The letter that Shahbaz Sharif has written to his counterpart in the Indian Punjab asks him to sit together to find a solution to one environmental hazard that does not believe in the border regime nor does it need any passport to travel; smog. The letter is a proposal by Shahbaz to Amarinder to enter into a regional agreement to control the menace of smog and protect the populations on both sides of the border from the ill effects of the phenomenon. Although a lot of factors jointly cause the smog, CM’s letter points out the practice of stubble burning by Punjabi farmers on both side of the border as one of the main contributing factor. A plea of making collective effort to control smog is made in the letter.

Given that both countries are at loggerheads with each other because of the longstanding issues, many problems need joint solutions. There are many areas where both nations can cooperate and benefit enormously. Leaving aside the issues that are yet to find a solution, both countries need to come together and work on joint problems to protect their populations from the adverse effects of menaces like terrorism and climate change. Similarly, there are areas of cooperation, which can boost up the economies of both countries.

In these times of transition, geographical disputes are not the only issues that are at play against both the nations. Nor should cooperation be put to a halt because of one or two unresolved issues. Interaction with each other will help both countries in a better understanding of the other. Smog is the prime example of a joint problem, caused by unregulated activity on both sides of the border and affecting both sides equally. Blaming crop burning from the other side – a practice that both governments have use in the past to deflect criticism and responsibility – will only punt the problem down the line, to be tackled next winter anew. Only strong regulatory measures, set in place before the seasonal menace, will mitigate the problem.

If Indian Punjab entertains the letter positively, it will surely help in trust building. We have already seen that thorny issues of territories in Europe took a backseat to the advantages of regional cooperation. Even if cordial relations between Delhi and Islamabad are impossible at the moment, Lahore and Candigarh must not be deterred.