ISLAMABAD: Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa on Thursday made a strong pitch for peace with India and sought the world’s help in ending the conflict between the two South Asian nuclear armed rivals.

“We feel that it is time to bury the past and move forward,” the army chief said on the second day of the Islamabad Security Dialogue.

Gen Bajwa, while proposing peace with India, echoed Prime Minister Imran Khan, who had at the inaugural session called for resolving the outstanding disputes through dialogue and establishing ‘civilised neighbours’ like relations.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who spoke after Gen Bajwa, too said that Pakistan was desirous of “co-existence and win-win cooperation”. He called for shedding zero-sum perspectives and preferring cooperation over confrontation.

Army chief says it is time to bury the past and move forward

The emphasis on peaceful ties with India by the civil and military leadership is part of what is being described by the government as a shift towards exploiting the economic potential of the country and reshaping its international image battered by the conflict and violence in the region.

Gen Bajwa explained that the policy decision taken by Pakistan in this regard was a “deliberate” one based on “rationality”. He made it clear that Islamabad had chosen this path not because of “pressure”, but out of “sincere desire” to reframe Pakistan’s image as a “peace-loving nation” and a “useful member” of the international community.

Emphasising the need for peace in the highly tense South Asian environment, the army chief said conflicts because of unsettled disputes were causing huge expenditure on security at the cost of human development, impeding regional connectivity and ultimately preventing the unlocking of the potential of the region.

He underscored that the disputes between the neighbours had to be resolved through “dialogue in a dignified and peaceful manner”. He said Pakistan’s offer of marching towards a “new future” needed to be reciprocated by India.

FM Qureshi too struck a similar tone saying that Pakistan needed a willing partner “that is ready to engage in good faith, that is prepared to eschew belligerence, and that is committed to meaningfully address the factors that have bedeviled peace and security in South Asia for decades.”

The army chief sought the world’s support in making peace with India and said that “a major contribution is to be made by the global players through their cooperation”. He expressed the hope that the Biden administration too would play a role in transforming “the traditional contestation into a gainful economic win-win for the world in general and the region in particular”.

He also dwelt at length on the broader contours of Pakistan’s external policy, especially with regards to China, the United States and Afghanistan.

Both Gen Bajwa and FM Qureshi recalled Pakistan’s contributions to peace in Afghanistan and reaffirmed commitment to support the peace process.

The army chief said Pakistan would continue to emphasise a sustained and inclusive peace process for the betterment of the people of Afghanistan and regional peace.

He mentioned the steps taken by Pakistan for enhancing Afghanistan’s trade and connectivity, including re-energising the Afghan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement, improving economic and trade environment along the Pak-Afghan border by establishing border markets and development of infrastructure, making Afghanistan part of energy and trade corridors binding Central, South and West Asia through land routes and inviting Afghanistan to be part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Mr Qureshi said Pakistan would benefit from peace in Afghanistan by achieving enhanced connectivity with Central Asia.

In what appeared to be a signal to the US, Gen Bajwa said CPEC despite being central to Pakistan’s vision for enhanced connectivity and achieving economic revival, it would at the same time be wrong to see Pakistan just through CPEC lens. “Our immensely vital geostrategic location and a transformed vision make us a country of immense and diverse potential which can very positively contribute to regional development and prosperity,” he maintained.

It is believed that the US because of Pakistan’s closeness to China is increasingly viewing it from that perspective.

Mr Qureshi described CPEC as “the quintessential connectivity project”, which would, besides contributing to Pakistan’s economic turnaround, also promote regional prosperity.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2021

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