(This is Part-I of a three-part series by (retd) Additional Secretary and strategic affairs expert S Ramesh to mark the resuming of India-Pakistan dialogue. You can access Part II here.)
As one astute Pakistani commentator observed, the 24 February India-Pakistan joint statement on ceasefire caught hawks and doves on both sides by surprise.
If this wasn’t enough, Pakistani analysts were stupefied over the remarks of Chief Of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa (QJB) at a ceremony in the Pakistan Air Force Academy in Risalpur on 2 February and at the Islamabad Security Dialogue (ISD) in Islamabad on 17-18 March. These remarks left (on either side) the hawks aghast and doves warning of ‘spoilers’: Kargil-1999, Mumbai-2008, and Pathankot-2016.
After the recent dialogue on water sharing, now there is talk of resuming trade and cricket, even if taking baby steps. What exactly has been brewing between India and Pakistan, and since when?
Qamar Javed Bajwa’s Statements Give Clues
To understand what’s brewing between the two countries, let’s examine the following recent statements by QJB.
- Time to extend a hand of peace in all directions;
- Pakistan is ready to improve “our environment by resolving all our outstanding issues with our neighbours through dialogue in a dignified and peaceful manner”;
- We have learned from the past to evolve and are willing to move ahead towards a new future, however, all this is contingent upon reciprocity;
- 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".
- Our efforts for peace in Afghanistan and responsible and mature behavior in crisis situation with India manifest our desire to “change the narrative of geo-political contestation into geo-economic integration”.
Broadly, QJB appeared to suggest a strategic shift by the Pakistan Army as to how it viewed its relations with India and where it now stood on J&K by emphasizing on ‘geo-economics’ instead of existential mantras like ‘jugular vein’ and ‘unfinished agenda of partition’ as rooted in its psyche.
For what it is worth, Prime Minister Imran Khan echoed similar sentiments at the event.
QJB’s remark that “we should bury the past and move on” has been described as “poorly worded” by a noted Pakistani commentator. Another observed “defeat cannot be dressed up in ‘geo-economics’; a ‘geo-economic’ initiative towards a ‘hegemonic and intransigent’ India can only indicate ‘a lack of options’”. He warned of consequences in POJK, J&K, domestically and China-Pakistan relations.
Optimists Feel Good, Indian Army Remains Cautious
Optimists seized upon what was not said by either Imran Khan or QJB. For example, there were no critical personalised references, as even in the recent past (Kotli, 5 February), about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On J&K, there was no mention of self-determination or pre-conditions like UN Security Council Resolutions and restoring the pre-5 August 2019 status. Pakistan seems to be content just with the creation of “conducive environment”.
There was no amplification of what ‘first step’ India would have to take; India was not identified as a permanent enemy either.
Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Gen M.M. Naravane’s reaction (India Economic Conclave, New Delhi, 25 March), seemed quite guarded, almost as though the Indian Army is still not trusting Pakistan.
Those in the Indian establishment would know that much of what QJB said or offered is not new. His remark of resolving all outstanding issues with India through dialogue in a ‘dignified and peaceful’ manner has been made before in restricted dialogues, but never clarified on what exactly it meant.
Yet, that Pakistan Army did not take any offensive posture when the LAC was hot and there has been a decline in the number of Pakistani terrorist killed/active in J&K is a possible indication of QJB’s serious intent.
Pakistani analysts seem to believe that whatever negotiation/facilitation that has brought the two nations to this point, QJB’s order to his DGMO and his ISD statements are in line with the agreed script. India, in due course, would have to make the next (substantial and unilateral) move.
India-Pakistan Relations: A Game of Expectations
Pakistan expects easing of restrictions, release of prisoners, boosting tourism this summer etc. India’s expectation from any future talks are that the ceasefire should hold, zero tolerance on any further terror attacks with a Pakistani imprint, maximum possible solution on J&K is restoration of statehood internally—which Union Ministers have already started mentioning— and talks and negotiations leading to eventually converting the LOC into an international border.
India may also only make pro forma objection if POK and Gilgit Baltistan are integrated into the Pakistani state. Of course, the chimera of either army trying to annexe claimed territories was, is, and will be out of question.
There are also signs that mention of national security and terror are being dropped from ongoing election campaigns as preparatory measures to a new kind of discourse on Pakistan.
Trade, Visas and Cricket: Is Everything Going As Planned?
So, what can the nationals of the two countries look forward to in the immediate coming months? Revival of trade and people-to-people links, relaxation in issuing visas, return of Envoys, SAARC Summit in Islamabad, et al.
Pakistan’s biggest expectation centers on cricket. QJB is reported to be an avid cricketer, who has played the game as a wicket keeper. The ceasefire and anticipated quick incremental steps to normalise could have been largely influenced by the scheduled Men's T20 World Cup to be held in India in October-November.
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Ehsan Mani, disclosed on 28 February that they had sought written assurance from India for visas for its national team, fans, officials and journalists by March 2021 for this International Cricket Council (ICC) event, failing which, they would push to move the event to United Arab Emirates.
Incredulously, reports have now appeared of even a bilateral India-Pakistan cricket series before the world cup. This would necessarily have to be cleared by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Recall that the ceasefire came into effect four days earlier.
Is it all part of the agreed script?
(S Ramesh served as Additional Secretary in cabinet secretariat. He can be reached at @shanramesh1459. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)