Saleem Qamar Butt
A Dilemma: Love or Hate Thy Neighbour
The news of hotline contact between the Army DGMOs of Pakistan and India and announcement of ceasefire along the line of control and working boundary on 25th February 2021, followed by Pakistan Army chief’s selected piece of statement on 18th March “let’s bury the past and move forward”, without preceding and succeeding context of the speech(i.e. fully utilize economic potential of the region and resolve Kashmir issue peacefully), was given intense media hype, which gave birth to a lot of speculations and interpretations. The credit for this projected cooling off was given to backdoor diplomacy through mediatory efforts by UAE most probably on a push by USA. While usual pointless denials about the secret meetings abroad were being offered, a letter from Indian Prime minister Modi was sent to his counterpart Mr. Imran Khan wishing him and the people of Pakistan good wishes on the occasion of Pakistan Day on March 23, which was promptly reciprocated in adequate diplomatic parlance. Then came a meeting on Indus Water Treaty in New Delhi, which was more cosmetic in nature. It was followed by conjectures about possible Indian troops’ participation in joint drills of SCO countries organized by Pakistan and renewal of the SAARC Summit to be held in Islamabad that may be attended by Mr. Modi. Then a surprising announcement was made by Pakistan ECC to import cotton and sugar from India. All these sudden and fast paced developments were given wide media coverage both home and abroad looked like tail wagging the dog, and sooner than later prime minister Imran Khan and foreign office of Pakistan had to dispel the rumours created around Pakistan’s principled stance on resolution of Kashmir issue; obviously due political heat generated in the country. As of now, some assumptions have already been denied and others are expected to crystallize soon.
Let’s review as to what could have caused the above mentioned hasty events especially in the backdrop of some significant developments during 2019, which was considered pivotal year for Kashmir because of the February clashes between the two nations, India’s August 5 decision to abrogate article 35 A and article 370, division of IIOJ&K ( illegally Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir) into two parts and declaring it integral part of India, Citizenship amendment act and NRC specifically targeting Muslim majority in India, facilitating issuance of domicile to Indians to become citizen of IIOJ&K to change its demography, establishment of Sainak/ retired Indian military personnel colonies, handing over economic control of Kashmir to Indian rich class by giving away industrial zones in Kashmir, and putting valley under complete lockdown with heightened atrocities unleashed to suppress freedom struggle that compelled Prime Minister Imran Khan’s passionate UNGA speech. The rapidly evolving regional and extra regional geo-strategic environment, drawing up of fresh battle lines in Eurasia, the CASA and Indo-Pacific regions, global economic and military realignments and some pressing domestic politico-economic compulsions of both Pakistan and India seem to have contributed towards projected Indo-Pakistan thaw.
USA obviously wishes to focus on China as number one economic and military competitor while keeping an effective check on old rival Russia. For that her first priority is the realistaion of American Indo-Pacific strategy through a Quad Group (USA, India, Japan, Australia) with the potential to become more like a new mini NATO alliance with inclusion of countries like UK, France, South Korea, Philippines etc while keeping the other regional countries aligned. Therefore, USA would like India to be unhooked from Pakistan to allow her to concentrate on contesting China that has recently given well measured political cum military embarrassment to India in Ladakh region. Besides, India as a new strategic ally is expected by America to help her keep a strong foothold in Afghanistan for keeping an eye on Nuclear Pakistan, assist spying on Iran and compliment American efforts to exert in Russian sphere of influence in Central Asia, besides helping US to pinprick in Western China and above all counter Chinese BRI Grand project in CASA region. It is obviously win-win situation for India on all counts especially after having almost settled Kashmir issue as per their strategic calculus with false claims now on Pakistani northern areas and Azad Kashmir.
China considers success of CPEC as a flagship project of BRI that essentially aims at regional and global economic integration. Therefore, any major conflict between Pakistan and India is bound to not only retard CPEC but may also dilute the chances of India and other regionally countries to ultimately join BRI for mutual economic dividends. Hence, China would also like and support a rapprochement between Pakistan and India though with necessary safeguard to thwart US’ aims and objectives. As regards borders dispute with India, China has just proven her resolve and capability to settle it on own terms but without losing focus on BRI and with overall precedence to economic prong till China can attain status of leading global economic power.
Russia is already effectively countering US and allies and reasserting herself in Eurasia and CASA region. Despite India becoming US strategic ally and member of Quad group to the Russia dismay, Indian and Russian economic and military cooperation stays upbeat. However, any Indian role to help solidify American influence or military footprint in her sphere of influence in CASA region is unlikely to get Russian approval. As evidenced by recent visit of Russian foreign minister to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan and announcement of cooperation with Pakistan in the economic and military fields including counter terrorism and Afghanistan peace is yet another evidence of shifting geo-political and strategic preferences and priorities. Since any future conflict between Pakistan and India is detrimental to the regional peace and development with adverse impact on Russia as well, therefore, softening between India and Pakistan comforts her too.
India has a plethora of political, economic and security problems mostly aggravated by Mr. Modi’s BJP regime fanning RSS extremist Hindutva ideology: declining economic graph, atrocities in IIOJ&K and gross human rights violations and maltreatment of minorities causing international voices of protest, farmers’ revolution joined by many other oppressed millions, more than dozen active independence movements, rampant corruption, politico-military embarrassment suffered from China’s slap in Ladakh region and after assurance by both Russia and America for due role and space in Afghanistan enhanced pressure by the US to mend fences with Pakistan and focus on contesting China appear to have convinced India to indulge in unyielding cosmetic dialogue with Pakistan from a position of conceived strength.
Pakistan agreeing to indulge in secret backdoor contacts with India may have been result of a nudge from US and few other countries duly facilitated by their moles and Trojan Horses in Pakistan, which created an impression of knee-jerk rapprochement. However, the adverse impact of such an endeavor on longstanding Kashmir dispute and independence movement with greatest human sacrifices as well as outcome of peace efforts in Afghanistan obviously was amiss, which is now being addressed in an awkward manner though. How and why such an ill timed and hasty effort was made needs to be introspected no matter how well intentioned it might have been. The history of India-Pakistan’s core disputes, four major conflicts and secret and public diplomacy including outcome are too well known (need to bear in mind the peace treaty signed with India on January 4, 2004 and the period till Nov 26, 2008 that had created similar excitement on possible resolution of core issues including IIOJ&K, Siachin, Sir Creek and water issue through composite dialogue…all in vain and India used the period to further consolidate in IIOJ&K).
It is a given that ultimately all disputes are solved through political determination and diplomatic skills; therefore, any direct or indirect effort to find peace ought to be appreciated. Nevertheless, deliberate appraisal of the global, regional and domestic environment and selection of favourable time and place for undertaking dispute resolution through farsighted composite dialogue remains an undeniable imperative. For that, after due debate in both houses of the parliament and with due government approval, a visionary institutional approach is considered more productive for undertaking multi-tracked engagement between the two old belligerents like India and Pakistan. It may be advisable to first undertake government approved Track-2 approach (for which cessation of covert war inside Pakistan and restoration of pre 5th August 2019 status in IIOJ&K should be a prerequisite) to pave the way for Track-1 diplomacy by agreeing on the framework and formulae for resolution of the critical issues rather than putting the cart before the horse as just observed. Besides, we need to keep in mind few important points: Is RSS/BJP ready to commit political suicide having won consecutive two elections by raising anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim tirade? Is Pakistan with own house in disorder in a good position to indulge in dialogue with India at this point in time? Is American backdoor nudge going to get any favour to Pakistan in UN Security Council as for implementation of its resolution on Kashmir issue? Can any country stop India except Pakistan from launching proxies from Afghanistan? Pakistan will have to be extremely careful in handling carrot and stick approach that will obviously hinge on meaningless economic incentives or coercion by IFIs and other money lending countries. The shifting of emphasis from geopolitics to geo-economics as recently stated by Pakistan foreign office must not mean any compromise on core national issues. Quite in contrast to the illusionary and academic peace hypotheses, the realpolitik dictates that the dilemma to love or hate thy neighbour is bound to stay in place till the bigger side is genuinely interested in peace.