India will be hosting the SCO RATS council meeting on October 14th this year in Delhi. Photograph:( Reuters )
India should not fall into the trap of peaceful gestures that camouflage nefarious activities of its neighbour
Barely two months ago, India was facing a two-front threat from neighbours. An unexpected sequence of events followed, much to the surprise of many people both sides of Line of Control (LoC) with announcement of re-implementation of Ceasefire Agreement of 2003, by DGMOs of India and Pakistan. With ‘Let us bury the Past’ remark by General Bajwa, followed by pleasant exchanges for ‘conditional peace’ by both prime ministers and Pakistan’s announcement to reopen trade with India, and a quick U-turn making all strategists revisit reasons for such a gesture.
India-Pakistan relations depend on variety of factors arising from legacy of partition of British India, accession of state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to India, forced illegal occupation of part of J&K by Pakistan, followed by a series of wars fought by the two countries.
The humiliating defeat in 1971 and independence of Bangladesh left permanent humiliation in military-led hierarchy of Pakistan, which turned towards religious fundamentalism, under late President Zia-ul Haque, determined ‘To bleed India with thousand cuts’. Nuclear weapons acquisition and fostering terror as a weapon for waging proxy war against India, with focus on Kashmir, remained single aim of Pakistan military, as a recipe to hold all levers of power, with former President Musharraf calling terrorists as strategic assets, propagating India as ‘existential Threat’. Neither the aim nor the focus of Pakistan has changed; hence its peace gesture need decoding and analysis.
What Makes Pakistan Talk about Peace with India?
Economic stress faced by Pakistan seems to be the most important reason for Pakistan to seek peace with India. The Kashmir obsession of Pakistan has led to over-expenditure in misadventures of its army, pushing it into a well-planned debt trap by China, besides picking up loans from many other countries and institutions, which it finds difficult to service.
Pakistan’s total external debt and liabilities rose to $113.8 billion in fiscal year 2020 and it had to pay approximately $12 billion in that year to service it. As other countries and monetary organizations ask for payback, Pakistan has no choice but to mortgage its sovereignty to China (which has loaned maximum), looking to gain territory, assets, resources and electricity, thus making it a colony of China.
The continued grey listing of Pakistan in Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has further added to its economic stress, shortage of foreign exchange, and borrowings beyond capacity leading to internal dissent, chaos and inadequate survival needs like food and water for the people. It has thrown up intense political opposition like People's Democratic Movement (PDM) adding political cost to its misadventure. The growing influence of Jihadis, and dissent of persecuted minorities is adding to internal disturbance, with Army also getting its fair share of public anger. It therefore makes perfect sense for Pakistan to get into temporary truce with India, reduce some of its expenses on LoC and repair its economy, before returning to business as usual on Kashmir.
Pakistan has tried to internationalise Kashmir issue in every possible forum and found itself isolated with nobody except China and Turkey standing by its cause. It also brought Pakistan into awkward relationships with Arab world. In fact, Saudi Arabia and UAE asking for their loan back from Pakistan came as a rude shock to it. Pakistan has therefore realised that India bashing is not helping its domestic sustenance, and it needs to reset its international relations to pull itself out of the financial crisis in the post-pandemic world. Pakistan, therefore seems to be quite keen in fast-tracking trade relations with India, quickly announcing some imports from India, notwithstanding political opposition to it. The engagement of US and allies with India, their intense competitive relations with China and frequent criticism of sponsoring of terrorists by Pakistan can also be seen as a factor for reset, although a minor one.
Has Pakistan modified its Thought Process?
With some authentic voices in India indicating its intention to reclaim the lost territory, the thought process in Pakistani military seems to have undergone slight modification. The abrogation of Article 370 by India in J&K, certain proactive Indian responses like surgical strikes, Balakot strike, and existing relative peace in Kashmir, has convinced Pakistan, that its aim of annexation of Kashmir is unviable against the military might of India, although it will continue talking of reversal of autonomous status of Kashmir. Pakistan Army has now pitched its tone to defend every inch of its territory, thereby adopting a defensive stance. It finds it more practical to prepare for not losing the part of J&K, which is in its illegal possession. The changes in status of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) making it provisional province, demographic changes and Chinese presence in GB and POK to deter Indian actions, point towards that direction.
Have the reasons for confrontation Changed?
For China, Pakistan is a low-cost secondary deterrent/irritant to India, helpful in containing it. For Pakistan, China is a high-value security guarantee and therefore the Sino-Pak nexus continues to grow strong. In that context the rising number of Chinese in such areas, their investments in critical infrastructure development in terms of airstrips, roads, in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK) and GB is a concern for India. Pakistan is likely to continue with proxy war in Kashmir Valley, through terrorism, as a low-cost option, as it serves the interest of both of them.
Pakistan continues to be in illegal occupation of POK, GB, Shaksgam Valley, therefore the Indians' sovereign territory is yet to be restored; hence the possibilities of a long-lasting peace is a mirage. The CPEC, infrastructure development works in POK and GB, along with the change of demography in Indian territory, is something, which the optics of peace gestures cannot camouflage.
The kind of peace offers made by India and Pakistan clearly indicates that both sides are not ready to compromise their basic positions. Pakistan continues to link peace initiative with discussion on Kashmir, whereas India may not be keen to get into meaningful discussion, unless Pakistan shows some visible efforts in dismantling terror infrastructure and bringing perpetrators of terror to justice like Hafiz Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar.
How long can this peace initiative last?
The fact that Pakistan made a U-turn in an announcement to open trade with India within 24 hours under internal pressure indicates the fragile nature of its peace gestures, and level of internal pressure in Pakistan, in relation to Kashmir. The irritants and differences between Pakistan and India have not undergone any major change. The peace gestures are good optics to buy some more time for economic revival, avoid distractions in combating pandemic, and reduce the level of internal public dissent to some degree. It is in the interest of both countries that ceasefire continues to remain in vogue, so that the innocent people residing both sides of LOC can have peaceful life.
India should not fall into the trap of peaceful gestures that camouflage the capacity building of terrorists, the build-up of Chinese in Pakistan, and much needed economic revival of Pakistan, and are made at the cost of taking a break from Indian threat. The fact that Pakistan’s decision-making is dependent on China is a factor, which the Indian decision-makers will have to take into account before any peace initiative Pakistan. While the peace gestures are essentials of vibrant diplomacy, but they have to be exercised with caution, as such gestures with Pakistan in past, have resulted in betrayal and now the factor of trust deficit with China also adds to the equation. While everyone will hope for longevity of ceasefire, but India cannot afford to slowdown its efforts on capacity building to face twin challenge, because one major terror attack can change the entire equation overnight.
(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer.)