by Lt Gen H S Panag (Retd)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have reciprocated the call for normalisation of ties with Pakistan. In a letter to PM Imran Khan, conveying his greetings on Pakistan Day, Modi wrote, “As a neighbouring country, India desires cordial relations with the people of Pakistan. For this, an environment of trust, devoid of terror and hostility, is imperative.” Modi’s message is ideologically significant because Pakistan Day commemorates the passing of a resolution by the Muslim League on 23 March 1940 to kick start the process for the creation of Pakistan.
Except those engaged in the obvious back-door parleys, the joint statement of the Director Generals of Military Operations of India and Pakistan on 25 February — resurrecting the long-forgotten 2003 ceasefire agreement and bringing diplomacy out of the deep freezer after five years — came as a surprise to most.
Three weeks later, on 18 March, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s all- powerful Chief of Army Staff, while speaking at the Islamabad Security Dialogue, sprang a bigger surprise by advocating a vision for Pakistan to transform it from an obsessive “national security state” focusing primarily on military aspects of national security to one giving primacy to economic security and well-being of people. To fulfil this vision, Pakistan requires internal and external peace and a stable relationship with India. While highlighting the need for resolution to the Kashmir dispute, Bajwa steered clear of any pre-conditions for the peace process to move forward beyond the demand for a “conducive environment”. A day earlier, Prime Minister Imran Khan had echoed similar views.
What Did General Bajwa Say?
General Bajwa envisions Pakistan as being internally stable, at peace with its neighbours, particularly India and Afghanistan, and becoming a regional economic hub bridging the economies of Central, West, South and East Asia. To this end, he also emphasised the need to revive SAARC.
The geo-economics vision of Pakistan is based on four core pillars — “moving towards a lasting and enduring peace within and outside; non-interference of any kind in the internal affairs of neighbouring and regional countries; boosting intra-regional trade and connectivity; and bringing sustainable development and prosperity through establishment of investment and economic hubs within the region.”
On India-Pakistan relationship, Bajwa said, “Stable Indo-Pak relation is a key to unlock the untapped potential of South and Central Asia by ensuring connectivity between East and West Asia….It is important to understand that without the resolution of Kashmir dispute through peaceful means, process of sub-continental rapprochement will always remain susceptible to derailment due to politically motivated bellicosity. However, we feel that it is time to bury the past and move forward. But for resumption of peace process or meaningful dialogue, our neighbour will have to create conducive environment, particularly in Indian Occupied Kashmir.”
General Bajwa emphasised that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is at the heart of Pakistan’s economic transformation plan and central to its vision highlighted above.
And Why Is That So?
The new vision of Pakistan of becoming a regional economic hub is contingent upon the success of the CPEC, which is the flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China. Thus the Chinese economy also gets linked to West, Central and South Asia. CPEC passes through Gilgit-Baltistan, which is Indian territory under illegal occupation of Pakistan. Conflict in this region jeopardises the CPEC.
In a nutshell, Pakistan’s economic future depends on a rapprochement with India and China’s shadow looms large over it. In fact, China had advocated tri- lateral economic cooperation between the three countries during the one-to-one summits at Wuhan and Mahabalipuram between PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. One of the possible political aims of China’s unilateral actions in Eastern Ladakh is to ensure the security of the CPEC by an omnipresent threat and nudge India for negotiations with Pakistan.
Nuclear weapons safeguard Pakistan from an existential threat. However, even the need to maintain a minimum conventional deterrent to stalemate India’s superiority drains its economy. Pakistan does not have the military capability to annex Jammu and Kashmir. Its proxy 4th Generation War in J&K has been neutralised by the Indian Army. State sponsorship of terrorism has created internal threats and instability that discourages foreign investment. The economy is under further strain due to Financial Action Task Force (FATF) sanctions and severe International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditions.
Keeping the above in view, rapprochement with India is not a matter of choice but a strategic/economic compulsion. The challenge for Pakistan will be to convince its population high on religious nationalism and rein in the terrorist network that it has created.
The Way Forward
Nuclear weapons foreclose any option for India to force compellence on Pakistan, using its conventional superiority. And now, with the threat of a two-front war becoming a reality, this option is a non-starter. For any meaningful retributory action below the nuclear threshold, India does not have the technological military edge. Moreover, Pakistan has adequate military potential to force a stalemate in any war/conflict situation. Ironically, Pakistan’s position is similar to that of India’s with respect to China.
It is interesting to note that the recent developments are a mirror image of the peace initiatives of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-Manmohan Singh-Parvez Musharraf era from 2003 to 2008, which evolved the Four Point Solution. However, the Pakistani military backed off when Musharraf was forced to resign on 18 August 2008, and its sponsored terrorists scuttled the peace process with 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. The military did the same to PM Modi’s outreach to the elected government in Pakistan from 2014 to 2015. However, this time, Pakistan’s military is on board. General Bajwa could not have moved forward without taking the Corps Commanders into confidence. The rank and file of the Pakistani military is as professional as ours and unlikely to break ranks. Prime Minister Modi’s popularity and political skills can carry the nation with him. Same is true for the military in Pakistan.
As far as the “conducive environment” in J&K is concerned, it is as much our political compulsion as a token pre-condition of Pakistan for the peace process to move forward. In my view, restoration of statehood, engagement with all stakeholders and an elected government will meet the requirement. General Bajwa has already committed to meet PM Modi’s three conditions – “an environment of trust, devoid of terror and hostility”, but he has to walk the talk. The sharp decline in the number of Pakistani terrorist killed/active in J&K is a possible indication of its intent.
Let there be no doubt that both countries understand borders cannot be redrawn but economic cooperation can certainly make them irrelevant. We have the European Union model before us where a blood-soaked past has been long forgotten. Considering our own strategic limitations to force compellence, there is no harm in moving forward with an economy-driven peace process. As per my assessment, Pakistan’s future is at stake and it will not do an about-turn because it has nowhere to turn to.