Indo-Pak: ‘Time To Bury The Past’: Why Pakistan Has Decided To Extend An Olive Branch To India
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Indo-Pak: ‘Time To Bury The Past’: Why Pakistan Has Decided To Extend An Olive Branch To India

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The latest statistics which indicate that the month of March did not witness even one incident of cross-firing along the International Border or the Line of Control (LoC) are encouraging, leading some to suggest that, after two decades of violence, a new age of reset may be dawning

With inflation reaching record levels – it stood at a 12-year high of 14.6 per cent in January – on the back of out of control food prices, GDP per capita sinking, and youth unemployment escalating, Pakistan’s economy faces a daunting task to escape from the grips of the pandemic

If there is any hope of the two nations developing warmer ties in the coming months and years, a mutual acceptance that this amelioration will only be incremental is vital

In a development that took many by surprise, Indian and Pakistani military forces announced, in late February, that a ceasefire agreement had been reached along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir. The joint statement issued by both armies, reportedly, came shortly on the heels of telephonic discussions between India’s Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) Lt General Paramjit Singh Sangha and his Pakistan counterpart, Major General Nauman Zakaria.

This is the first time since 2003 that the nations have agreed to a formal ceasefire along the 460-mile LoC. India and Pakistan had arrived at a ceasefire understanding on November 23, 2003, and largely adhered to it for the next few years. However, the terrorist attack carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba in Mumbai that claimed the lives of 160 people in 2008, saw tensions flare between the two nations leading to increased shelling and ceasefire violations in the following years. In the last fourteen years, there have been a reported 14,155 ceasefire violations with 5,133 coming in 2020 alone.

Given the effective failure of previous such agreements, it isn’t surprising that many approached the February ceasefire agreement with some degree of cynicism. Yet, the latest statistics which indicate that the month of March did not witness even one incident of cross-firing along the International Border or the Line of Control (LoC) are encouraging, leading some to suggest that, after two decades of violence, a new age of reset may be dawning.

The recent statements of Pakistan Army Cheif General Qamar Javed Bajwa last week at the National Security Division’s Islamabad Security Dialogue only adds credence to this theory. “We feel it is time to bury the past and move forward,” he said before crucially adding, “But…our neighbour (India) will have to create a conducive environment, particularly in Kashmir. “”General Bajwa’s statement was also welcomed by the United States.

Over the last thirty years, there have, largely, been four efforts at arriving at rapprochement, each of which has, ultimately, ended all but prematurely. But this time around, Pakistan’s dire political and economic environment may mandate more concerted initiative.

For instance, a recent research paper published by an Islamabad based think tank noted that the country had incurred losses amounting to as much as $38 billion on the back of the FATF’s decision to place and retain it on its grey list since 2018.

What’s more, Pakistan’s borrowings from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other nations have also been well documented with the nation’s public debt (domestic and external) being reported at Rs 36.3 trillion for the financial year 2019-20 – an increase of 154 per cent since FY2013.

With inflation reaching record levels – it stood at a 12-year high of 14.6 per cent in January – on the back of out of control food prices, GDP per capita sinking, and youth unemployment escalating, Pakistan’s economy faces a daunting task to escape from the grips of the pandemic.

It is against this backdrop that India’s neighbour’s decision to extend an olive branch ought to be viewed. The issue of Kashmir notwithstanding, it is now firmly in Pakistan’s interest to engage in diplomatic outreach in the hope of spurring cross-border trade be it by expanding its export-import portfolio with India, through religious tourism or even through the resumption of sporting contests.

The rollback of Article 370 and 35A and an agreement over the long-standing issue of Kashmir are, for all intents and purposes, still some distance away from becoming legitimised within diplomatic discussions. In truth, if there is any hope of the two nations developing warmer ties in the coming months and years, a mutual acceptance that this amelioration will only be incremental is vital.

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