The future of a people can be seen in terms of a history fashioned by their choices today. In this sense Pakistan and India are poised to make two very different histories depending on the way their states and societies engage with each other. They can strive in concert to actualize the great opportunity of transforming their material conditions to achieve prosperity for their people. Alternatively they can fall prey to the darker side of their psyche and be driven by an adversarial mind set of egotism, hatred and conflict to create a future of economic deprivation and violence. Let us outline the critical challenges and the strategic choices at hand.
This is a watershed moment in the history of the world economy, when a shift is occurring in its centre of gravity for the first time in three centuries, from the West to Asia. China and India which began their high growth trajectory with a billion people each, have over two decades doubled their per capita incomes. As the UNDP global Human Development Report 2013 points out, this economic dynamism in terms of pace and magnitude of impact is greater than that of the Industrial Revolution in Europe. If the South Asian region achieves economic integration then at present trends of economic growth, this region together with China could emerge as the greatest economic power house in human history.
If the crisis of the environment is considered then co operation between Pakistan and India in particular and the states of South Asia in general is necessary not only for development but for the very survival of societies. The phenomenon of climate change has resulted in an increased variability in the timing, location and volume of precipitation of the monsoon. Since about 65 percent of the population in South Asia directly or indirectly depends on agriculture, increased variability of the monsoon means greater risk to livelihoods and food insecurity to the vulnerable sections of society. This economic and social instability will be exacerbated by the reduced river flows in South Asia resulting from the fact that the glacial melt in the Himalayas is greater than the global average. Dr. Pachauri estimates that 500 million people will be affected by reduced river flows in South Asia. The potential crisis in agriculture could be intensified: the IPCC Report predicts an up to 30 percent reduction in yields per acre of food grain crops due to the direct effects of higher temperatures on crop seeds. Such a large reduction in food grain output could result in major food shortages. These challenges will require regional co operation in South Asia if they are to be managed effectively, and the disruption of economies and societies avoided.
There is a grave threat of violence by non state actors, and the danger of intra state extremist violence spilling across national boundaries to create interstate tensions. The current situation on the Line of Control in Kashmir is a case in point. Unless Pakistan and India change their traditional adversarial relationship into one of co operation, the post US withdrawal from Afghanistan could lead to widespread violence and destabilization of state and society by militant extremist groups. If Pakistan and India choose to vie for leverage over Afghanistan by backing proxies, it could lead to civil war in that country. This would quickly engulf Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. As violence spreads in Pakistan and militant extremists go on the rampage, they could extend their operations across the Line of Control into Kashmir. In an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion the spreading flames of extremist violence could bring India-Pakistan tensions to a flash point.
It is in this context that the attempt by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to reach out to India to build a relationship of peace and co operation, is so important. The great prospects of prosperity and the imperatives of managing the crises of the environment and of militant extremism can only be addressed if Pakistan and India join hands to build a better future for their people. The moment when the history of the future can be made has arrived.