In the Indo-Pak subcontinent, two local terms known as Dosti and Kutti can be heard on playing fields and in classrooms all across the region. The first signifies making a friendship, while the second means breaking it.
A hand in dosti or friendship is extended by joining the index and middle fingers and pointing it to the person one would like to get acquainted with. If the other party accepts, he or she will extend the same gesture and the fingers of the two will politely make contact. Kutti, on the other hand, is done by the two former friends interlocking their little fingers and pulling – the harder they pull, the more permanent the split.
India’s newly-elected Prime Minster Narendra Modi recently extended his hand in dosti (friendship) – figuratively speaking – to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif by inviting the latter to his inauguration in Delhi next week.
Sharif must choose wisely here. A rejection of Modi’s invitation could easily result in the Indian prime minister retracting his two fingers of friendship and producing the pinky. On the other hand, the Pakistani premiere could ruffle a number of feathers at home by showing eagerness to mend the troubled relationship between the neighboring nuclear states.
"On the one hand it's a good gesture that should be taken as a sign of peacemaking by Modi, but at the same time the baggage that he carries makes it very difficult for the government. There is a widespread belief in Pakistan that he was behind the massacres in Gujarat," said Aziz Ahmed Khan, the former Pakistani high commissioner to Delhi.
Sharif’s close aide and Pakistani Senator Tariq Azeem said that while the prime minister is keen on building ties with India, one must tread gingerly. "There are people obviously who want to wait and see whether Gujarat man turns into New Delhi man," he said. "There is that fear and apprehension in some quarters."
Many in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan see Modi as an enemy of not just Indian Muslims, but people from the faith in general. His hardliner Hindu stance, coupled with his complete inaction during the bloody 2012 Gujrat Riots, while he was chief minister of the state, will forever make him a villain in the eyes of many Pakistanis.
The Pakistan Army, which was responsible for the ouster of Sharif’s second government, would also have some strong reservations of improved relations between Islamabad and New Delhi. Not only do the soldiers on both sides still bear the scars of past wars, but a reduced defense budget would not sit well with Pakistan’s all-powerful generals.
On the other hand, increased trade with India can only help Pakistan’s struggling economy. If exchange between the neighbors opens up, it will favor Pakistani consumers, who will have access to a wider variety of products at cheaper prices. While some manufacturers in the Islamic republic may suffer due to increased competition, the overall gain would outweigh the loss as raw materials and inputs would come cheaper. Besides, increased employment from enhanced trade is another key factor to be taken into consideration.
Increased regional stability could also be one of the key benefits of improved Pak-India ties.
Professor Kishore Dash of the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, USA, wrote in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, that greater trade would not only increase the bilateral trade 10 times but also expand market access, economic growth, energy benefits and regional stability.
Speaking of regional stability, with terrorism being a very real threat on both sides of the border, mutual cooperation could go a long way in rooting out militants from the region, especially Afghanistan.
Perhaps most importantly, the easing of tensions between the two nuclear powers could reduce the billions of dollars India and Pakistan spend on defense. This will allow the governments to reduce poverty, provide better healthcare and infrastructure, apart from focusing on the economy to bring about much-needed improvement in the standards of living of their people.
With the ball in Nawaz Sharif’s court, many people on both sides of the border would like to see the Pakistani premiere accept Modi’s invitation.
However, with a severe lack of trust between India and Pakistan, both will be straining their eyes to read between the lines of any statement, gesture or overture from either side. In the larger interest of their nations and the region, stakeholders will be hoping the two can reach a middle ground.