Home Pakistan India Whats next for Pakistan-India? – The News International

Whats next for Pakistan-India? – The News International

15 min read

A renewal of the 2003 ceasefire at the Line of Control (LOC) between Pakistan and India is unequivocally good news. Neither country’s strategic or tactical goals are served by the constant violence along the LOC, but dozens of families and hundreds of individuals are in the line of fire every time there is an escalation in exchanges between the respective armed forces of the two countries. Given that there is still a relatively heavy civilian population on the Azad Jammu and Kashmir side, there is all the more reason for Pakistan to be proactive in seeking an end to the LOC exchanges.

The more intriguing part of the DGMOs meeting, and the high-level conversations, whether directly or through mutually trusted third parties, is what happens next. Pakistan and India have both made political commitments since 2019 that will be difficult to walk back – but need to be revisited in order for serious conversations to take place between the two countries.

Pakistan has repeatedly sought Indian assurance that New Delhi will revisit and reverse the draconian annexation of the Occupied Kashmir region that was enacted on August 5, 2019. Without any action by India that signals its openness to this reversal, it will be incredibly difficult for the Pakistani leadership to engage in a politically robust dialogue process, no matter the intended outcome – whether it is full normalization, better people-to-people exchanges, or even marginal improvement in ease of doing business and trade. Despite unprecedented alignment on issues of national security between civilian and military leaders, including those in the opposition, we have already witnessed how an appetite for domestic point scoring can motivate leaders like Ayaz Sadiq to misrepresent events related to India.

India has created a domestic political environment for itself in which making peace with Pakistan is even more complicated for leaders in New Delhi than it is for Pakistani leaders in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Hatred and distrust for Pakistan are qualifications for any Indian leader to engage in the public discourse. Voices for reasonable engagement with Pakistan have been tarred and feathered, and thoughtful voices in the Indian mainstream are forced to adopt incredibly harsh postures on Pakistan, in order to be deemed acceptable for nationwide consumption.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be the only Indian leader alive that can flip a switch and try to walk back the rhetoric he has invested in, but he would risk alienating both the rank and file of the RSS, the extremists that he owes his political life to, as well as alienating the anti-Pakistan hawks that run his foreign policy. From spymaster (and anti-Pakistan terror champion) Ajit Doval, to Look East (and away from Pakistan) architect S Jaishankar, it is Pakistan that is at the beating heart of the Indian deep state’s national security logic.

Despite these constraints, as recently as December 2017, Pakistan and India have engaged face to face, in bilateral talks at the National Security Adviser level. Even after August 5, 2019, Pakistan has engaged with India at multilateral fora that India is able to dominate (such as the recent Saarc meetings on Covid-19). Softening the blow of engagement for hawks on either side of the border through increased engagement in multilateral fora is an easy and likely very quick way of escalating conversation, exposure and engagement between the two countries.

Among the most ardent champions for this approach will be Russia, China and the United States. A better bilateral relationship between Pakistan and India is thus one of the very few things on which these three powerful countries (and allies of both countries) agree on. Saarc, SCO (in Dushanbe in September), UNGA (New York in September), or even COP26 (Glasgow in November) all represent potential venues for interaction between key Pakistani and Indian leaders.

To imagine how a dialogue could be structured is also important. Traditional Pakistani diplomats have sought to remain steadfast to the conventions that were visible in the ‘composite dialogue’ or the most recent permutation of the same, known as the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue. The Indian motivation is to focus solely on what is of interest to India in the dialogue. Pakistan should respond not with a compromised version of a framework that leans into India’s hegemonic strategic culture, but instead propose a framework that addresses Pakistan’s concerns.

Any serious conversation between Pakistan and India needs to address and tackle the conventional core concerns of the two countries: Kashmir for Pakistan, and UNSC listed terrorist groups for India. But a serious conversation in 2021 also needs to include four additional issues between the two countries that have traditionally not been central enough to the bilateral framework.

The first is Pakistan’s concerns about India’s sponsorship of terrorism targeting Pakistan and Afghanistan through violent extremists using both religion (such as the TTP) and ethnicity (such as the BRA). The second is the impact of climate change, and climate-altering behaviours on either side of the border. The third is an approach to water, especially ground water usage, and water conservation. The fourth, and perhaps the most controversial, is the treatment of Muslims under a right-wing extremist regime in India. Without these four conversations, a dialogue between Pakistan and India is essentially an exercise in public relations, with almost zero strategic or tactical value for Pakistan – but potentially major rents for India.

Consider the fact that during the week that Pakistan’s DGMO was being briefed to take the bold step of renewing the ceasefire for India, and as the Pakistani civil and military leadership was making its umpteenth attempt to de-escalate with India, the friends-and-family India package was ringing in full bloom at the FATF. Despite having among the world’s most robust set of on-paper measures to counter terrorist financing and taking up massive anti money laundering regulations and rules, Pakistan was once again denied an exit from the FATF grey-list. What signal should Pakistani strategists and tacticians derive from the extension of Pakistan’s grey-listing to June 2021?

The most important is that Pakistan is not going to be rewarded for anything that it does that may be seen as a positive or constructive step. Pakistan took measures to de-escalate on the LOC in early 2018. This generated no positive reviews from any international partner. Pakistani behaviour in the aftermath of India’s Balakot attack was designed to end, not sustain conflict. This too, did not garner any recognition or appreciation.

Pakistan has helped forge a Doha Peace Process, reducing the robustness of its intimacy with the Taliban, gaining hardly any new friends for its efforts in Afghanistan, nor any political goodwill at home, and only marginal international acknowledgment. The consistently positive messaging since the August 2019 annexation of Occupied Kashmir by India has focused on politics and symbolism, rather than the war mongering that is the bread and butter of the Indian mainstream. This too has earned Pakistan virtually nothing.

All this while, the Western embrace of New Delhi has tightened. Its dangerous information warfare, through the India Chronicles is ignored. Its support for terrorist groups targeting Pakistan is neglected. India is afforded a special understanding for consuming Russian military hardware. It is given waivers to trade with Iran. It is celebrated for engaging in dangerous cross-border militarism with China, and it is rewarded for annexing Kashmir.

In this global geopolitical environment, Pakistan needs to invest in a serious examination of the domestic political appetite for a strategic pivot to geoeconomics. Pakistan’s treatment at international fora is principally informed by the massive gap in the absolute numbers between itself and its key international interlocuters. Whether it is military spending versus India, unskilled labour exports to the Gulf, foreign direct investments from China, or the pure political power differential with Western powers – in each of these dynamics, Pakistan has less power than it needs to negotiate better outcomes that serve its strategic goals.

When the Senate elections take place this week, Pakistan’s grand strategists need to step back and ask themselves whether the conversation leading to the Senate elections is of a country that has forged the necessary consensus needed to undertake the kind of strategic pivot that Pakistani time and space requires. Is it?

The writer is an analyst and commentator.

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