Dr. Maleeha Lodhi
Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the United Nations
It is much too early to assess the future prospects of a troubled relationship, especially as the positions of the two sides are so far apart on the terms of re-engagement. Irrespective of any ‘back channel’ meetings that took place to produce reaffirmation of the LoC ceasefire in February 2021, the more consequential question relates to the future and whether broader engagement between the two neighbors is in the offing?
Before considering this, two background factors should be kept in view as they provide a wider context to the latest development. Both have been noted by several observers. One, this tentative thaw has taken place when China and India have been easing tensions by embarking on military disengagement from Ladakh, which saw serious armed clashes between the two countries last year.
De-escalation on the LoC has come on the heels of this modest relaxation in Sino-Indian tensions. Two, the advent of the Biden administration has seen countries try to position themselves to renew or upgrade ties with the US by taking actions to influence thinking in Washington.
That also applies to South Asia’s principal powers and could be one of the factors behind the latest developments. Nevertheless, the path to any normalization of relations remains strewn with formidable challenges, especially as Delhi’s policy of using unprecedented levels of repression in occupied Jammu and Kashmir remains unchanged.
The question then is, on what terms and circumstances can any meaningful dialogue resume between the two countries? Pakistan has continued to insist that India rescind its unilateral August 5 action before any talks could be considered. Delhi, for its part, has constantly echoed the mantra that “terror and talks” cannot go together and ruled out talks on Kashmir, insisting it is an internal matter and is being dealt with accordingly.
Finding common ground between these sharply divergent positions for dialogue seems a remote possibility. It would be next to impossible for Pakistan to agree to talks or take steps to normalize relations with India if Delhi refuses to discuss the dispute of occupied Kashmir and continues to disingenuously claim that all it is willing to talk about is that Pakistan should vacate Azad Kashmir.
It may be in India’s interest to normalize ties without including Kashmir in any future dialogue to create the impression that Pakistan has accepted the August 5 action and there is no longer any dispute over Kashmir. The opposite is the case for Pakistan. Engagement with India or talks minus Kashmir will nullify Pakistan’s position on the dispute and would be unacceptable for Islamabad.
The government will therefore have to avoid any engagement for the sake of engagement with India unless Pakistan’s concerns are accommodated in future talks. This is difficult to envisage given the Narendra Modi government’s hardline posture and its flat refusal to discuss Kashmir.
Managing tensions with India will continue to be a major preoccupation for Pakistan, but the immediate outlook for any substantial improvement in relations is marked by uncertainty. Until there is substantive dialogue aimed at a negotiated settlement of disputes, especially Kashmir, the two nuclear neighbors will continue to be in an uneasy state of no war, no peace, with sporadic efforts to manage tensions
Dr. Riffat Hussain
Professor and Head of Department, Government and Public Policy, NUST
The India-Pakistan peace process is not going anywhere as long as the Modi government is in power, mainly because Modi has an anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim agenda, which prevents him from trying to make a genuine effort to break the ice with India-Pakistan relations.
Even when Modi sent his message of compliments on Pakistan’s national day, there was a reference to creating an environment free of hostility and terrorism. However, there is no mention or no regard that Pakistan has asked for unilateral measures to be taken by India vis a vis IIOJK e.g., freeing the Kashmiri leaders, lifting of the lockdown, and trying to make the life of the Kashmiris easier.
So as long as the Hurriyat leaders, particularly the Kashmiri leaders, remain under detention, there is no hope that India would seek genuine peace with the Kashmiris. Pakistan could positively respond to the peace initiatives and then offer India a peace process that is not free of conditions by asking its moves post-August 5th, 2019.
As long as India does not reverse these measures, I do not think the Indian offer can be taken at face value by Pakistan. However, this does not mean that Pakistan should not want peace with India. As long the Modi government does not address Pakistan’s demands and concerns, there can be no progress.
Now the question is why India even thinks of extending the so-called olive branch to Pakistan. The reason is obvious; they are unable to control the situation in IIOJK. Over 600 days have gone by since the lockdown, and the situation is getting out of hand.
There is a fair amount of international pressure, particularly from the Biden administration, with their express concern about human rights violations. The international press is also highlighting the Indian atrocities and brutal violations of the Kashmiris.
So, to deflect that pressure, India wants to initiate a peace process with Pakistan without making any meaningful concessions in return.
ACM (R) M. Abbas Khattak
Ex-Chief of Air Staff
The recent exchange of peace overtures between Pak and India has triggered an expected debate that seems to range from euphoria on one side while simultaneously being dubbed as a betrayal of the Kashmir cause on the other, thus giving much space to the injured opposition and religious right.
Truth be told, Kashmir has been a sad saga now lingering for over seven decades with no end in sight despite three wars, myriad track two channels, and composite dialogues. During this period, our trade relations, sports, and cultural activities vacillated to our detriment.
Hence against the recent tense stand-off, the recent moves of CBMs should be welcomed regardless of who (the USA or China) nudged Modi away from lunacy. Our precarious economic situation would receive some relief from importing much-needed commodities expeditiously and hopefully corona vaccines.
This in no way absolves us from our principled narrative on Kashmir. Hoping that the altered situation may gradually lead to a constructive dialogue and saving of lives around the now peaceful LOC is its best outcome.
Geo-Political Analyst, Politician, Prominent Columnist
The thaw between Pakistan and India is temporary for several reasons. Pakistan’s stance has been very clear: Unless India improves the condition in IIOJK and revisits the decision of abrogating Article 370; it is unlikely that we will see a major shift.
Pakistan tried its best through third-party mediation, i.e., the good offices of UAE, to reduce tensions between the two countries and to have a convergence on restoration and respecting the LoC agreement, and also for tuning down the rhetoric between the two countries.
It is important to note that Pakistan’s government and establishment cannot concede enough to India, particularly vis-à-vis Kashmir because the public opinion is very much against it, which means something, has to change on the ground in IIOJK.
When Pakistan’s cabinet discussed resuming some level of trade with India, there was a huge backlash in the country. Remember, the geopolitics in this country is very much intertwined with the trade and the geo-economics of the region.
If rarely something has to happen at the geopolitical level, i.e., the condition around IIOJK and the geostrategic aspect of the whole issue – we may not see a consensus among the different stakeholders as to go about making a decision.
The CBMs so far are flimsy. The Indian establishment rarely wants to calm its borders with China and Pakistan. The compulsions of domestic elections have also forced Modi to go slow on Pakistan. Hence, soon we will see a reversal of CBMs and a more hardline attitude adopted by India.
We should not be very optimistic and read too much into what we have seen so far. In theory, it’s good to have peace and normalization of relations, but to sustain that, a dignified concession is required.
For now, it’s all in the hands of the Indian military and establishment, who have always vetoed even their political leadership on major decisions, so any concession, even if granted to Pakistan, will remain flimsy and hostage to whims.
Ex-Pakistani Ambassador to the United States
The ceasefire has meant that we are back, from Pakistan’s perspective to a mutated form of the dialogue process of 2007. We are asking India to create a conducive atmosphere meaning easing repression in IOJK but Modi’s India is likely to be unresponsive.
The ceasefire is all we have and is all we will get. Dialogue on Indus Water Treaty is mandatory but India will not want World Bank intervention nor will it be pressed to do so. You may import cotton and yarn directly but that is all. Is this a mirage?
No, this is only what in addition to the ceasefire you can expect. But with our current economic condition and the sword of FATF in which India has a regional role we should not underestimate the significance of the ceasefire.
FM Qureshi has already indicated by making no move for a bilateral in Dushanbe that we have no other substantive exchange in mind.