Pakistan Army chief recently proposed that India and Pakistan should bury their turbulent past and move forward. The out-of-the-blue peace gesture raises the obvious question as to why Pakistan is trying to cozy up to its traditional rival India.
It’s worth mentioning that two nuclear-armed neighbors had fought three wars since their independence. Besides, they were on the brink of a full-scale conflict in the wake of the 2019 Balakot airstrike that India had launched to dismantle terror infrastructure on Pakistani soil.
Since then, the situation at the Line of Control, India-Pakistan’s de facto border in Jammu & Kashmir, had remained tensed with the number of firing incidents going up sharply. It was only last month that the two sides announced a ceasefire agreement.
Bajwa’s Surprise Remark
“We feel it is time to bury the past and move forward,” General Qamar Javed Bajwa told reporters on the sidelines of the first-ever Islamabad Security Dialogue.
He noted that the stability in Indo-Pak relations would be integral to unlocking the potential of South and Central Asia by ensuring connectivity between West and East Asia.
However, he stressed how the resolution of the Kashmir issue is key to any such effort.
“The Kashmir issue is obviously at the heart of this. It is important to understand that without the resolution of Kashmir dispute through peaceful means, [the] process of sub-continental rapprochement will always remain susceptible to derailment due to politically motivated bellicosity.”
“But…our neighbor (India) will have to create a conducive environment, particularly in Indian-occupied Kashmir,” said Bajwa.
Imran Khan’s Statement
The Pakistan Army chief’s comments came a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan also spoke on normalizing ties with India.
Khan, who was speaking at the inauguration of the very same forum, said that New Delhi will have to take the initiative to normalize the relations.
“We are trying, but India would have to take the first step, and unless it does that we cannot move ahead,” said Khan.
While the Pakistani PM did not elaborate on what he expected the first step should be from India, in a change of tone, he did say that Pakistan would not be able to fully-exploit the geo-economic potential unless it improved ties with its neighbors.
The India-Pakistan relations had hit rock bottom following New Delhi’s abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status.
Khan indicated that Pakistan needs to improve its ties with India by strengthening the trading connections and establishing peace in the region.
“We have to see how we can resolve it through dialogue and establish relations like civilized neighbors,” said Khan, while stressing how peace would benefit both nations.
“If poverty has to be eradicated, our trading and economic ties should be strong in addition to greater connectivity,” he added.
The Ceasefire Agreement
According to experts, Pakistan’s desire for a ceasefire agreement with India was fuelled by its domestic compulsions.
In December, Indian media reported that the year 2020 alone saw 5,100 instances of ceasefire violations by Pakistan along the Line of Control (LoC), resulting in the death of 36 people and injuries to more than 130.
It was the highest number of ceasefire violations since the 2003 truce announced by the two countries.
Two months prior to that, India had accused Pakistan of “unprovoked ceasefire violations” aimed at supporting “infiltration of terrorists across LoC”.
“The accusation came at a time when the global watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) was holding its plenary meeting, which was looking at Pakistan’s compliance with a 27-point action plan on terror financing,” Jayanta Kalita wrote in a piece for The EurAsian Times.
“And obviously, Islamabad was woefully short of meeting these targets. Perhaps this is the reason why the Paris-headquartered FATF then decided to keep Pakistan in its ‘grey list’ until February this year.“
It seemed Pakistan had failed to live up to expectation, a reason why the anti-terror financing watchdog again decided to keep Islamabad on the “grey list” till June this year.
In fact, according to Dawn newspaper, “The emphasis on peaceful ties with India by the civil and military leadership is part of what is being described by the government as a shift towards exploiting the economic potential of the country and reshaping its international image battered by the conflict and violence in the region.”
Or, possibly, there’s more to this détente than meets the eye. Certain experts are also of the view that the US may have nudged Pakistan to ease tensions with India to help the former with a comfortable exit strategy in Afghanistan.
In fact, Bajwa’s statement about peace with India being the “key to unlock the untapped potential of South and Central Asia” would not be possible without a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, where both India and Pakistan are involved in negotiations.
The US is faced with a tough deadline for withdrawing all of its troops from Afghanistan, which President Biden recently said was a hard target to meet. Now the resolution of the conflict between India and Pakistan could make matters easy since both countries would focus on working for solutions in Afghanistan or provide a security cushion to the Afghanistan government after the US troops withdraw.
Notwithstanding, Pakistan has offered peace to India and it would be bad optics for Modi in the eyes of the world if he chooses to decline that proposal, deciding instead to prolong the conflict in the region. Pakistan would emerge winner in such a scenario, which is why India may choose to reciprocate positively to Imran Khan’s offer, experts opine.
With Inputs from Mansij Asthana and Younis Dar