NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 16

Pakistan-India thaw

Efforts for peace between Pakistan and India have come to the fore after remaining behind the scenes for months. Though both sides have expressed their resolve to de-escalate tension, yet results will start appearing after concerted efforts for years and decades.

The statements of leaderships of both countries show the process to normalise relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours had started when tension between them was too high to even think of it. When Pakistan’s military and political leaders offered a hand of friendship to all neighbours, nobody thought India would respond to it positively. However, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Pakistan Day message to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan came as a pleasant surprise to many people on both sides of the border and it could pave the way for improved relations between the two countries. It is a great achievement that the two sides have started taking careful steps after years of tense relationship. Earlier, the two sides had hinted at improving relations when they announced a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) last month. They have also started talks to discuss the sharing of Indus waters, the most serious issue between them after Kashmir.

Many rumours are doing the rounds about the efforts to normalise relations between the two countries. Some say the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had brokered the ceasefire while others believe the US, under the Biden administration, is playing a role in de-escalating tension in the region for peace in Afghanistan. According to some analysts, China also wanted improved relations between the two countries for the success of its regional and international economic plans. Despite the theories, it is a fact that peace would most benefit Pakistan and India and their people. According to a US media report, the UAE had brokered the February 25 Pakistan-India ceasefire. “The Pakistan-India ceasefire marked a milestone in secret talks brokered by the UAE that began months earlier, according to officials aware of the situation who asked not to be identified. The ceasefire, one said, is only the beginning of a larger roadmap to forge a lasting peace between the neighbours,” it claimed. The next step in the process involves both sides reinstating envoys in Islamabad and New Delhi, who were pulled out 2019 after Pakistan protested India’s move to revoke seven decades of autonomy for Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&K). Then comes the hard part: Talks on resuming trade and a lasting resolution on Kashmir, the subject of three wars since Pakistan and India became independent from Britain in 1947, according to Bloomberg.

However, expectations are still low that the current detente would achieve much beyond the return of envoys and a resumption of trade through the Punjab land border. But the process appears to be the most concerted effort in years, and comes as the Biden administration is seeking wider peace talks on Afghanistan. The UAE, which has historic trade and diplomatic links with Pakistan and India, has taken a more assertive international role under Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. It has also “look towards Asia” policy as it strengthens political alliances beyond its role as a global trade and logistics hub. Several clues over the past few months pointed at the UAE’s role. In November, Jaishankar met bin Zayed, the crown prince on a two-day visit to Abu Dhabi, followed by Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi the following month. Roughly two weeks before the February 25 announcement, the UAE foreign minister held a phone call with Prime Minister Imran Khan “wherein they discussed regional and international issues of interest.” And just days before, India allowed Imran Khan’s aircraft to fly over Indian airspace as he headed to Sri Lanka for a state visit — a practice suspended since the 2019 hostilities, according to the report.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a tweet wishing Imran Khan well after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 — another sign that relations between the countries are getting warmer. After the ceasefire, the UAE was one of a handful of countries to issue a statement welcoming the ceasefire announcement, highlighting the “close historical ties” it has with both Pakistan and India and hailing “the efforts made by both countries to come to the agreement.”

Foreign media reports also said that India would be participating in joint anti-terror drills to be held in Pakistan under the umbrella of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The drills will be held in Pabbi, home of Pakistan’s counter-terror school, and the decision to hold the exercises was announced during the 36th meeting of the Council of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on March 18. Besides India, China, Russia and other SCO states will also send their contingents to take part in the drills.

People in Pakistan got a hint when Prime Minister Imran Khan asked India to take the first step toward peace and resolve the Kashmir dispute in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions. Speaking at the opening session of the first Islamabad Security Dialogue conference, he said his government tried from the first day to resolve all outstanding issues with India, including Kashmir through dialogue, but “New Delhi went in the opposite direction. We want peace with India, but it must take the first step toward peace because we cannot move forward without it.” The signal became clearer after Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa called on India and Pakistan to “bury the past” and move towards cooperation. He stressed that the burden was on India to create a “conducive environment” and said the United States had a role to play in ending regional conflicts. Then the Indian prime minister confirmed peace efforts continued between the two countries. In a tweet on Pakistan Day, he said, “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.” He also wished Pakistan well in dealing with the challenges of the pandemic. Earlier, he had sent good wishes to Prime Minister Khan when he tested positive for the coronavirus.

It is obvious that the messages of the leaders of the two countries point to lessening of tension. However, they have to really work hard to normalise ties as hawks on both sides could derail the peace process.