Imagine the idea of the European Union taking root in the Indian Subcontinent – a place where people could move freely across borders with minimal hindrance. How it would alter the lives of the people who belong to this region; people who already share so much in terms of culture, languages and history. Thousands of families that are currently scattered across borders could have access to their relatives without fretting about ‘official’ permissions. The time and resources that this would save could be allocated so much more usefully in other areas.
An open border would also encourage free trade agreements which, in turn, would enhance business volumes and harvest greater profits. Precious resources are currently being wasted in long-winded bureaucratic procedures. Trade barriers such as tariffs and embargoes restrict trade volumes, causing losses worth billions of dollars to the countries’ respective economies. And so we have a scenario where the people of the Subcontinent are having to source products present in their own neighbourhoods from around the world; a process that involves major carbon emissions into the earth’s atmosphere and is contributing to global warming (cited by experts as a major cause of the floods that ravaged Pakistan in 2010).
The combined power of the markets of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh would far surpass China, giving a bargaining advantage to these countries and help in winning multi-lateral trade agreements. ‘Big is Beautiful’ still holds true for consumer markets. A free flow would also create more jobs and increase per capita income. Workers would not have to move to far-flung places in search of jobs – it would be as simple as knocking on a neighbour’s door. The opportunity to exchange skills and ideas would only add to our collective strength and would help us realise the synergies that are currently not being exploited.
With all these obvious benefits, it seems senseless to be deliberately depriving ourselves of options that would only make the quality of life better for the people of our country. The enormous amounts we currently spend on defence are crippling our ability to move forward. And the instability we live with due to a constant threat of war or aggression from our neighbours is keeping us from realising our true potential. Yes, there is Kashmir, and there is water, and there is a history of suspicion, grievances and conflict that cannot just be wished away. But building trust has to start somewhere, and where better to start than with direct interaction between our people?
Given the turbulent history of our region, my thoughts may sound like fantasies to some. For long we have harboured an attitude that deems the current status quo as the only available option. But examples from the rest of the world prove that a new era is in fact possible. The Germans and the French fought each other just half a century ago (World War II), but today they both belong to the European Union. The difference in this example and our own reality is that France and Germany have realised what we have yet to accept:
‘War is a game where both sides lose’.