“Liberals” will argue that economic interdependence and increased people to people contact will, eventually, change Pakistan’s mindset, improve relations and lead to the betterment of the people of the two nations. Several studies have estimated the peace dividends emanating from better relations between India and Pakistan. It has been contended that “…if adequate confidence is built between these two countries mainly triggered by a deeper and wider economic exchange, people to people contacts and other institutional linkages, there is an increasing possibility that the defense spending in real terms may finally see a downward trend” (“India Pakistan Relations: Creating Stakeholders and Constituencies for Interdependence” by Lama Mahendra P., in the Prakash Nanda edited Rising India: Friends and Foes). The capitalist peace theory is oft quoted in the remark, “No two countries that had McDonald’s had fought a war against each other…” (Thomas L. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree). But empirical evidence is yet to substantiate this argument in the context of India and Pakistan, especially since the latter keeps continuing with its proxy war against the former. Rather, in the case of India-Pakistan, counter-productive forces are evident both in terms of people-to-people contact and trade.
PEOPLE TO PEOPLE CONTACT
Let’s first take the case of people-to-people contact: a substantial number of Pakistani nationals has been overstaying in India, beyond their visa limitations. Visa services for Pakistani nationals are governed by the India-Pakistan Bilateral Visa Agreement, 2012. Visas issued to Pakistani nationals are city specific and ordinarily a visa is endorsed only for travel to five places during each visit. As on 31 December 2013, 15,179 Pakistanis were in the country on expired visas, as per a statement tabled in the Rajya Sabha on 9 December 2014. Nearly 28% of Pakistani nationals, who were issued Indian visas under various categories between 1 January 2014 and 31 December 2015, overstayed their permit. Of the 48,510 Pakistani nationals who overstayed during this two-year period, around 25% (12,200) left the country by the end of 2015. However, as many as 36,310 Pakistanis with expired visas continued to stay in the country, the Rajya Sabha was informed on 5 April 2017.
Under the Foreigners Act 1946, any foreign national staying in the country illegally can be deported. In the event of overstay, the person is liable for prosecution under Section 14 of the Foreigners Act 1946, can face imprisonment of up to five years, a fine and then expulsion. All Pakistani nationals, except for some exemptions, are required to register themselves in person at the nearest police station, or with the Foreigners Registration Officer (FRO), or Foreigners Regional Registration Officer (FRRO), within 24 hours of reaching the specified place of stay. Despite these rules, it is often difficult to locate these Pakistani nationals. A 26 May 2017 report in a national newspaper mentioned that a Pakistani national was arrested from Haryana’s Jhajjar with false identity and even PAN and Aadhar cards. Three Pakistanis arrested in Bengaluru recently had Aadhar and voter ID cards with them. India cannot afford to have such people-to-people to contacts that allow inimical elements to remain in the nation, without control or knowledge. If this be the case, terrorists do not need to undertake all the challenges required to cross the LoC. They just need to come here with valid visas and disappear. We cannot discount the possibility of a certain number of Pakistani nationals with visas overstaying, becoming “sleepers” and spies, and then trying to subvert the Indian state. People-to-people contact with Pakistan, hence, has serious national security connotations.
Let’s now take the case of cross-border trade. The quantum of informal trade flows between India and Pakistan, for instance through Dubai, is substantial. According to a study by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), informal trade flows between India and Pakistan were estimated to be $4.71 billion in 2013-14. Of this, India’s exports to Pakistan are estimated to be $3.99 billion and imports from Pakistan $0.72 billion. Take the example of cement. India’s import of cement from Pakistan has registered a growth of 79.34% between July 2016 and January 2017, totalling 7.52 lakh MT. Among other companies, Fauji Cement Company belonging to the Pakistan armed forces, exports cement to India. This trade, thus, provides resources to Pakistan army’s corporate venture, profits from which could be used to carry out inimical activities against India. Moreover, the cement trade also acts as a conduit to smuggle drugs into India. Of the many seizures of drugs from Pakistan, some have been made from bags carrying cement and using the rail route to come to India. In one case, just one consignment of drugs captured from cement bags weighed as much as 105 kg. It is near-impossible to verify an entire cement cargo coming by train from Lahore to Amritsar. Such trade ventures, thus, weaken national security and cannot be allowed to take place. India has credible cement production capabilities to offset any non-availability in northern India. Moreover, the Lahore-Amritsar train is known for smuggling drugs into India and needs better sanitisation. In fact, what is the rationale behind importing Pakistani cement, which has been produced in places like the Wah Cantonment in Rawalpindi for the Pakistani armed forces’ Fauji Foundation?
In Kashmir, trade routes through Chakan da Bagh and Kaman continue to function despite great tensions on the LoC. There have been reports that brown sugar has been smuggled into India using these trade routes. On 21 July 2017, the Jammu and Kashmir police seized 66.5 kg of narcotics, including heroin and brown sugar, worth Rs 300 crore from a truck which was part of a merchandise-laden convoy of lorries coming from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). The seizure was made at the LoC Trade Facilitation Centre at Salamabad near Uri in Kashmir’s Baramulla district. The narcotics had allegedly been concealed in “fake cavities specifically fabricated for this purpose in boxes purportedly to contain mercantile goods”. In spite of such occurrences, the J&K government reiterated in a recent statement that cross-LoC trade would not be allowed to be shut. It has been reported that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has prepared a dossier on how cross-LoC trade poses a security threat, as it is a conduit of illicit funds. These routes commenced in 2005 with the noble intention of allowing Kashmiris on both sides of LoC to connect with each other. That objective may or may not have been achieved, but the negative impacts these have had on India’s security require to be studied.
Confidence building measures have great intent, of which, economic interdependence and people to people contact are the primary objectives. But as time has proven, confidence has not been built over the years. On the contrary, India-Pakistan relations have got worse due to Pakistan’s intransigence. To allow Pakistan any sort of advantage, while adversely affecting India’s own interest, is not a sign of wisdom.
Such confidence building measures must be re-audited, and if need be, jettisoned soonest.
Rakesh Sharma is a retired Lieutenant General of the Indian Army.