Even recognising the border dispute, and working to find a peaceful solution to the actual coordinates of the border, it should be possible to open the frontier allowing not only greater exchange of goods, but also encourage an interaction between the people on both sides. The potential seems huge, not just in terms of trade, but more importantly in building trust and understanding between people living in these areas, and meet their developmental and cultural needs. Would a free trade zone, in the border areas, be more effective than a free trade agreement between the two countries?
Nimmi Kurian, explores some of the possibilities, in her article in Indian Express, Nov 9, 2009, titled "A forgotten 4,000 kilometres".
Some of this reductive logic is also more than evident in the fact that, even as bilateral trade is expected to surge to $60 billion by year-end, much of it has passed the borders by. Despite the fanfare that greeted the resumption of border trade at Nathu La after 40 years in 2006, two-way trade has not even reached a quarter-million dollars. India-China collective imaginations remain caught in a time warp with border trade struggling with an archaic list of items that hark back to another era. Yet another example of our continuing fascination with the symbolic over the substantive.
If these fractured geographies are to be restored, creative ways of thinking out of the territorial trap has to be a first. It will mean appreciating that there is more to borders than lines of control or establishing hotlines and holding flag meetings. These will call for recasting ageing agendas and releasing the borderlands from the freeze frame of securitised narratives. Unbundling the idea of cooperation will for instance mean looking at shared co-governance challenges that a shared neighbourhood brings. The India-China borderlands are witnessing a huge developmental thrust and China’s goal of developing its south-western holdings coincides with India’s own domestic imperative, rapid development of the Northeast. These raise larger questions of micro-level governance, livelihood and poverty — which find no place within politico-military frames of decision-making, that offer solutions suboptimal at best. It will also call for exploring a common analytic framework within which promising new ideas on trade, tourism, conservation, climate change and resource governance can be addressed.
This will also be an opportunity to decentre some of these debates since these are not challenges that can hope to be solved long-distance, from distant capitals.