Hope Amid Deluge

PRIME Minister Narendra Modi on Monday  extended his “heartfelt condolences” to the families of the victims of the devastating flood in Pakistan.  The PM tweeted that he was saddened to see the devastation wrought by the floods in Pakistan and hoped for an early restoration of normalcy. The PM’s tweet came soon after the Pakistani Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said Islamabad could consider importing Indian vegetables and essentials from India, taking everyone by surprise, especially in Kashmir. Pakistan had stopped trade with India following New Delhi’s withdrawal of Article 370 in August 2019. Ismail’s rationale for trade  with India springs from the widespread destruction caused by the deluge in his country. One-third of Pakistan is currently under water, with tens of millions affected by the relentless monsoon rains and more than 1100 people killed.  The flood has washed away swathes of vital crops and damaged more than a million homes. The government and the charities  are struggling to bring relief to the people. Several countries are sending aid. But with 33 million people affected by the flood, the country is finding it challenging to muster sufficient resources to respond to a calamity of egregious proportions. What is more, the flood has also destroyed the infrastructure, washing away roads and bridges.

Pakistan has, as a result, felt the need to open trade with India, a move if it goes ahead, will be welcomed in New Delhi. Last year, Prime Minister  Imran Khan rejected reopening trade with India after his ministers had okayed it. Khan didn’t want to send out a signal that Pakistan was normalizing relations with New Delhi after the latter had withdrawn Kashmir’s semi-autonomy. But now, with the new government in power in Islamabad and the country finding itself in an economic mess which has now been aggravated by the ongoing flood, the PML(N)-PPP government is showing its willingness to resume trade with New Delhi.

However, there is still some doubt if the trade will actually happen. And if it does, it could be an important step towards improvement in relations between the two estranged countries. As things stand, it is difficult to be optimistic in so far as the relations between India and Pakistan are concerned.  Over the decades, various promising bilateral dialogue processes have failed to deliver and several initiatives at resuming engagement have turned out to be stillborn. So, it would be great if trade resumes between the two neighbours and it is followed by a sustainable dialogue between them. Here’s hoping against hope.

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