x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Asian giants are a year older, but are they wiser?

India and Pakistan, marking 65 years of independence, may now come to realise how much better they could both do if they co-operated more.

Sixty-five years ago this week, the long-running rule of one colonial power over a large part of the Asian subcontinent came to an end. In the place of British India were raised two flags, of Pakistan and India. The first declared its independence August 14, 1947, the latter the day after.

The six-and-a-half decades since have been anything but brotherly. Partition itself was bloody, leaving up to a million dead. Since then, the two countries have fought three wars and built nuclear arsenals with which to threaten each other. They have pursued destructive regional policies to try to one-up each other. And the long-running dispute over the territory of Kashmir is far from resolved.

And yet - as politicians on both sides cynically and truthfully say - the two countries need each other. On a host of issues, especially over security and development, the common interests of the two are greater than their differences. Take two bread and butter political issues: water and trade.

Water is a serious issue for both countries, fed as they are from the common Indus River watershed. In both countries agriculture is an important industry, and problems with the flow of the Indus and its various tributaries have serious consequences for the economy. Population growth, industrialisation and ecological changes have affected the levels of the river, and the two countries have traded accusations of blame.

In theory, this should be a topic where compromise could be possible. Instead it has brought only friction. The Indus Water Treaty of 1960 is meant to regulate the use of the river waters the countries share, but instead both sides have refused to update the pact while security tensions persist.

Then there is the issue of trade, which ought to be natural bridge between two countries that share a common history and even similar languages. But while there is trade between these two Asian giants, it is a small percentage compared to each country's trade with other nations.

Look at the numbers from one country, the UAE. According to the Atlantic Council, the percentage of total exports from India and from Pakistan, to the Emirates in 2009-10, was 13.4 per cent and 8.9 per cent, respectively. Now, compare that to the percentage of total exports that year between the two: 1.01 per cent of India's exports went to Pakistan, and 1.7 per cent of Pakistan's to India. For two big neighbours, there are precious few goods moving between them.

In much of the world, people think about retiring when they reach their mid-60s. For these two Asian giants, whose enmity has now spanned two centuries, closer relations are long overdue. But if two countries with so much in common can't agree on water and food, the only option is to keep working, even as the years pile up.