by Brig NK Bhatia
The euphoria of anticipated peace between India and Pakistan lay in the dumps less than 24 hours after the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) headed by Pakistan’s new finance minister Hammad Azhar in a meeting on Wednesday 31 March cleared import of sugar and cotton from India after a gap of two years.
The Pakistan Federal government in a cabinet meeting, headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan overruled the decision of ECC in less than a day and scuttled all hopes of a way forward in bilateral relations between two neighbours. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi after the cabinet meeting said that there was unanimity in the cabinet that normalising relations with India would not be possible until India reviews its decisions taken on 5 August 2019 relating to Jammu and Kashmir.
Opening up of trade between the two beleaguered nations, that has remained suspended for close to two years, was touted as the first step towards a thaw in relations between the two countries after Pakistan’s Prime Minister and Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa during the recent concluded Islamabad Security Dialogue had redefined Pakistani Security from a new perspective, laying emphasis on ‘geo-economics’.
Both had brought out the importance of improving relations with all its neighbours, enhancing trade and connectivity, striving for internal and external peace and bringing about sustainable development and resolving outstanding issues relating to water and climate change.
The new position articulated by Prime Minister Imran Khan and Gen Bajwa relating to security seemed to appear as a positive rethink on part of Pakistani ‘establishment’ to break itself free from an old paradigm of stuttered narrative to come out of isolation and face the new realities of changed geo political environment shaping its immediate neighbourhood.
The statement by two most prominent leaders of Pakistan who between themselves currently determine Pakistan’s destiny led to exchange of letters between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan rekindled hopes of opening up to a dialogue and prospects of peace.
The sudden volte face of Pakistan on resuming trade with India and linking it with the demand for reversal of steps that India took in August 2019 in Jammu and Kashmir is kind of an obsession that has prevented any positive movement in relations between India and Pakistan. There is little realisation within the Pakistan establishment that there is very little that it can do to alter the current political realities in Jammu and Kashmir or impact the situation in any meaningful way.
Immediately after India revoked Article 370 in August 2019 and changed its status to that of a Union territory, Pakistan went into an overdrive and took a series of steps to express its protests. It immediately stopped trade with India, recalled its High Commissioner from New Delhi and banned Indian television shows and movies.
Diplomatically, Pakistan’s efforts to raise the Kashmir issue in the United Nations and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and other forums failed to not only garner any support but led to its condemnation when Prime Minister Imran Khan linked the Kashmir issue with the threat of a nuclear war.
Militarily aware of its limitations to wrest Kashmir by force, Pakistan continued to use terrorist groups and their proxies as an extended arm of its military to create instability in Jammu and Kashmir. However the resolute response of Indian security establishment has been able to meet the twin challenges of preventing cross border infiltration and increased terrorist action. After a series of steps the situation has not only improved but a firm Indian response has resulted in an agreement between militaries of the two countries to cease fire along the Line of Control. Pakistan’s efforts to piggyback on terrorist groups to advance its military goals failed to achieve its end goals in Kashmir.
Pakistan’s political calls Kashmir as its “Jugular Vein”. It’s been used as an empty slogan to bind population of Pakistan in a make belief hope that one day Kashmir will be its part. It has continued to peruse its domestic and foreign policies around Kashmir to build animosity with India. Since Pakistan’s creation, every political leader or military dictator has relied on the issue of Kashmir to firm up his position and power and build up a narrative of anti-India sentiments. Its Kashmir obsession has not only brought misery but has impacting its survival due to economic hardships brought on by being seen as a perpetrator of terrorism. One of Pakistan’s leading intellectual’s Pervez Hoodbhoy was candid to admit a few years back that Pakistan’s Kashmir policy “has brought nothing but misery all around”.
Similarly, Pakistan Army considers Kashmir as its “raison d’etre”. It is in garb of leading Pakistan’s fight to wrest control of Kashmir that it has consolidated its hold over the affairs of Pakistan state by creation of military-intelligence combine that is now near impossible to dislodge. That has given it unfettered powers and say in affairs of the country’s foreign policy, most importantly its relations with India. The hold of Pakistan Army and its policy of nurturing proxies to fight its battles in Kashmir has resultantly led to increased hold of fundamentalists in affairs of the state.
Having run its full course there appeared a realisation in address of the Prime Minister and Army Chief during Islamabad Security Dialogue last month that economic and human costs of running a state policy using religious and extremist outfits are giving it diminishing returns. The need to open up and revise its security policy to reorient to ‘Geo-economics’ and make Pakistan centre of connectivity between South and Central Asia was thus their focus.
Pakistan’s trading community reeling under economic woes saw hope and moved fast to open up trade with India only to be disappointed within a day. The development also brought into open Pakistan’s double speak.
Pakistan remains in eternal contradiction with itself with different clubs that run it, from army/intelligence officers, politicians and intelligentsia, all brought up on anti-India rhetoric opposing any rapprochement with India. There is little realisation among them that it is Pakistan and its poor population that suffer from their myopic vision of taking over Kashmir, something impossible in the current situation.
Pakistan’s about turn on opening up trade with India would only make India doubly cautious in dealing with Pakistan, more specifically on its assurances of a ceasefire along the LOC.