What Does Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s Toned-Down Anti-India Rhetoric Mean For India-Pak Bilateral Relations?

Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s statements, during his Sri Lanka visit, appeared to be reconciliatory towards India. He even insisted that he was the one advocating dialogue with New Delhi.

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In his address to the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference in Colombo, Khan said that immediately after assuming office, his first step was to reach out to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and “explain” to him the need to resolve all differences through negotiations.

“I didn’t succeed, but I am optimistic that eventually, common sense will prevail. The only way the subcontinent can tackle poverty is by improving trade relations. Let us live like civilized neighbors, just as the Europeans live,” he added.

Khan cited the example of France and Germany who had fought multiple times, but trade had brought them closer and, today, the war between them is unthinkable.

In another important development, Pakistan and India have agreed to implement a ceasefire on the border. The Director Generals of Military Operations of the two countries have unanimously agreed to cease firing on the Line of Control and maintain peace.

This is said to be a result of back-channel negotiations being held between India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and his counterpart in Islamabad Moeed W Yusuf, who according to reports had been in touch to reach an agreement.

Experts say such signs are indicative of betterment in relations between the two countries and could open the door for negotiations to resolve confrontations. There is also speculation that Modi may have agreed to discuss Kashmir with the Pakistan Prime Minister, which has remained a major hurdle in the relations.

With India having succeeded in persuading China for disengagement in Ladakh, the softening stance against Pakistan indicates the country wants to make peace with both of its neighbors.

The ties between the two nuclear-armed states had dangerously escalated since August 2019, when India revoked the semi-autonomous status of Kashmir unilaterally and split the region into two union territories. The year 2020 had broken all records of ceasefire violations on the border in the last two decades, with the number of such violations crossing 4,645, the highest since 2003.

Strategic experts in both countries are seeing the softening of stance between the two countries as a positive sign that could pave the way for further engagements and resolution of pending issues.

Khan’s amicable statements during his Sri Lanka visit indicate the cordial atmosphere has been building for months now, with both countries showing increasing signs of improving relations.

India had permitted the special aircraft carrying Imran Khan to Sri Lanka to use its airspace, while Islamabad had denied permission to Indian VVIP aircraft to fly over their country just a year ago.

With India moving forward to resolve its deadlock with both China and Pakistan, the year 2021 may turn out to be peaceful in the subcontinent. Experts are hopeful India and China could now upgrade their diplomatic ties and according to one report, the two countries may reinstate high commissioners in each other’s capitals.

ThePrint reported, quoting sources in the Indian government that the much-delayed SAARC (the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) meet could be allowed to be held in Islamabad later this year. The SAARC summit has not been held since 2016 since the ties between the two countries worsened.

The statement of the Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa on February 3, in which he said, “it is time to extend a hand of peace in all directions,” is said to have further improved the confidence in India to move forward with positive gestures.

After a turbulent 2020, the world may finally be returning to a peaceful atmosphere in 2021 after a regime change in the US and the softening of Arab’s stand towards Pakistan. According to experts, a peaceful atmosphere will be good for trade and commerce and this could be good news for the world economy too, after suffering severe devastation due to the pandemic.

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