Quiet diplomacy

Published February 7, 2022

PAKISTAN has emphatically rejected the statement of the Indian army chief in which he claimed that the ceasefire announced last year between the two countries was holding because India had negotiated from a position of strength.

In a tweet, military spokesman Major General Babar Iftikhar said the Indian army chief’s statement was “clearly misleading”, and that the ceasefire “was agreed only due to Pak’s concern for the safety of the people of Kashmir living on both sides of the LoC [and that] … No side should misconstrue it as their strength or other’s weakness”. The spokesman of the Foreign Office has also said the Indian army chief’s comments made no sense and were made for domestic political reasons only.

It is obvious that the ceasefire is holding because of the success of the backchannel process that took place between the two countries over a period of many months. The fact that the ceasefire is still intact and survived many hiccups shows that it is an effective confidence-building measure which proves that even under the most trying of conditions, positive engagement can produce tangible outcomes. Irresponsible statements like the one made by the Indian army chief create an unnecessary controversy.

Backchannel diplomacy has always delivered encouraging results and should therefore remain a viable option to defuse tensions. Pakistan has expressed its serious concern that India is supporting militancy inside Balochistan and this has further vitiated the already tense atmosphere. India too may have some grievances which it can share with Pakistan if such an opportunity arises through quiet diplomacy.

In order to give such a process a chance, the Indian leadership must desist from making wild accusations and irresponsible statements against Pakistan. The past provides a good context. It was not too long ago that the two countries engaged in active conflict and Pakistan shot down two intruding Indian aircraft a day after Indian planes had violated Pakistani airspace.

A quiet and deep engagement can produce headway on issues that can constitute important steps in rebuilding confidence. At some point, both countries should also consider the return of high commissioners to the respective capitals. The resumption of trade ties is also an issue that needs to be addressed. Leading businessman Mian Mansha recently advocated such a resumption saying the two countries should resolve their disputes and start trade in order to strengthen the economy. What he has said makes eminent sense but cannot happen under the existing state of relations.

Pakistan has to ensure that it firmly retains its principled position on Kashmir while engaging with India on all these issues. All this can only happen if Indian officials including their army chief desist from making statements that are far removed from reality and that only exacerbate the situation, and New Delhi stops stoking the embers of militancy in Balochistan.

Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2022

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