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A thaw in India-Pakistan relations?

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The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a British think tank on international defence and security, in its latest commentary on India-Pakistan relations has pointed out a significant shift in Pakistan army’s attitude towards India.

In a historic move, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa invited the Indian Military attaché and his team to the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad. Bajwa, while speaking at RUSI last year, announced that ‘the Pakistan army is now no more insecure and feels confident of its future and that he welcomes Indian participation in Pakistan’s flagship infrastructure project, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).”


It appears that the military establishment has realised the futility of pursuing an asymmetric war with India.

Although, one is sceptical about the army’s newfound desire to pursue friendship with its arch enemy, India should welcome the peace overtures of the army General and should not have any inhibition to directly talk with the military establishment, especially when in the past every time the civilian governments of both the countries made efforts to build bridges, the Pak army scuttled such efforts.

The former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore, led to the signing of the famous Lahore declaration, and was followed by the Kargil War. General Pervez Musharraf in several interviews has admitted that he was the author of the Kargil conflict. Although, India was caught napping with the Generals’ attempt to capture the Tiger Hill in Drass-Kargil area in the Indian state of the Jammu and Kashmir. It successfully launched a counterattack and recaptured the Tiger hill which led to the humiliation of the General.

Some of his own military professionals, including the former Lt Gen Shahid Aziz, had questioned the General’s ill-conceived plan to capture Tiger Hill without factoring the plausible Indian response. He also questioned the General in keeping the civilian government in dark.

Similarly, when Narendra Modi became the prime minister in May 2014, he crafted a ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy to improve relations with all its neighbours, including China and Pakistan. He made an unscheduled stopover in Lahore to meet his counterpart. The meeting was welcomed by people of both the countries and also received support from the international community. But an attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot has affected the relation between the two countries as India blames Pakistan for the attack.

Against the backdrop, the Pak army’s recent overture assumes significance. The question that comes to mind is why this sudden change of heart towards its arch-rival?

The Pak army, which had always viewed India as a threat to its sovereignty, appears to more confident today, after its success in neutralizing the terrorists operating from its soil.

Secondly, the army thinks that with China’s open support, India would not dare to attack it.

Thirdly, the newfound confidence stems from the humongous investment by China of over $ 60 billion in building ports, power plants, roads and other infrastructure projects under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

Lastly, China has bolstered the Pak army by supplying modern military hardware, including providing missile technology and fighter jets to Pakistan.

On the other hand, India is aware of the geopolitical strategy in the region with the attempt by China to encircle it by making huge investments in its neighbourhood. If India and Pakistan can form some kind of understanding by de-escalating tensions at the LOC, it can bring enormous benefits to the people of both the countries.

In an attempt to improve relations with its neighbour, as part of its Track II diplomacy, it had recently sent the former foreign secretary and other intellectuals to Pakistan to do the groundwork for future negotiations.

Pakistan had earlier refused to engage with India but later responded positively, by forming an informal group headed by a former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan. Although, both the countries have kept the talks under wraps, it appears that there is a genuine desire within both the countries to improve relations
The recent increase in escalation at the Line of Control has become a major cause for worry, as it has led to the death of innocent civilians, living on both sides of the border.

Moreover, a confident India, under the leadership of Modi, also launched a surgical strike in Pak occupied Kashmir by destroying some posts. Pakistan also realises the futility of conflict with India as it has not gained by waging an asymmetric warfare with India. Moreover, its approach has invited international condemnation.

In this case, Pakistan should take a leaf from India’s relations with China. In spite of the border dispute, both China and India have decided to engage with one another, while continuing its dialogue to settle the contentious border disputes. This approach has seen a rise in trade between the two countries.

During the recent visit of Modi to China, there was an agreement with Xi Jinping and Modi to develop joint projects in Afghanistan and to prevent Doklam like standoffs in future.

Although, the Kashmir dispute does not offer any immediate solution, both Pakistan and India should keep such disputes on the backburner and take steps to improve the relations.

This can be done through several ways: (a) encourage people to people contacts (b) hold sporting events like Cricket and Hockey in both the countries (3) improve trade and finally (4) to create a mechanism to share information on all terrorist activities and finally (5) to continue the dialogue process till a mutually acceptable solution is found on various contentious issues, a successful negotiation is possible only when a climate of trust is created.

Unlike the past, the Pak civilian government should take its army on board in all future peace dialogues with India, so that both the civilian government and the army do not work at cross-purposes. If this achieved, it will bring peace and prosperity to the people in the region. Let India and Pakistan allow this historic development slip from their hands.