Talks of talks between India and Pakistan & the Terrorism conundrum
After increased tensions on the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan at the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018, Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat’s statement of Saturday, 15 April 2018, saying that "peace is the only solution to improve the situation in Jammu & Kashmir and it could only be solved through dialogue between India and Pakistan", comes as a ray of hope. Not entirely coincidental, hours after his statement, Pakistani Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa, while speaking at a passing-out parade of cadets, said; “That only through comprehensive and meaningful dialogue a solution could be found for the disputes between the two countries”.
After almost three decades of violence between the two nuclear neighbors, talks in order to achieve a peaceful atmosphere would be a welcome step for the people of both countries and the wider region of South Asia. However, history has not been very kind to the outcome of instances in which ‘talks of talking to each other’, do rounds in either Islamabad or New Delhi. Mainly, because the epicenter of power in Pakistan, Rawalpindi, has had a thinking of its own.
Instances of initiated gestures of normalizing relations between India and Pakistan are often marred by violence; In February 1999, in an unprecedented gesture, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee travelled by bus to Lahore, on the newly opened Delhi-Lahore Bus service to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Both Prime Ministers signed the Lahore Declaration, the first major agreement between the two countries since the 1972 Simla Agreement, in which both countries reiterated to remain committed to the Simla Agreement and agreed to undertake a number of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) aimed at improving bilateral relations. Three months after Prime Minister Vajpayee’s bus journey, the Kargil conflict broke out when Pakistani forces intruded and occupied strategic positions on the Indian side of the LoC, prompting an Indian counter offensive. Two years later, on December 13, an armed attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi left 14 people dead. Pakistani based terrorist organizations, Lashkar-e-Taibah (LeT) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) were held responsible for the attack. The attack led to a massing of the militaries of India and Pakistan along the LoC and the International Border, and the standoff ended only in October 2002, after international mediation; Both countries came very close to an all-out war.
Two years later, in 2004, Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf held direct talks at the 12th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Islamabad, and the two countries' Foreign Secretaries met later in the year. The year marked the beginning of the ‘Composite Dialogue Process’, in which bilateral meetings were held between officials at various levels of government. A period of relative calmness was followed by the gruesome terrorist attack in Mumbai, in 2008, in which 164 people died. Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani national and the only attacker captured alive, confessed that the attackers were members of LeT and subsequently, all tracking calls and communications linked back to Pakistan, from where the entire attack was plotted and directed. In the wake of the attack, India broke off talks with Pakistan.
After a series of highs and lows, cautious optimism was raised when the newly elected Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi invited his Pakistani counterpart, Mr. Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi in 2014. A year later, Prime Minister Modi made a surprise stop-over in Lahore on his way from Kabul to wish the Pakistani Prime Minister on his birthday and on his granddaughter’s wedding. Barely a month and a half after Mr. Modi’s surprise visit, the Pathankot Air Force Station, part of the Western Air Command of the Indian Air Force in Pathankot, was attacked by terrorists of the Pakistani based JeM and the United Jihad Council.
Half a year later, in September 2016, the Indian Army brigade headquarters in Uri, near the LoC was attacked in a pre-dawn terrorist attack, killing 17 Indian soldiers. Again, evidence lead to terrorists of the Pakistani based JeM being responsible for this brazen attack. Having absorbed terrorism from Pakistan for years with no noteworthy military reaction, in response to the attack in Uri, India conducted surgical strikes against terrorist launching pads across the LoC in Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir. India’s decades old policy of strategic restraint changed after consecutive attacks on its soil and carried a message to Pakistan; “This far and no further”.
One of the main reasons that relations between India and Pakistan are not as we all would have wished for, is perhaps the sheer incompatibility between both the nuclear powers. While both countries have their own set of problems, the actual nature of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has proven to be conflicting with the nature of the Republic of India; The military in Pakistan has been de facto in charge of the country since the time Pakistan came into existence, and the Army is still in the driving seat after more than 70 years, with Pakistani Courts being instrumental in engineering political outcomes in favor of Rawalpindi. The deep-rooted anti-India stand, and inflexible hostility has been complemented by the continuous undermining of democratic institutions by the Army, which makes it difficult to know, whom to talk to in Pakistan when one is embarking on a path of normalizing relations. In addition, the Army's, rather debatable, preoccupations with a large-scale Pashtun social movement for fundamental human rights in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, volatility in Balochistan, political and ethnic divisions in Sindh and Punjab, a rights movement in Gilgit Baltistan and the never ending civil-military tensions in local Pakistani politics, do not contribute to a possible scenario of talks with India.
China’s role and tacit support to the Pakistani Army, in this fragile equilibrium, should also not be underestimated. China does not want to take high risks regarding the future of its ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) initiative, as its geo-political stakes remain unchanged and it has already invested substantial amounts into the project. Beijing has been pushing to give the Pakistani Army the lead role in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects as Pakistani Ministries charged with carrying out the projects have incurred delays because of infighting. Chinese decision to save Masood Azhar (Chief of Jaish-e-Muhammed) by using its veto, from being declared a terrorist by the UN, should be viewed in this larger context. In addition, the Pakistani Army’s actions to mainstream members of armed groups, like LeT Chief Hafiz Saeed, into the country’s political process, do not enhance an atmosphere for dialogue with its nuclear neighbor. Understandably, from New Delhi's point of view, as people like Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar have been responsible for numerous deadly terrorist attacks in India.
In the heat of such a difficult history, it merits to conclude that despite intermittent statements coming from either the Chief of Army in Pakistan or India, the relationship between India and Pakistan will remain wilted until and unless there is a complete halt in cross-border terrorism. It is of the utmost importance, that talks, dialogue and diplomacy should be preceded and succeeded by efforts of tranquillity which ensure that rapprochement endeavors do not go in vain.
It remains to be seen whether General Bajwa truly believes that only ‘comprehensive and meaningful dialogue’ will lead to solutions between India and Pakistan. If he does, the first confidence building measure should be that the Pakistani Army halts its two-faced counter terrorism strategy which includes considering terrorist outfits operational in the Kashmir Valley, India and the Taliban in Afghanistan as, ‘strategic assets’. The real and long-term benefits of distinguishing between ‘good’ terrorists and ‘bad’ terrorists, to the political and economic wellbeing of Pakistan, and to the cause of regional stability may be dubious, but till such time as the Pakistani Army recognizes this, the situation will not change. The real question is, whether General Bajwa does?
As of now, it has only resulted in the questionable 'achievement' that the country has emerged as the epicenter of global terror, thereby risking a permanent state of instability in the region of South Asia and a possible nuclear confrontation with its neighbor, India.