BEEN there! Done that! Or are we breaking new ground in India-Pakistan relations? Pessimism is never constructive. But with India-Pakistan relations, especially the Kashmir dispute, both history and the current situation warrant a healthy scepticism.
The recent statements of the prime minister and the COAS at the Islamabad Security Dialogue came three weeks after the DGMOs of the two militaries jointly announced a revival of the 2003 LoC ceasefire. These developments followed considerable preparatory work and contacts between the national security and military authorities of the two countries. Reports suggest a longer-term roadmap for a Kashmir settlement has been discussed.
Some see this as the most promising development since India eliminated the State of Jammu and Kashmir on Aug 5, 2019, and imposed a brutal and extended lockdown on the Muslim people of the Valley. That was tantamount to repudiating the Shimla Agreement and the LoC which derived from it. India eliminated any basis for dialogue with Pakistan. In response, Pakistan downgraded diplomatic relations and declared there would be no dialogue until India restored the status quo ante.
Pakistan also pledged to go to any extent to protect its Kashmiri brethren from India’s genocidal repression which had elicited a Genocide Alert from Genocide Watch. The world was worried because India and Pakistan are nuclear weapons countries with no mutually agreed nuclear doctrine and no warning time to investigate possible false alarms.
Even if India-Pakistan negotiations are restored they will go nowhere on Kashmir.
The COAS sought the world’s help in ending the Kashmir dispute. He said it was time to “bury the past and move forward” to reframe Pakistan’s image as “a peace-loving nation” and a “useful member of the international community”. Unsettled disputes incurred huge security expenditures at the cost of human development. These disputes should be addressed through “dialogue in a dignified and peaceful manner”.
He observed Pakistan’s offer to “march together towards a new future needed to be reciprocated”. It was hoped the Biden administration would help transform “the traditional contestation into an economic win-win situation” for India and Pakistan, the region and the world. He emphasised the need to shift to “geo-economic” strategies.
The COAS referred to the central importance Pakistan would continue to attach to CPEC. He advised the US not to view Pakistan solely through “the CPEC lens”. This was a possible reference to Biden’s decision to escalate confrontation with China into a new Cold War and the possibility that he may press Pakistan to choose between the US and China.
The major powers may be willing to help on Kashmir, but only up to a point. They have made clear they will not compel Modi to reverse his Aug 5, 2019, decision despite their robust criticism of his human rights policies. This is supposed to be a sine qua nonfor Pakistan. Under Biden, the US intends to upgrade its military and strategic cooperation with India against China. It acknowledges India-held Kashmir is now a Union Territory of India. With friends like these who needs enemies? The US cannot facilitate peace between India and Pakistan.
So why will India reciprocate Pakistan’s initiatives? Modi is under no pressure to do so. Nor is he inclined to risk RSS, BJP, Sangh Parivar, and general Hindu outrage to reach a Kashmir deal with Pakistan. He will not even consider one based on understandings reached in the backchannel discussions of the early 2000s. That would require scrapping his Aug 5, 2019, decision. So even if India-Pakistan negotiations are restored they will go nowhere on Kashmir and will sooner or later collapse in the usual mutual acrimony and hostility, unless Pakistan has decided on surrender.
A continuation of the LoC ceasefire; a return of high commissioners to New Delhi and Islamabad; a relaxation in issuing visas; an increase in air, rail and road travel; release of detainees; an increase in bilateral and transit trade; holding the long delayed Saarc summit in Islamabad; etc would all be very welcome. But even if Modi attends the summit it will not necessarily ensure a dialogue that is “dignified and peaceful” ie structured and productive, with an agenda and modality to make it comprehensive, integrated, “results-oriented”, and “uninterrupted”.
For that to happen a bilateral meeting, possibly on the sidelines should result in a joint statement by the prime ministers envisaging a set of specific agreements, understandings, commitments and policies to create an environment conducive to productive negotiations on each other’s “core concerns”, ie Kashmir and “terrorism”. This can only emerge if the political will to make reciprocal concessions on core issues is shared. Human and political rights are intertwined in IHK. You cannot restore one without the other. Nothing less than the status quo ante will allow credible negotiations to commence.
The Kashmiris yearn for relief from “the terrors of the earth” that India has visited upon them. They also have a non-negotiable commitment to azadi, however interpreted. Unfortunately, there is real scepticism about Pakistan’s capacity and commitment to run risks and accept the costs of staying the course in support of the Kashmiri freedom struggle beyond mere diplomacy and law-fare. This scepticism has been exacerbated by talk of a new era in India-Pakistan relations without any concession from India while the Kashmiris of the Valley face the prospect of genocide. The Indian media have, by and large, welcomed the statements of the prime minister and the COAS because they see them as implicitly accepting India’s fait accompli in Kashmir.
Defeat cannot be dressed up in ‘geo-economics’. It can only exist in a geopolitical and geostrategic context. China’s BRI, of which CPEC is a branch, is an example. China could have conceived of BRI as a ‘geo-economic’ initiative within a US-led global order. But it refuses to accept US global hegemony.
Similarly, a ‘geo-economic’ initiative towards a hegemonic and intransigent India can only indicate a lack of options. It will never elicit Indian concessions on Kashmir. Accepting this will have consequences in IHK, AJK and at home. It could also impact on China’s perception of Pakistan’s ability to be true to its own national interest.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2021