India is poised to be one of the leading nations of the 21st century. India is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation of over one-billion people, the largest democracy on earth. President George W. Bush has said the U.S. is committed to developing a relationship with India “based upon trust...[and] upon mutual values.”
But as Richard Haass, director of the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, said, “it is simply a fact that India will not realize its immense potential on the global stage until its relationship with Pakistan is normalized. If India were to have a better relationship with Pakistan,” said Mr. Haass, “it would be free to emerge as the major world actor that it ought to be. The festering conflict with Pakistan distracts India from its larger ambitions, helps create the environment that scares off capital, and absorbs valuable resources.”
The absence of basic contacts and lines of communication between India and Pakistan only increases the tension. As Mr. Haass said, “The time, energy, and resources New Delhi and Islamabad now devote to countering one another could instead be focused on tackling respective domestic challenges as well as the problems of Asian stability.”
The U.S. and others are not asking India and Pakistan to do anything that other states have not done. "Numerous countries,” said Mr. Haass, “have moved beyond their own contentious histories to secure a better future. Look at Germany and France, Japan and [South] Korea, Brazil and Argentina. And now the United States and Russia.”
Normalcy between India and Pakistan does not mean an absence of disagreement. Normalcy means that differences are resolved through diplomacy, not force. An expansion of diplomatic contacts could lay the groundwork for bilateral cooperation. Normalcy means easy travel between India and Pakistan for family visits, tourism, sports, and business. Normalcy means commercial links that could bring greater prosperity to both countries. Most of all, normalcy means that disputes such as the one over the Kashmir region could be addressed peacefully.
As the U.S. State Department’s Richard Haass said, “Indians should not view efforts to improve relations with Pakistan as a favor to its neighbor. Rather, New Delhi should seek to diminish tensions with Islamabad as a way of securing a better future for itself.”