The moment news about a ceasefire agreement being reached between the Indian and Pakistan armies broke out, the ‘doves’ in India went into raptures and started demanding that New Delhi should immediately respond in a positive manner and push forward to resolve all outstanding issues with Islamabad. The view that Pakistan appeared to be seriously smoking the peace pipe this time gained more strength when Pakistan’s Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) announced its approval for allowing import of cotton and sugar from India. However, with Pakistan’s Federal Cabinet striking down this decision in less than 24 hours, it’s clear that optimism that Islamabad was serious about normalising relations with New Delhi was misplaced.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has defended the Cabinet’s decision on grounds that there can be no normalisation of ties until New Delhi reverses its decision to abrogate Article 370 of its constitution which gave “special status” to Jammu and Kashmir. However, since this is exactly what Prime Minister Khan had said immediately after New Delhi revoked Article 370, why did ECC make the imports announcement is perplexing for two reasons- one, how could ECC take a decision that violated the government’s stated position on this issue? Two, since ECC works under directions of the government, how is it possible that it didn’t consult and obtain government approval before making this announcement? Thus, it’s apparent that there’s much more than what meets the eye!
Khan may be boasting of his government and the army being on the “same page,” but it’s no secret that the real power center of Pakistan is the army and not its legislature. So, even though the ECC’s decision was a win-win situation for Pakistan, the only plausible reason for Islamabad’s volte face on the import issue is that it didn’t suit the army’s aim of keeping the Kashmir pot boiling. Thus, even though irrational and embarrassing, Khan was forced by the army to overrule the ECC’s decision and this raises a question- was he and his army chief really serious while making grand announcements about Pakistan’s desire for peaceful neighbourly relations?
Pakistan’s track record on mending fences with India has been extremely poor. It responded to the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace overture through the Lahore Bus initiative by intruding across Line of Control (LoC) and occupying Indian territory in Kargil and contrary to its tall claims, Pakistan army continues to provide safe sanctuaries and nurture terrorist groups waging proxy war in J&K. Thus, Khan’s complaint that “With India, it is very unfortunate that we have tried to resolve our issues through dialogue like civilised neighbours, but it has not worked out,” is both laughable and a classic example of kettle calling the pot black.
One may ask that if Pakistan isn’t serious about normalising relations with India, then why is it going about making such hullabaloo about peace. The answer is simple; it’s doing so only to befool the international community and is driven by the necessity to win favour with the US administration under Joe Biden and to impress the FATF, which has retained Pakistan on its ‘Grey List’ till June this year. At the same time, linking normalisation of Indo-Pak relations to the reversal of Article 370 abrogation, is only to avoid being accused of having compromised on the Kashmir issue by the public at home and separatist lobby in J&K. Certain developments in Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) are yet another reason for this.
Pakistan has consistently been ‘leveraging’ PaK’s strategic geographic location to fulfil its strategic and economic objectives. It’s wedged between India and China, which are the two fastest growing economies of the world, but remains extremely backward and over the years, locals have accused Pakistani security forces of illegal encroachment. Since the past few years there has also been growing resentment against Pakistan among the residents of PaK and illegal annexation of Gilgit -Baltistan with Pakistan by making it its fifth province has further alienated the people.
That Pakistan isn’t serious about peace with India is proven by the sudden spurt in attacks on security personnel and politicians in Kashmir, which has claimed seven lives after the ceasefire announcement. This trend of terrorist violence isn’t a new phenomenon in J&K. Pakistan has consistently been encouraging such activity in order to further its false narrative of widespread unrest in J&K as well as disrupt dialogue. In 2000, 35 Sikhs were killed in Chittisinghpura village the eve of US President Bill Clinton’s state visit to India and the 2016 Pathankot air base attack came just a week after Indian PM Narendra Modi met his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Lahore.
The current spate of attacks come at a time when tourism in Kashmir was picking up after COVID and abrogation of Article 370. This year, tourism in Kashmir has found an unusual brand Ambassador in the person of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who tweeted, “Whenever you get the opportunity, do visit Jammu and Kashmir and witness the scenic Tulip festival. In addition to the tulips, you will experience the warm hospitality of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.” However, the surge in militant activities has naturally escalated fears among civilians that they will be caught in a new web of violence, which will dent all hopes for revival of tourism. This is a matter of grave concern and the people of Kashmir need to understand that such acts of violence are only hurting the locals.
In pursuance of an inimical foreign agenda, there are some who wish to project Kashmir as an unsafe place. So, the people of Kashmir should desist from falling into a trap being set by foreign sponsored propagandists to drive in a wedge between them, security forces and the government. Instead of being misled by vested interests, Kashmiris need to carefully consider what is being fed to them and encourage progressive thought and action and the entire thrust should be towards progress and prosperity.
India is sensitive to the fact that peace within the neighbourhood is both important and beneficial and so it doesn’t have any hesitation in talking even with an adversary since dialogue does pay dividends. It’s for this reason that India has responded with cautious optimism by leaving all doors open. However, the road to peace cannot run roughshod over national interest. If Pakistan stops supporting terrorism in J&K and is ready to come to the negotiating table with a realistic agenda, then talks can progress very fast and relations normalised. However, if it continues to follow its fatuous and abrasive diplomacy by holding peace negotiations hostage to the Kashmir issue, then there’s no point in India wasting its time in responding to Islamabad’s duplicitous overtures.
(The author is Editor Brighter Kashmir, Columnist, Political Analyst and TV Commentator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)