have not helped its case on Kashmir. A deeper and, perhaps, a more lasting source of tension between Islamabad and New Delhi is Indias quest for hegemony in South Asia, which Pakistan refuses to accept. As reflected by the recent statement of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Chennai, Washington seems to be encouraging Indias hegemonic ambitions, in the hope of building up India a counterweight to China. Other disputes such as Siachen, Sir Creek, the distribution of river waters and terrorism have played their own role in poisoning the Pakistan-India relations. Wars, lingering disputes and mutual recriminations have left a legacy of mistrust between Pakistan and India making the task of normalisation of their relations that much more daunting. Despite these difficulties, the two countries have no choice, but to continue their dialogue with a view to building up mutual trust and confidence, exploring the possibilities of mutually beneficial cooperation, resolving outstanding disputes and, generally speaking, learning to live as good neighbours at peace with each other. It would be unrealistic to expect dramatic and quick results out of this process of dialogue. What is more likely is that if the two countries succeed in continuing the dialogue process, as they have decided at the recent meeting of their Foreign Ministers at New Delhi, there would be only slow and gradual progress in the areas mentioned above. Still, in view of the necessity of peace between them, they should not allow the extremist groups on either side of the border to interrupt the process of dialogue. Confidence building measures (CBMs) are, perhaps, the easiest to be adopted in the process of normalisation of Pakistan-India relations, but even they would require painstaking negotiations in the areas of nuclear and conventional CBMs. It will be interesting to see how far and how fast the expert groups on these issues make progress in their scheduled meetings in September this year, as decided by the two Foreign Ministers last month. The progress made in the building up of trust and confidence between Pakistan and India will have ripple effects in other areas. As mutual trust grows, it would become easier to promote mutual cooperation in various areas and make progress towards the solution of various disputes. Efforts for the promotion of mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields, particularly in economic and commercial areas, and the resolution of outstanding disputes must continue with CBMs. Both Pakistan and India stand to benefit from the increase of bilateral trade, provided it takes place on a level playing field covering both the tariff and non-tariff trade barriers. The Pakistani negotiators in their future talks with their Indian counterparts must ensure that bilateral trade and economic cooperation should not become an instrument for the domination and control of Pakistans economy by India. We need to take each step carefully after studying not only its economic effects, but also its security and political repercussions. In short, we must strike a balance between rejecting outright all proposals for the promotion of mutual trade and economic cooperation, and rushing into schemes of economic cooperation with India without thinking through their long-term repercussions. It is difficult to see how Pakistan and India can live as good neighbours, unless some progress is made towards the resolution of their outstanding disputes. Obviously, there are some disputes that are amenable to resolution in the near future, given mutual trust and sincerity of purpose. This should apply to disputes such as those relating to Siachen, Sir Creek and distribution of river waters. However, the Kashmir dispute, which carries a heavy emotional and historical baggage on both sides, will take much longer before a final settlement is reached that is acceptable to Pakistan, India and the people of Kashmir. While negotiations for a final peaceful settlement must continue, Pakistan and India in the interim should take steps to facilitate cross-LoC trade and travel, in addition to practical measures by New Delhi in the Indian held Kashmir (IHK) for safeguarding the human rights of the Kashmiri people, the withdrawal of the bulk of Indian forces from IHK as the militancy winds down, and the grant of autonomy to the people of the area. While the joint statement issued after the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Pakistan and India at New Delhi on July 27 narrates a number of steps for facilitating cross-LoC travel and trade, there is no mention of any steps by India to improve the human rights conditions in IHK. Hopefully, future meetings between the representatives of the two countries will tackle this issue also. It is clear from the latest Pakistan-India joint statement that India has succeeded in raising the issue of terrorism, including the progress on the Mumbai terrorist attacks trial to the top of the agenda, while Jammu and Kashmir has been relegated to a much lower position among the issues discussed by the two countries. This is not surprising considering the international pressure to which Pakistan has been subjected on the issue of terrorism because of the activities of Al-Qaeda and other militant outfits on our soil, which allegedly had links to terrorist incidents in other parts of the world. Our isolation on this issue internationally is primarily the result of the flawed Kashmir and Afghanistan policies pursued by our military establishment in the 1990s. The latest evidence of our negative international image on this issue was the recent official statement by China, our most important strategic partner, that the groups responsible for terrorist activities in Xinjiang had received training in Pakistan. It is, therefore, in our own interest to take effective steps to eradicate the vestiges of terrorism on our soil. It is also equally important that India gives up its hegemonic designs in South Asia. Unless India discards its hegemonic ambitions in South Asia, the goal of durable peace, stability and harmony in the region will remain a pipedream. n The writer is a retired ambassador. Email: