India, Pakistan should look east for lessons on trust

India, Pakistan should look east for lessons on trust
Indian Director General Military Operations Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (2L) walks with officials at the India-Pakistan Wagah Border Post on December 24, 2013. A five-member delegation lead by Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia returned from Pakistan after meeting with his Pakistani counterpart DGMO Major General Amir Riaz, the first such meeting in 14 years.

WAGAH-ATTARI, which hosts the only land crossing between India and Pakistan along the 2,700km border between the two countries, has a distinguishing feature like no other.

On either side of the border, there are rows of seats for spectators who, in their chauvinistic frenzy, watch an absurd parade of enmity, choreographed by the two security forces every evening.

The parlous state of relations between the two countries is reflected in the fact that only about 200 travellers a day, out of a total population of around 1.4 billion, use the crossing.

This is in sharp contrast to the vibrancy, hustle and bustle at the Malaysia-Singapore Woodlands border that I crossed several times during my posting in Singapore.

From a total population of just about 35 million (Malaysia 29.7 million and Singapore about 5.3 million), 60,000 vehicles carrying people and freight cross either side on a typical day. City buses ply across. Thousands cross on foot. The activity is thunderous.

The efficient immigration and security procedures underscore the way walls of suspicion and hate have been overcome to produce an economic interdependence that has benefited both nations.

Data from Malaysia's Department of Statistics shows that bilateral trade between Malaysia and Singapore was valued at US$53.26 billion (S$67.5 billion) in 2012 to 2013, significantly up from the previous year.

Malaysia remains Singapore's largest trading partner, while Singapore is Malaysia's second-largest trading partner after China. Investment ratios are equally high.

Compare this with India and Pakistan - two of the six most populous countries in the world. Total trade was worth a minuscule US$2.5 billion last year.

Mistrust, differing aspirations, demographics and mutual suspicions make for many similarities in the birth experiences of Pakistan in 1947 (out of India) and that of Singapore in 1965 (out of Malaysia).

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