Ties with India

Published December 24, 2023
The writer is a former foreign secretary and chairman, Sanober Institute Islamabad
The writer is a former foreign secretary and chairman, Sanober Institute Islamabad

MANAGING the troubled relationship with India has been Pakistan’s most arduous foreign policy challenge. The mutual hostility has its roots in the bitterness of the manner in which the partition of British India occurred in 1947. Millions had to move across the newly created border. India’s hesitation on giving Pakistan its share of finance, defence stores, and even canal waters added to the acrimony. However, all these issues were eventually settled one way or another

One major issue that could not be settled was the dispute over the State of Jammu and Kashmir, which was forcibly occupied by India, in direct contravention of the terms for partition of British India. The state had a Muslim majority (78 per cent, with 93pc in the Valley), and was contiguous to the territories that were to become Pakistan. India has also violated every resolution of the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted from 1948 to 1957, which stipulated that the state’s political status should be decided by a plebiscite to be held under UN auspices.

Neither the wars between India and Pakistan in 1948, 1965 and 1999, nor the numerous bilateral peace initiatives, have resolved the matter. Complicating the matters further, four years ago, the Modi government abolished the ‘statehood’, announced Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh as two separate Union territories, and took away the special autonomy of Indian-occupied Kashmir. This was another blatant violation of international law as codified in a series of UNSC resolutions.

Earlier this month, the Indian supreme court upheld the Aug 5, 2019, actions of the Modi government, but directed it to revert statehood to J&K, and hold elections there by September 2024. The decision came as a reality check to those Kashmiri leaders who had cooperated with the BJP government in the vain hope that they would retain their autonomy. In the past four years, the Modi government has indulged in demographic engineering by issuing domiciles to millions of non-state persons. It has also engaged in electoral engineering to ensure that whenever polls are held, BJP would have a dominant position.

The current situation does not augur well for regional peace.

Clearly, India is seeking to dissolve the dispute by changing the basic parameters of the disputed territory. The main motivation for this comes from the RSS philosophy of making India a Hindu state. The Modi government has further been emboldened by the fact that the US has selected India as a partner of choice and invested in its military and economic prowess. Regrettably, the international community has failed to condemn India for its illegal actions in J&K, ostensibly to protect their economic and commercial interests in the large Indian market.

These developments have been resented in Pakistan, where for centuries, the people of Pakistan, especially northern Punjab, and the people of Kashmir have lived together, bound by ties of faith and culture. Pakistan had, therefore, reacted to the Aug 5 action by lowering the level of diplomatic representation and stopping bilateral trade.

Where do we go from here? The issue of J&K is connected to the state of bilateral ties between India and Pakistan. Both countries have been estranged neighbours for the past seven decades. Since 2016, there have been no formal contacts between the two countries, often described as ‘no-contact warfare’ by India against Pakistan.

Despite Pakistan’s consistent desire for good-neighbourly ties, India continues to exhibit animosity. It has discouraged even sporting contacts, when it obliged its cricket team not to visit Pakistan for the Asian Cup, whereas the Pakistani team visited India for the World Cup. India has also paralysed Saarc, probably because it thinks this forum might be used by South Asian countries to join hands to counter-balance India.

This state of affairs does not augur well for peace in South Asia. Many scholars and former diplomats argue that India can neither isolate Pakistan nor make it irrelevant. It would be in the interest of both countries to shun mutual hostility and embrace a peaceful coexistence. An opening might arise after elections in both countries in 2024. The two countries could start with small steps to enhance mutual confidence, such as making the visa regime easier, promoting religious tourism, encouraging people-to-people contact, and restarting bilateral trade.

There have been suggestions that the two governments find an equivalent of the four-point formula of 2007 to help resolve this long-standing conflict. Meanwhile, Pakistan should maintain its support for the right of the people of J&K to self-determination. Subject to the final settlement of the dispute, Pakistan should also grant Gilgit-Baltistan the status of a provisional province in response to the desire of GB’s elected assembly.

The writer is a former foreign secretary and chairman, Sanober Institute Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2023

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