Multi-Track Diplomacy in South Asia: A Case Study of the Punjabs


by Tridivesh S. Maini
December 2007

Apart from facilitating "conflict resolution" between countries, the various tracks/strands of diplomacy are important tools for enhancing "cooperation" between different regions of the world. For instance, multi-track diplomacy can play a crucial role in promoting cooperation in the South Asian region of the Punjab–bifurcated between India and Pakistan in 1947. After the partition of the sub-continent in 1947, the larger chunk of Punjab (West Punjab) went to Pakistan while the remaining part of Punjab (East Punjab) went to India.1

If one were to compare the relative size of both the Punjabs, West Punjab clearly occupies a much higher percentage of Pakistan's territory. The largest division of the Punjab today is Pakistani Punjab which is 25% of Pakistan's territory and 56% of Pakistan's population, while in India, the state of Punjab represents approximately 1.6% of India's territory and holds 2.3% of India's entire population.2

The border cities of Lahore (Pakistani Punjab) and Amritsar (Indian Punjab, referred to as the holy city of the Sikhs) are now separated by the Wagah border but once shared a special relationship, like twin cities in the pre-partition days. Recently, as Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh himself noted, all South Asians should envisage a scenario "where citizens can actually partake, breakfast at Amritsar, lunch at Lahore and dinner at Kabul."3 In another speech, he once said that "cities like Lahore and Amritsar should once again become throbbing international commercial centres serving the entire region.4

The Punjabs have had no direct conflict with each other since the partition of India and the formation of Pakistan in 1947, when most Punjabis endured large population exchanges. In the wars of 1965 and 1971, again the Punjab provinces on both sides bore the brunt of the conflict between the two South Asian neighbors. It is also important to note that a sizeable percentage of both armies hail from their respective Punjab provinces—a pattern that began during Britain's colonial period and inspired Punjab's knickname, "the garrison state."5 While the number of army personnel from the Indian Punjab is reducing, the Pakistani army continues to be dominated by Punjabis.6

Despite no direct clashes/conflicts between the Punjabs, the estranged relationship between the federal governments of both the countries continues to hinder ties between the two Punjab populations. In the last three years, however, there have been sports and cultural exchanges, as well as visits by business delegations on both sides. Some initiatives have been promoted by the two governments, and NGOs have promoted a few joint research initiatives between the two Punjabs.7 It would seem that a miniscule but influential portion within each central government is even skeptical of soft exchanges in areas like education and sports, which are useful methods for building mutual trust and a strong edifice for closer cooperation on trade and commerce issues.8

To explore this issue, it is instructive to examine four specific tracks of diplomacy that could usher in greater cooperation between the Punjabs: government; communication; business; and research, training and education.

Government


At the federal level, both Dr. Manmohan Singh and General Musharraf have encouraged exchanges between the Punjabs, and the former went so far as to say emphatically that:

There are many things that the two Punjabs can learn from each other's development experience. We must encourage people-to-people contacts between actors in civil society, between academics, businessmen, artistes, and most importantly, the common people.9

The erstwhile Chief Minister of East Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, and the present Chief Minister of West Punjab, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, had established a very good rapport as early as their first meeting together. And the realization of bus services between East Punjab and West Punjab was a direct result of their perspicacity. In contrast, ever since the new government in East Punjab has taken over, there have been hardly any government-government exchanges, thus soiling the successful and difficult steps his predecessor had taken to improve inter-Punjab relations.. Fortunately, however, many key business entrepreneurs, intellectuals and civil society leaders have been pressuring both governments to restart the tenuous but necessary confidence-building measures between the two communities.

Communication


Even if little else had been achieved by renewed communication between the Punjabs, at least the silence has been broken. Yet despite the absence of any fundamental political differences between the two Punjabs, they have traditionally felt compelled to follow the political lines pursued by their respective countries. Fortunately, in the last few years both provinces have shown the will to encourage people-to-people contact, and specific examples are worth a close examination.

Cultural and Intellectual Exchanges


The Punjabs share the same culture, heritage, spoken language (although their written scripts are different), common folk tales, Sufi Saints and poetry, among other similarities. Many cultural organizations like the World Punjabi Congress have been actively involved in promoting these exchanges.10 It might be mentioned that such organizations were also the first to address issues like cumbersome visa procedures and the opening of direct trade between India and Pakistan.

Apart from cultural interaction, the Center for Research in Rural and Industrial Development at Chandigarh, has also set up a "Two Punjab Center," which is conducting research on possible cooperation between the Punjabs in the spheres of economics, education and culture.11

Tourism


In the case of the Punjab, there are some major tourist attractions for people from both sides. Just as the Sikhs from East Punjab are keen to visit their holy shrines on the Pakistani side, so too are the Muslims from West Punjab eager to visit their shrines and other sites of historical significance in East Punjab. It might be argued that the religious pilgrimages of Sikhs to their holy shrines in Pakistan have actually played a positive role in the thaw between the two countries in general and the Punjabs in particular. The government of Pakistani Punjab has also been making efforts to improve the upkeep of shrines and easing out of visa procedures for pilgrims. One of the groundbreaking measures came in 2006 with a bus service that travelled from Amritsar to Lahore and from Amritsar to Nankana Saheb.12 Furthermore, the Government of West Punjab has been making earnest efforts to attract Sikh tourists from all over the world to visit their religious shrines. It has been focusing on improving the infrastructure and easing out visa procedures for Sikh pilgrims.13

Apart from the religious shrines, there is a nostalgic longing among the survivors of the 1947 partition to revisit their erstwhile homes. Despite countless failed attempts to nullify burdensome visa restrictions, the visa regimes are only making the application process more convoluted and difficult. While Amritsar (East Punjab) is only a 30-minute drive from Lahore, any East Punjab must travel five hours to New Delhi, and any West Punjabi must make a similar trip (3.5 hours) to Islamabad to secure a visa. Thus, with such a tedious visa procedure the bus service has been a failure. On average, there are fewer than 4-5 passengers on any given bus, in either direction.14

Sports Exchanges


The Punjabs have also made significant strides toward greater cooperation as far as sports exchanges are concerned. In December 2004, the All Punjab Games were held in East Punjab, where competitions were held in traditional Punjabi sports like Kabaddi.15 During the course of the Punjab Games, the Chief Ministers of both the Punjabs drafted several innovative ideas to encourage greater interaction between the two provinces, including talk of trade between the provinces.

Regrettably, in 2005, the Games could not be held due to the earthquake in Pakistan, while in 2006 India cancelled the Games because of the tragic terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

While the Punjab Games idea has been lauded by all, it has been relegated to the background as a result of politics and the suspicious attitudes of central governments. Apart from the Punjab Games, it is also important to encourage exchanges in sports like cricket, which have an international appeal and attract the media's eye.

Business


Business is one of the most important tracks of diplomacy between the Punjabs, as both are losers in the current scenario, where substantial trade is impossible with such strained relations between the two South Asian neighbors. Traders and governments of both the Punjabs have time and again emphasized the importance of opening up the borders; the traders from East Punjab want greater access to Central Asian markets, while businesses from West Punjab are equally eqger to access the large North Indian markets, including those in Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi. Traders aside, however, opening up the borders would also benefit common Pakistanis, as it will give them the opportunity to buy cheaper goods. Currently, most trade between the Punjabs is done via Dubai, which benefits Dubai most and precludes the development of capital in either of the Punjabs.

Goods like sewing machines and bicycles that are exported from Indian Punjab to Singapore and Dubai, later and land in Lahore and Sahiwal and cost a lot to Pakistani consumers as middlemen in Mumbai and Singapore make good money as commission. A scooter, which costs Rs 25,000 in Amritsar, could be sold for more than Rs 70,000 after crossing the Radcliff Line, which is only 26 km from Amritsar. Cars and other items are much cheaper in Amritsar than in Lahore.16

While trade has commenced at Wagah border and soon trucks will be allowed to pass, certain improvements are vital to the success of this border crossing.. Serious recommendations for improving infrastructure have focused on the cargo system, the construction of proper quarantine facilities and so on. While the Indian government is paying some heed to these recommendations, the approach has lacked any sense of urgency. It is also important to open the other borders for trade routes like Hussainiwala (East Punjab) and Kasur, in addition to reviving every other land route.

It is important to note that one of the positive impacts of increasing interaction between Punjabis on both sides has been the extent of informal trade, especially between farmers on both sides of the border. For instance, Pakistani farmers have begun to import potato seeds from India, rather than Holland.17 Whereas one seed from Holland costs Rs. 70 (1.6$), the price in Jalandhar (Indian Punjab) is Rs. 24 (0.59 Cents).8

Education

Both Punjabs have a lot to gain from each other by way of educational cooperation, both theoretical and practical. The Punjab Agricultural University has been very keen to enhance cooperation with Faisalabad, but the Indian government has not given permission.19

Recommendations for Both Governments

Confidence Building Measures

The SAARC countries, especially those sharing common borders like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, should set up committees (in their own respective countries) which examine the progress of trans-border initiatives. These national committees can further report to a SAARC Committee which does an appraisal of progress made in initiatives taken by border regions. Currently there is no organized means of doing an appraisal of sub regional initiatives at the SAARC level. It is important to include historians and economists in the committees so that there is a blend of "emotion" and "reality". This system will also enable sub-regions to exchange their experiences and provide new ideas. A good example of similar problems is the lack of infrastructure for trade at many borders. Indo-China trade via Nathu-La Pass and Indo-Pak trade via the Wagah border are facing this problem.20

Put differently, these hints of progress "reflect the desire of the leadership of both the countries to forge a new era in promoting people-to-people contacts. However, to make the new services meaningful and truly people-oriented, the two Governments need to take a look at the fare structure and ensure visas are made available easily."21

Reducing Burdens of Visa Procedures

It is crucial for visa counters to be set up on both sides of the Wagah border to ensure that those who want to travel from Amritsar to Lahore and vice-versa do not have to travel ludicrous distances and make extra expenditures.22

Reducing Fares


It is also important to reduce the bus fares from Amritsar to Lahore and Nankana Sahib. Currently, passengers have to pay 700 Rs ($17) more for this 30-minute bus ride than they do for the journey between Delhi and Lahore.

Business


Not only should all impediments to commercial exchange be removed, but there should be active encouragement and incentives for such exchanges. For instance, if both Punjab chambers of commerce established a "Joint Punjab Chamber of Commerce," mutual tensions could be reduced and replaced with increased comfort levels between businessmen on both sides.23 Apart from this of course, there is no question that all trade routes between India and Pakistan needs to be opened as soon as possible. Serious research should also be done on the possibility of establishing a Free Trade Zone at the Wagah border. While this idea may seem utopian, it is nevertheless feasibly utopian. Instituting a Free Trade Zone would be the best deterrent against any future conflict between the two countries.

Lastly, many misunderstandings persist on both sides of the border, and education is the best way to mitigate them. To date, neither government is encouraging such exchanges, nor are they even dismantling the existent impediments to such exchanges.

Encouraging an annual cricket series


While the All Punjab games is an excellent idea, the sport which attracts the most media attention is cricket. It may be prudent for the two Punjabs to consider establishing an annual cricket series in Amritsar and Lahore. It could be a four-match series, played in both cities. More then anything else, this sort of series would mean that a hundred thousand Punjabis from both sides would have the chance to interact over a period of four days. It would also help in bolstering the economies of both cities, especially Amritsar.24 At the national level, cricket has had an immense impact on the relationship between the two countries, and there is little reason for this trend to remain solely at the national level. In fact, it has been aptly remarked that:

Cricket has become the fine art of contemporary politics in South Asia. Cricket won over the civil societies in Pakistan and India and has prepared the ground for Entente, if the good work of the cricketers is carried forward by the politicians and diplomats of both countries. The series has been a reminder that international relations cannot be decided by mere military strategies and diplomacy.25

Recommendations for Track-2 organizations


The primary objective of nongovernmental (Track 2) organizations should be enhancing the Punjab-Punjab relationship, not toeing any political line. It is also important for Track-2 organizations from the United States and other western countries to pay more attention to the role of the Punjab in the Indo-Pak peace initiative. The focus thus far has been inevitably on Kashmir.

All Track-2 organizations should work hand in hand irrespective of the track of diplomacy they are using to promote peace. Apart from this, however, it is important to realize the importance of Track 2 organizations, which can and do operate independent of political trends and priorities. A good example of one such organization is the Pak-India Peace Initiatves, headed by Awais Sheikh. With his sincerity and determination, he made it possible–for the first time in 60 years–for Pakistan and India to participate in the Joint Independence Day Celebrations on the 13th of August 2007.26

Conclusion


There is much to do before we are even close to realizing Dr. Manmohan Singh's humble refrain that "borders cannot be redrawn but we can work towards making them irrelevant – towards making them just lines on a map."27 While this not an easy task, it is far from impossible. After all, if the European Union could coalesce after centuries of violent conflict, there is no reason why a South Asian Union could not emerge along similar lines.

Footnotes


† The author is a writer and conflict resolution specialist in South Asia. He works as a consultant to private sector companies and has earlier worked as a consultant for the World Bank. Maini's first book, South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs, features a Punjab case study to illustrate the importance of common culture and economics in conflict resolution. A regular contributor to international journals, Maini received his MA in International Development from American University and his BA in Politics from Sheffield University, UK. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. regarding the use of this material or other inquires.

♦ All non-attributed or non-cited material is to be considered the intellectual property of IMTD and the author. ©2007

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  1. Maini, TS "Punjab-Punjab Cooperation," South Asian Journal, Volume 8, April-June 2005, pp 91-101, SAFMA, Lahore. See p. 91. The Punjab, called 'Pentapotamia' by the Greeks, derives its name from two Persian words, 'panj' (five), and 'aab' (water, having reference to the five rivers which confer on the country). Punjab is a region that encompasses Northern India and Eastern Pakistan. Punjab is bounded on the north by the vast Himalayan ranges, which separate it from China, Tibet and Kashmir; on the east by the river Yamuna, the North-Western Provinces and the Chinese Empire; on the south by Sind, the river Sutlej, which separates it from Bhawalpur, and Rajputana; and on the west by the Sulaiman range, which divides it from Baluchistan, and Afghanistan, which joins the Khyber.
  2. See Maini TS (2007) "South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs" p. 16.
  3. The Times of India, "Manmohan's dream: Breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore, January 8th 2007.
  4. The Indian Express, "Borders cannot be redrawn but we can work towards making them irrelevant", March 25th 2006. Also see The Hindu "Punjab back on the rails", February 6th 2007.
  5. For the suffering caused to Lahore and Amritsar by the wars of 1965 and 1971, see Rai, Satya M (1965) "Partition of the Punjab,", Asia Publishing House, Mumbai also See Ayres, A "The Two Punjabs: A Cultural Path to Peace in South Asia"? World Policy Journal, Volume 22, No.4, Winter 2005-06, p.63-68.
  6. See Ayres, A p.67 for an illustration of the point that the Pakistani Army is dominated by Punjabis.
  7. Maini, TS (2007) "South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs."
  8. Maini, TS "South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs."
  9. The Indian Express, "Borders cannot be redrawn but we can work towards making them irrelevant."
  10. Ibid, For information on the World Punjabi Congress, see website: www.worldpunjabicongress.org/.
  11. For the role of SAFMA and CRRID, See Maini, TS (2007) "South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs", p. 80-81.
  12. The Times of India, "PM flags off Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus", March 24th 2006.
  13. The Daily Times "Amarinder praises Pakistan's efforts to fortify ties with India", March 17th 2005.
  14. See, Dhaliwal, S "Only 3 travel on Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus on an average", The Tribune, July 1st 2006.
  15. For the significance of the Punjab Games, see Ayres, A and Maini TS.
  16. See Walia, V "Amritsar awaits export boom", The Tribune, November 25th 2004. An interesting illustration of the restrictions is the exchange of gifts between the Chief Ministers of both the provinces: Captain Amarinder Singh had been presented a horse by Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, while the former presented a tractor to the latter. The horse and tractor traveled first to Dubai and then to their destinations of Lahore and Chandigarh respectively, which are about ten times closer to each other than any of them is to the Persian Gulf. The tractor was airlifted from Chandigarh to Delhi, to Dubai and then to Lahore. The reason: the tractor was not on the list of items that can be traded across the Wagah. The horse presented by Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, took nearly a year, before it could reach Captain Amarinder Singh. See The Tribune, "Tractor and Horse Story", March 15th 2005.
  17. See Maini TS (2007) "South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs" p.105
  18. See Ibid.
  19. Chawla, KS " PAU refused permission to sign MOU with Pak Varsity," December 29th 2005
  20. See Maini TS (2007) p.156.
  21. The Hindu, "Two Bus Services and a few questions" December 23rd 2005.
  22. The Hindu, "Two Bus Services and a few questions" December 23rd 2005.
  23. See Maini TS (2007) p.137.
  24. See Maini TS "Can we have an annual 'Amritsar Lahore' Cricket Series," The Daily Times, May 21st 2007.
  25. Panini, MN "Crossing Boundaries" The Hindu, April 25th 2004.
  26. See The Daily Times, "Let us celebrate together," August 14th 2007. I myself had the privilege to attend the first Joint Indo-Pak Independence Day Celebrations.
  27. The Indian Express, "Borders cannot be redrawn but we can work towards making them irrelevant.