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India Has the Ball in Its Court Despite Pak’s Ceasefire Violation

PM Narendra Modi must not get distracted by Pakistan’s ceasefire violation. He has to reinvent the spirit of 2014.

Published
Opinion
5 min read
India-Pakistan Relations: Pak ‘establishment’ routinely lets out trial balloons to assess the acceptance of any policy deviations.
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The euphoria was short lived. The Border Security Force (BSF) accused Pakistan Rangers of violating the ceasefire across the International Border in J-K's Samba sector on 3 May at 0615 hours. There were no casualties. Pakistan Foreign Office, nevertheless, protested the incident as an attempt “to sabotage peace along LoC and Working Boundary”. India, on the other hand, does not seem to have hyper-ventilated.

The violation comes on the back of a plethora of reports in the Indian and Pakistani media about the backchannel diplomacy. It is worth recalling that the backchannel tasted its first ‘bump’ with Pakistan’s flip-flop on importing sugar and wheat from India.

Pak Army Chief’s Changed National Security Paradigm

As is now known from several media reports from India and Pakistan, General Qamar Javed Bajwa has been trying to hard sell his vision of a changed national security paradigm for Pakistan vis-à-vis India that he first publically articulated at the Islamabad Security Dialogue on 19 March. At an Iftar dinner on 23 April, Bajwa held an off-the-record interaction with over 20 TV anchors and journalists trying to convince them of the following:

  • There has been, for some time, a doctrinal rethink within the Army, based on “strategic patience”; that constant low level conflict only leads to a drain on the economy at a time when Pakistan cannot afford it; “strategic patience” is needed to enable Pakistan focus on social uplift, health, education and infrastructure instead of being stuck “at loggerheads forever” (with India);
  • Trade with neighbours is inevitable;
  • Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate Chief Lt. Gen Faiz Hameed is part of the backchannel process as are other Commanders;
  • This rethink has led to a deliberate policy of abandoning jihadi outfits and dismantling their networks, as dictated and mandated by Financial Action Task Force (FATF) requirements;
  • In Pakistan Army calculus, India is investing in Bajwa’s process because it is faced with a two-front situation. As a result of forced redeployment, ISI estimated that there is now 1:1 parity of ground forces deployed against each other;
  • On J&K, Pakistan’s primary interest is to ensure that its Muslim majority does not get diluted; Indian Constitution articles on J&K are irrelevant as far as Pakistan is concerned; it is more interested in restoration of statehood and ensuring Article 35A does get diluted. According to Pakistani commentators, some assurances have been made by India.
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Scepticism in Pakistan About India

Pakistani commentators are finding it difficult to accept Bajwa’s U-turn on India. Those who have been associated with the ‘miltablishment’ have been openly voicing concern over (i) too much optimism emerging from their side and (ii) too little emerging from India.

Najam Sethi lashed out at the ‘miltablishment’ for exploiting the (so-called) ‘Kashmir cause’ for its own benefit over the years and now forcing Pakistan to do an existential rethink. Questioning Bajwa’s 23 April “media-management” as misplaced concreteness, Sethi noted that most journalists present were ‘brainwashed victims’ of decades of India hating.

Speaking at the Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI) webinar on 3 May, former Defense Secretary Lt. Gen. (R) Asif Yasin Malik, Former Permanent Representative to the UN and Ambassador to UK and US Dr Maleeha Lodhi, and Former Envoy to India and Germany Ambassador Abdul Basit, lamented:

  • Absence of ‘strategic clarity’ on Pakistani side;
  • Bajwa’s conciliatory statements have not been reciprocated by India;
  • Backchannel could be tactical to trap Pakistan in talks with no outcomes, tangible or otherwise;
  • Pakistan is more vulnerable due to its fragile economic situation;
  • Pakistan cannot abandon Kashmir ‘core’ issue and settlement has to be “peace with honour”;
  • Release of Hurriyat leadership and permission for them to travel abroad can be one indication that India is ready to resolve the problem. True to form, another of the ‘miltablishment’ asset, now masquerading as the ‘President’ of ‘Azad Jammu & Kashmir’, Masood Khan, in an interview (3 May), reiterated the non-existent ‘self-determination’ solution.
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India Needs Peace with Pakistan More Than Ever

Like Pakistan, India, desperately needs to focus on social uplift, health, education and infrastructure. The backlash over the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic and the inherent structural weaknesses that were glossed over in a hubris dominated attempt to project triumphalism over a fawning electorate has left the BJP exposed. The degree of unpreparedness, lack of accountability and naked sycophancy has dented the ruling party’s claims of being different from the Congress. This situation, across India, is now being described as apocalyptic.

Simply put, India does not have the economic wherewithal to resource its military to fight a two-front war. Instead, India should seek durable and enduring peace with one of its adversaries. Actually, almost every Indian Prime Minister has repeatedly tried and failed due to no fault of ours. Hence, the scepticism over the current initiative.

It appears obvious that the renewal of backchannel in December 2020, seemingly at India’s initiative, was a direct consequence of the Chinese aggression in Ladakh few months earlier.

The subsequent rebalancing of forces away from the western sector also appeared to suggest that India would prefer to make peace with Pakistan than trust the Chinese.

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PM Narendra Modi Needs to Make a ‘Moonshot Decision’

Even though the way forward is stark, both Bajwa and Prime Minister Modi face a daunting task. In Bajwa’s case, he has to win over his own rank and file, establishment and, the indoctrinated ideological, religious and political constituency that believes their existence and that of Pakistan is based on some form of personal or state inspired/backed jihad with India and one-upmanship; damn, the consequences.

In my opinion, the agenda of “teaching Pakistan a lesson” cannot sustain any longer if there is widespread acceptance that the broken health, education and infrastructure systems in India need urgent repairing and mere sloganeering or back slapping each other alone is insufficient to win future elections.

Policy-planners would be well advised to read an article by Dr Joseph Britto called 'India’s Moonshot' (Business India, May 3-5) where he has advocated that the only way to prevent the next fire—spread of this and the next new strains of the virus—is by vaccinating 1 billion Indians every 6 to 9 months and for this to happen Prime Minister "must take and commit the nation to a moonshot decision NOW". Moonshot decisions are bold and ambitious to solve colossal and apparently insurmountable problems. Dr Britto calls this the “most significant post-independence decision that we as a nation have to make..”.

Only Prime Minister can deliver on the moonshot decision. It’s a choice he has to make. Providing healthcare to his people is equally, if not more, important than spending enormous resources, on a war with Pakistan that is never going to be fought.

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Ball in India’s Court

The ball is in India’s court. It can pocket it and keep it there with the limited ceasefire announcement, which is now a hair trigger of a sniper’s rifle from ending, or do a bit baseline rallies before serving & volleying and take the game forward.

Prime Minister Modi and Bajwa need domestic backing if they are looking to leave behind a legacy. Bajwa, at least, seems to have grasped that Pakistan cannot survive economically by adopting an anti-India strategy forever.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi must break out of this ambush by his own security and bureaucratic coterie, which he said will not happen, when elected in 2014. Will the Prime Minister reinvent the spirit of 2014, assert himself, balance priorities, invest in health, trade and connectivity, and begin a new match – love-all - vis-à-vis India-Pakistan relations?

(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.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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