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In a discussion between the DGMOs (Director General of Military Operations) of India and Pakistan, over their established telephone hotline, which presumably took place on 22 February 2021, a ceasefire was agreed to between the two countries, effective from midnight 24-25 February 2021. A joint communique issued by the two sides stated…“In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGMOs agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have the propensity to disturb the peace and lead to violence”. The wording had just the right amount of ambiguity to mean different things to different people, but for India, it is hoped that it reflects the change in attitude by the present government, which has made it clear that the only outstanding issue with Pakistan is its sponsorship of terror and its illegal occupation of Gilgit-Baltistan and Mirpur-Muzaffarabad.
An event of this magnitude was well beyond the pay scale of the two Generals concerned, so obviously, the top leadership of both countries would have been in the loop. The Pakistan National Security Advisor, Mr Moeed Yusuf, in a tweet denied any back-channel diplomacy between him and Indian National Security Advisor, Shri Ajit Doval for the ceasefire announcement, describing such reports as “baseless”. In an audio statement issued to journalists in Islamabad, he stated that the agreement on the ceasefire was the outcome of “behind-the-scenes” contacts and “more roads will open” in the future. He however did not elaborate on the nature of these contacts.
On 18 March 2021, Pakistan’s army chief, Gen Qamar Bajwa, in his address at the second day of the Islamabad Security Dialogue, made a strong pitch for peace with India stating, “…we feel that it is time to bury the past and move forward”. In his inaugural address on the opening day of the Dialogue, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan Niazi called for establishing ‘civilised neighbours’ like relations with India and resolving the outstanding disputes through dialogue. This was in sharp contrast to the shrill statements made over the last two years by Niazi and members of his cabinet against Prime Minister Modi and India. This gives rise to the question: Is there a change of heart in the Pakistani establishment, or is this mere tactical posturing?
Let us first address the issue of whether there has been a fundamental shift in Pakistan’s foreign policy. On the positive side, since February 25, when the ceasefire once again came into effect, there have been no instances of cross border firing along the Line of Control (LoC), nor has any case been reported of cross border infiltration by terrorist groups from Pakistan. A meeting of the Indus Water Treaty Commissioners is also on the anvil after a hiatus of two years which is all to the good. But beyond that, nothing much seems to have changed within the Pakistani political and security establishment. Pakistan has not abandoned its policy of using terrorism as an instrument of statecraft, and it continues to maintain and support terrorist groups on its soil, for use as its strategic assets.
Given the above, it is surprising that some analysts are waxing eloquently on the ‘thaw’ that has taken place in the frosty relations between the two countries. In a surreal manner, they believe that a love-fest is in the air and that soon, diplomatic relations would be restored, summit meetings would take place and there would be much greater people to people contact. This may be what Pakistan is hoping for, but it is not something which the Indian leadership will blindly rush into, unless Pakistan shows visible and credible evidence that it has closed its terror camps and hands over to India for trial, those terrorist leaders it shelters, who have carried out terror attacks on Indian soil.
There is no gainsaying the fact that peace would give welcome dividends to both countries. But desirable outcomes are often held hostage to vested interests within Pakistan—in this case, the Pakistan army. Peace with India will erode the very raison d’etre of the Pakistan army and its role in controlling the levers of power within Pakistan. They will not allow that to happen. Dismantling the terror structure network within Pakistan, created as strategic assets, will cause serious blowback, with a high degree of possibility that such groups may then turn against the Pakistani state itself. This becomes all the more plausible, seeing the manner in which Pakistani society has been radicalised over the last four to five decades and has been fed a continuous and viral hate-India diet. It would be delusional to expect a common Pakistani, who believes that killing the ‘kafir’ is a duty enjoined on him by his religion, to suddenly develop a love for India. That remains the preserve of a very small minority in Pakistan, who still retain rational thought.
Why then, this charade of peace? Three reasons are apparent. One, Pakistan is in an unholy mess as far as its economy is concerned, and is on course to becoming a failed state. Peace with India would give the country’s leadership a better chance to pull their economy out of the rut. Two, Pakistan stands isolated on the world stage as a sponsor of terror, and besides China and a handful of other countries finds no takers for its cause. They have been placed on the grey list by the FATF and while they have evaded being placed on the black list, they are keen to come out of the grey list, which too has economic consequences. Three, the Pakistan Army is finally having to bear the consequences of its actions in promoting terror within India due to the firm response by the Indian Armed Forces. It is gradually coming to the conclusion that bearing such cost over a long period of time, especially with an unstable Afghanistan on its western flank, is unsustainable.
What we are witnessing is a tactical pause by Pakistan, the peace-offering being a mere charade—no better than a poisoned chalice. Pakistan’s past performance does not enthuse us with any hope that this time around, peace will be the outcome. While past performance cannot with certitude be a measure of future response patterns, in the case of Pakistan, whose society has been overtly radicalised, and whose military holds the levers of power regardless of which political party within Pakistan forms the government, Pakistan’s future response can be predicted with a fair degree of certainty. India, while being open to the peace overture, needs to tread cautiously. There must be no change in the government’s stance, that talks and terror cannot go hand in hand. Pakistan will have to close its terror factory and hand over all wanted terrorists to India, if it truly desires peace. As such an outcome is unlikely, peace will remain elusive.