What happened post-1965?

Tridivesh Singh Maini and Tahir Malik

Whenever we talk of the need for regional cooperation in South Asia, including closer ties between India and Pakistan, scholars and analysts tend to cite the instances of EU, North America and Asean. 

What is overlooked is that in the years between 1947 and 1965, both economic links as well as people-to-people linkages between both countries were more than they are at present. More than the partition of 1947, it was the 1965 war that disrupted relations between both countries. Five decades later, it would be appropriate to examine some of the key features of the economic relationship as well as people–to-people linkages between both countries.

Economic ties: A lot has been written about the strong economic ties that existed between both countries before 1965. In 1948-1949, for instance, over 50 percent of Pakistan’s imports were to India, while over 20 percent of exports were to India. While there was a dip in the level of bilateral trade between the two countries, after India devalued its currency in 1949, a number of bilateral agreements – 14 – were signed between both countries. There have been talks of Pakistan granting India MFN status, though there has not been much progress on the same. 

During Gen Ayub Khan’s tenure the equivalent of MFN was granted to India in 1957. As per the agreement: “treatment no less favourable than that accorded to the commerce of any third country”. This was extended by three years.

Similarly, Pakistani banks had branches in India – nine – and vice-versa – one – in the pre-1965 phase. While recently some banks have expressed interest on both sides, not much progress has been made in this direction due to the rather unpredictable nature of the relationship between both countries. In addition to the Wagah-Attari border, trade was also carried out through the Hussainiwala-Kasur land crossing.

Personal experience: If one were to look at people-to-people interactions in the pre-1965 period, there was a significant amount. Pre-1965 interactions have been brought to the fore by a number of historians and scholars. It was during the course of writing a book, ‘Humanity Amidst Insanity’ of which these two writers were co-editors (along with another Pakistani journalist Ali Farooq), that we got an actual idea of how in the immediate aftermath of the Partition a number of individuals at least from the two Punjabs crossed over for religious pilgrimages (especially Sikhs to Pakistan), sporting events (such as cricket and hockey matches) and most importantly their erstwhile homes. They were warmly received, and in certain instances individuals even received the belongings they had left behind during Partition. 

Out of the interviewees on both sides, a large number spoke about how they had emotional reunions with their friends and neighbours during such interactions. Such instances were narrated by interviewees from both sides. 

The fact that there was a permit system (which was introduced in 1948 by India), and no visa regime till 1952 was one of the key factors that made such interactions much easier – but not the only one.

Army: What was especially interesting was that during the course of another book, ‘Warriors after War’, which was a collection of interviews with retired defence officials from India and Pakistan, a number of officers stated that during the 1965 war they actually inquired about whether any of their erstwhile friends, course mates were fighting on the other side!

The fascinating point is that after a traumatic partition which included not just the division of Punjab, a land which had been one geographical cultural unit, wanton killing and the migration of millions who had to part with their homes and properties both countries could maintain a civil relationship. What happened post-1965? A war had been fought even in 1948, and Partition was extremely violent yet citizens on both sides managed to remain not just civil but exhibited great bonhomie.

Nationalism has grown due to a number of factors, but there is no reason for both countries not to strive for a civil/normal relationship. And they do not need to look far beyond the pre-1965 arrangement. Perhaps both governments need to explore the possibility of first breaking down the walls that prevent interaction and trade between citizens of both countries. After that mental barriers can be addressed more purposefully. 

Over the past decade, some success has been achieved in rekindling transportation links between the two Punjabs and Rajasthan-Sindh. There is a long way to go, however, before both countries can reach the pre-1965 levels of connectivity. 

Maini is a senior research associate with the Jindal School of International Affairs, Sonepat, India. Malik is a senior Pakistani journalist. 

Email: [email protected] 

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