‘LoC Has Taken A Toll On The Pakistan Army’
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‘LoC Has Taken A Toll On The Pakistan Army’

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‘They are aware that they have been unable to bring about any change in the security situation in Kashmir and have failed to internationalise the Kashmir issue’

Less than a month after the India and Pakistan armies announced an unexpected ceasefire on the Line of Control, Pakistan’s powerful army chief General Javed Qamar Bajwa has made conciliatory overtures towards India by saying that the two neighbours should ‘bury the past and move forward.’

General Bajwa’s remarks appear to be in agreement with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan who is also talking about the benefits of having peace with India. The Pakistan army is the most important institution in the country and has been the principal architect of Pakistan’s India policy.

What has brought about this change of heart? Why would the Pakistan army alter its long-held Pakistani doctrine of hostility towards India and most importantly — can Pakistan be trusted?

One of the most competent voices who can provide a perspective on this development is Lieutenant General Deependra Singh Hooda, PVSM, UYSM, VSM & Bar (Retd), the highest-ranking military officer who commanded the surgical strikes in Pakistan occupied Kashmir in 2016.

General Hooda is a former general officer commanding of the Northern Command which is responsible for the security of India’s border with Pakistan and China.

“”It certainly appears there is a change in the Pakistan army’s thinking about the doctrine of continued hostility towards India,” said General Hooda.

“”Whether this is a sustained long-term policy which will reverse previously held views by the Pakistan military is something we’ll have to wait and watch,” General Hooda, a Senior fellow at the Delhi Policy Group, says in the first segment of a two-part interview.

Why do you think General Bajwa has changed this long-held Pakistani military policy of hostility towards India?

It certainly appears there is a change in the Pakistan army’s thinking about the doctrine of continued hostility towards India. Whether this is a sustained long-term policy which will reverse previously held views by the Pakistan military — is something we’ll have to wait and watch.

I also think there is an element of realism about the situation in which Pakistan finds itself. The country is in a dire financial condition and has gone through political instability recently.

They are also aware that they have been unable to bring about any change in the security situation in Kashmir and have failed to internationalise the Kashmir issue.

The extremely live Line of Control has taken its toll on the Pakistan army. All these factors would have contributed to some introspection in the Pakistan army on whether this complete breakdown in bilateral relations was serving any useful strategic purpose.

I think there is some realisation, but as I said earlier, we’ll have to see whether this turn is temporary or has some degree of permanence.

Do you think General Bajwa believes that it is Pakistan and its army’s interest to have a better relationship with India?

We have to see. He has spoken about economic cooperation, connectivity and the message coming out seems positive.

Based on past experiences, there is always an element of hesitancy in India about whether Pakistan’s overtures will be permanent or temporary.

Can we trust the general?

”Trust’ is a very big word, particularly when we look at past actions by the Pakistan army which has been sponsoring terror-related activities against India.

But having said that, I think if there is a glimmer of opportunity to improve relations then we should not shut our door to it completely.

Let us take one step at a time and start with some small confidence building measures. If we find that there is a positive response from Pakistan, then we can take things further and build on these relations.

It certainly does not mean that we will lower the guard in Kashmir.

Could this possibly be a smokescreen to continue the existing policies of undermining India by terrorism and jihad under the guise of ceasefire and a better relationship?

When we find that there are some opportunities to improve relations, we should at least make an attempt to take them forward.

A result-oriented dialogue is possible only if we see some results from the Pakistani side in relation to curbing terror activities. But at the same time, we cannot be intransigent about not talking to them because then a dialogue cannot go forward.

Pakistan — as it appears — seems to have diluted its stance on Kashmir. Earlier they used to talk about a rollback of the annulment of Article 370, but in his latest statement General Bajwa talks about creating a conducive environment.

So, on their side too there is a step back from a hard and stubborn position.

What do you think he means by ‘conducive environment’?

My own sense is an outreach by the government to the people of Kashmir. An attempt to restart political activity and to address the sense of alienation in Kashmir.

Some of these measures by the Indian government could be seen as positive steps — not only as far as Pakistan is concerned, but there is a need for outreach even as far as the local population is concerned.

Prime Minister Imran Khan says his government and the army are on the same page. And yet, a few months ago, he was comparing our government to Nazi Germany. Do you think the Biden administration is pushing the two countries to talk so that both regions can facilitate a solution of sorts in Afghanistan?

It does appear to me personally, that this time the prime minister and the army chief are on the same page. That’s different from the past.

I remember past agreements or past attempts at ceasefire agreements. For example, we had the two DGMOs meet at Wagah in 2013 and those attempts didn’t succeed because the army chief and then prime minister Nawaz Sharif did not appear to hold the same views.

This time, it does appear that they are speaking the same language. Now, obviously, mere words will not do and we have to see some visible actions on the ground.

There does seem to be an alignment of purpose between the Pakistan army and the political leadership.

On the question of Afghanistan and whether President Biden has pushed Indian Pakistan for talks, I really can’t say with authority that this has happened. But what is certain is that the new US administration is perhaps seeing a greater role for India in the ultimate resolution of the Afghan problem.

If you recall recently, the US secretary of State has in a letter to President Ashraf Ghani, said that India must be a part of the UN-convened meeting on Afghanistan.

The Biden administration does see India playing a much more active role in Afghanistan.

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