Undoubtedly there is a strategic imperative of peace between Pakistan and India because of their de facto status as nuclear-weapon states and the need to eradicate widespread poverty in both of them. An all-out war between them is unthinkable not only because of the unacceptable destruction that it would cause but also because it would degrade their economies and aggravate the grinding poverty from which their peoples currently suffer. The necessity for peace between Pakistan and India, however, does not mean that all the ingredients for amity and friendship between them are also available. For this purpose there are other necessary conditions which must be fulfilled.

The most important out of them is the compatibility of the strategic interests of the two countries. The second important condition is the existence of mutual trust and confidence, and the settlement of the outstanding disputes which have bedeviled the relations between Pakistan and India during the past six decades. The existence of cultural affinities would be another important condition for cementing friendly relations between the two countries. The final condition is the development of mutually beneficial cooperation between them to link the two countries in bonds of friendship. Real friendship between Pakistan and India will remain elusive as long as these essential conditions are not fulfilled. Mere statements of bonhomie by leaders cannot overcome the impediments caused by the non-fulfillment of these conditions.

To start with, there is a direct clash of the strategic interests of Pakistan and India. It should be well known to our leaders, senior officials and opinion makers that India’s fundamental strategic objective in South Asia is to establish its hegemony in the region. As noted Indian analyst, C. Raja Mohan, has pointed out India has sought primacy and a veto over the actions of outside powers in South Asia. (India and the Balance of Power, the Foreign Affairs, July-August, 2006).The reputable American scholar, Zbigniew Brzezinski, notes in his latest book “Strategic Vision–America and the Crisis of Global Power” that “Indian strategists speak openly of a greater India exercising a dominant position in area ranging from Iran to Thailand. India is also positioning itself to control the Indian Ocean militarily; its naval and air power programs point clearly in that direction—-as do politically guided efforts to establish for India strong positions, with geostrategic implications, in adjoining Bangladesh and Burma.” (p.85)

Pakistan is unlikely to accept Indian hegemony in South Asia. Such an acceptance would mean that decisions about Pakistan’s destiny would be made in New Delhi rather than in Islamabad. Pakistan’s rejection of the Indian hegemony in South Asia implies constant tensions and frictions in relations between the two countries, and even the risk of limited armed conflicts below the nuclear threshold. Obviously such a situation would not be conducive to the establishment of genuine and enduring friendship between Pakistan and India. Additional strategic factors which militate against genuine friendship between the two countries are India’s emerging rivalry with China, and its efforts to outflank Pakistan in Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia. The reality is that the direct clash of the strategic interests of the two countries is unlikely to disappear any time soon. So the resultant frictions and tensions are likely to persist in the foreseeable future.

Pakistan-India relations also suffer from the absence of mutual trust and confidence due to historical reasons, particularly wars fought between them from time to time, as well as the existence of serious outstanding disputes topped by the Kashmir dispute. There are no indications that this state of affairs would undergo any radical change in the near future. India has not demonstrated any willingness to move towards the peaceful settlement of outstanding disputes. Its decision to resile from the implementation of the agreement on Siachen in fact shows an inclination to move in the opposite direction. These factors naturally would have negative implications for efforts to strengthen friendly relations between Pakistan and India.

Another factor with negative implications for friendship between Pakistan and India is the absence of cultural affinities between their peoples. After all, serious cultural differences were one of the most important factors responsible for the creation of Pakistan. As Quaid-i-Azam pointed out in his correspondence with Gandhi in 1944, “We maintain and hold that Muslims and Hindus are two different nations by any definition or test of a nation. We are a nation of a hundred million and, what is more, we are a nation with our own distinctive culture and civilization, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of values and proportion, legal laws and moral codes, customs and calendar, history and traditions, aptitudes and ambitions. In short, we have our own distinct outlook on life and of life. By all canons of international laws we are a nation.”(The Struggle for Pakistan, Ishtiaq Husain Qureshi, p.216)

In view of the foregoing, it is surprising that the Punjab Chief ,Shahbaz Sharif, during his recent visit to the Indian Punjab, perhaps carried away by the warm welcome that he got from his hosts, talked about common bonds of “culture” between Punjabis on both sides of the border, according to newspaper reports. If he has been correctly quoted, there is a need to remind him that, tested on the touchstone of the Quaid’s above mentioned statement, the cultural differences between the peoples in Pakistani and Indian Punjabs far outweigh any commonalities that may exist between them. While one cannot disagree with the idea of people-to-people contacts between the Indian and Pakistani Punjabs or for that matter between the peoples of Pakistan and India to promote mutual understanding, we should always remain cognizant of our separate cultural identity and the need to develop it keeping in view the principles of religious tolerance and human brotherhood. However, realistically speaking, cultural barriers and differences will always remain a serious obstacle in the promotion of genuine friendship between Pakistan and India.

As pointed out earlier, mutually beneficial cooperation in economic, commercial, technical and cultural fields can have a positive impact on the establishment of friendly linkages between Pakistan and India. However, strategic differences, serious disputes, and cultural differences between the two countries will act as a hindrance in the development of mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation. Therefore, realistically speaking, the impact of bilateral cooperation on the promotion of Pakistan-India friendship will remain limited in the foreseeable future.

Pakistan should manage its relationship with India keeping in view both the opportunities that it offers and the limitations from which it suffers. The maintenance of peaceful relations with India should be our top priority. We should avoid adventurism and Kargil type mistakes in our dealings with India. But due to the various factors mentioned earlier, it would be unrealistic to expect that peaceful relations with India would blossom into a genuine friendship in the foreseeable future. The likelihood instead is that Pakistan-India relations will remain prone to occasional tensions and frictions.

In view of our nuclear deterrent, the real Indian threat to our security will be carried out on the economic, cultural and political fronts. Therefore, internally, we should focus on the strengthening of our economy and accelerating our economic growth while maintaining our deterrent at the lowest level of forces and armaments. Our failure in the economic field will encourage India in the pursuit of its hegemonic designs. While maintaining our internal political stability, we should preserve and develop our distinct cultural identity. Finally, our cooperation with India in various fields should be mutually beneficial and on a level playing field.

The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.