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“With external factors including pressure from the new Biden administration, China’s CPEC project, UAE & Saudi mediating, Israel’s possible recognition by Pakistan, FATF grey-listing of Islamabad, India’s interest in direct connectivity with Central Asia, and economic stability post-Covid-19 for both nations, there are chances that Modi and Bajwa could do the undoable – resolve the Kashmir dispute amicably,” is how a columnist of Eurasian Times concludes his observations on ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan.
The Biden administration conveyed to the Saudis that the US will no longer support the war in Yemen. The US also imposed a ban on the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. Indirectly, the Biden administration has censured Riyadh for escalating factional war in the region. Arms sale is stopped because Washington feels these lethal weapons ultimately fall in the hands of Afghan and Pakistan Taliban who are obstructing the Afghan peace process at the behest of Islamabad. That points to a change in Washington’s Gulf strategy. Consequently, Saudi Arabia and the UAE both are talking of peace not only in the Gulf but in other conflict areas like Syria, Palestine, Yemen and India-Pakistan (Kashmir).
Funding and arms from Saudi-based Islamic radical organizations (like al rabita etc.) or through radical Islamists based in the Gulf States will no more flow with such ease to Wahhabi-Salafi outfits functioning under different nomenclatures in different Islamic countries — Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan and Malaysia. Kashmiri Islamic extremists are part of the radical Islamist groups. Pakistan is convinced that she will not receive any support from any western power for her Kashmir agenda.
As far as China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is concerned, China has already begun to feel the heat. Everything is not right with the Sino-Pakistan relationship in the context of CPEC. The Baluch freedom fighters have openly declared war against Chinese intrusion in their territory under the umbrella of the Gwadar seaport development project. Without mincing words, the newly appointed Governor of Balochistan said he was appointed and paid by China to do a particular job in Balochistan. Islamabad has virtually handed over the administration of Balochistan to the Chinese quisling.
Regarding the UAE and Saudi Arab mediation, they are interested in a rapprochement between India and Pakistan, the two nuclear powers in the sub-continent. Their interest in peace in the region lies in the millions of people of Indian/Pakistani origin working in the two countries and providing the backbone for the region’s development. The Emirates has already recognized Israel and the Saudis are considering the pros and cons of following in the footsteps of the UAE. A strong lobby in Pakistan is supporting the mending of fences with Israel. The US is interested in the Arab countries changing their stance vis-a-vis Israel so that Iran stands ostracised further at the time when Washington is attempting a rapprochement with Tehran. In this overall political configuration, UAE and Saudi both understand the enormous business potential in the sub-continent. The Biden administration, too, wants a major shift from political rivalry to economic cooperation.
For a decade or more, Pakistan continues to be on the grey list of FATF. The single sticking point is the insistence of the organization that Pakistan should stop the illegal funding of terrorist organizations. As the FATF is unrelenting, Pakistan has begun to realize that mere eyewash would not work and that it must take concrete and result-oriented steps to curb radicalism in that country. The problem is that the jihadist Frankenstein is threatening the integrity of Pakistan. Neither the civilian administration nor the army can get rid of the menace without risking a horrendous civil war. Pakistan policy planners feel the way out is to let the jihadist organizations wear themselves out while the state changes its approach to the ground situation in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
The Biden administration has declined to consider a total pullout from Afghanistan unless there is a convincing arrangement that allows the democratic processes to stabilize in the war-torn country. As for Kashmir, China’s withdrawal to its baseline and dismantling of posts raised after the May 2020 encroachment has thrown Islamabad in a tizzy. The Biden team has bluntly told the Chinese delegation in their recent meeting in Alaska that China’s belligerence at the Sino- Indian border is not acceptable.
Islamabad senses that New Delhi and Beijing are conducting silent talks to defuse tension and try to find a lasting solution to the border dispute. This takes the wind out of the sails of Pakistan.
As regards India’s search for direct Central Asian connectivity, New Delhi is aware that Islamabad will never come to compromise over a transit formula for India-Central Asian connectivity via Pakistan. The Chabahar project was the right alternative but given the wavering behaviour of Iran, India’s dependence on Chabahar is very frail. Iran is on the horns of dilemma as to whether it should align with China or not. President Biden has thrown a couple of hints that his administration may revise sanctions imposed on Iran and also look into the matter of rejoining the nuclear deal concluded with Iran by the Obama administration. If Iran takes these hints as a positive move in Washington, then there is a possibility of Teheran choosing to maintain a reasonable distance from Beijing.
India does not put excessive value on Central Asian energy resources firstly because except for the Turkmen gas deposits, there is little assurance of oil reserves in the region lasting for many more years. Secondly, there are formidable transportation problems because of great mountain terrain serving as the watershed between the Central Asian plateau and the Indian plains. At one point in time, there was much talk about Turkmen-Pakistan-India (TPI) gas pipeline and many tripartite meetings were held. However, India has opted out of the project in the belief that Pakistan would play the spoiler at one time or another time by interrupting the flow. The same holds true for Iran, Pakistan and India gas pipeline projects. The Sui gas pipeline in Balochistan has been almost handed over to the Chinese for security reasons. Therefore, India has to depend on traditional energy supplying arrangement and not overemphasize the importance of Central Asian energy resources.
The Pakistani Prime Minister did hint at the benefits of Indo-Pak friendship for the people in both countries and added India could reach Central Asia. It means that somewhere in the calculus of Pakistan, India would stake a claim to a transit corridor that would carry her merchandise to the Central Asian region. However, to make that possibile Pakistan will have to initiate a policy of friendship with the Afghan elected government and the warlords of Northern Afghanistan, meaning the Panjsheer area through which the transit corridor would pass. Unless Pakistan and Afghan warlords are committed to peace in the region, the India-Central Asia overland link may not materialise.
However, another option would be for Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to come to some understanding and allow India transit route via Wakhan to the southern border of Tajikistan and then onwards to Central Asia. We understand that the Agha Khan Institute in Karachi had once surveyed this link from Khorog in Tajikistan to Hunza (Gilgit) or Chitral.
For the time being, India and Iran are likely to resume talks over the Chabahar project and iron out the angularities if any to make the project functional. Its importance to Afghanistan is more significant than to India. Iran would be more interested in linking Chabahar with Harat and Mazar-i-Sharif the Shia dominated regions of northern Afghanistan. Iran may have a problem with the railway line passing through the Helmand valley of Afghanistan, a Sunni Pashtun area which Teheran does not consider very friendly.
And lastly, as far as the impact of the Covid pandemic is concerned, it is alarming and has immensely and adversely affected the world economy. How long will it continue nobody can predict but the symptoms are that it is a long drawn battle and human societies have no alternative but to fight it. If this realization makes an impact on national leaderships, then one can say they have matured in their ideology of service to mankind and that requires burying the past acrimonies and ideological bottlenecks. India and Pakistan with large populations need to save every penny to fight the pandemic. How long will Pakistan allow itself to be led astray by senseless hubris and not think of joining hands with India to overcome the scourge of Covid-19? Will the ceasefire hold or fall through as in 2003? We don’t think it can perpetuate in given circumstances. As long as scores of jihadist organizations, trained, equipped and indoctrinated in the radical seminaries of Pakistan remain in place and enjoy the patronage of Pak Generals, there is no guarantee that the ceasefire agreement will not be violated. Pakistan army’s position as the decisive factor of that country’s foreign policy seems to be inviolable. The so-called democratically elected government is a mask for Pakistan’s army. The armed forces feel that the anti-military wave in Pakistan is gaining ground with the passing of each day. All major political parties except the ruling one are vociferously against the army’s control of Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policy. A major chunk of Pakistan’s budget is consumed by the defence establishment and the budgetary allocation for the army gives the highest priority to Kashmir operations. China and Turkey are boosting Pakistan’s anti-India disposition. In this background, it will be too simplistic to believe that the Pakistan army will show respect to the ceasefire agreement over the LoC in J&K. India has to keep the powder dry and be on the lookout for Islamabad’s next move.