There is more to ‘permanent peace’ between India, Pakistan than Kashmir issue

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The viral video of Indian soldiers dancing to the tune of the late Punjabi singer Sidhu Moose Wala, ‘Bambiha Bole’, blaring on the loud-speakers set up by their Pakistani counterparts from across the border makes for ‘feel good’ viewing. So does Pakistan prime minister Shehbaz Sharif’s observation that they wanted to ‘have permanent peace’ with India through dialogue, as war is not an option for either of the countries to resolve the ‘Kashmir issue’, make for ‘hopeful’ reading.

Both should end there. The song, dance and statements have all been there for decades now, only to be followed by Pakistan pulling out the hidden gun when the two are closer to peace than earlier. Memories of the way the ‘Kargil War’ (May-July 1999) followed the ‘Lahore bus diplomacy’, weeks earlier in February, when the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister still lingers in Indian minds.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif should know better. His brother Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister in the second of his three terms when he co-authored ‘bus diplomacy’ with Vajpayee and yet could not stop his Army chief, Gen Pervez Musharraf, from launching the Kargil war, as a crude and cruel ‘insurgency’ of the Pakistani kind, as in 1948 and 1965 — and leading to a full-fledged war like the other two.

Representational Image, ANI

By the time the Agra Summit took place in July 2001, Musharraf had entrenched himself in power, after throwing out Nawaz Sharif. Like the ‘Simla Pact’ signed in July 1972, between prime ministers Indira Gandhi and ZA Bhutto months after the Bangladesh war (1971), Pakistan followed the spirt of the Agra Summit (where no deal was struck) only in its breach. Till date, Pakistan is yet to hand over the 20 terrorists, whose list then Home Minister LK Advani ,had handed over to Musharraf when they met in New Delhi, prior to the summit.

Topping the list was Dawood Ibrahim, wanted in India for his role in the ‘Mumbai serial blasts’ (March 1993), only months after the ‘Ayodhya demolition’ (December 1991). That was the first incident of ‘serial-blasts’ in India’s commercial capital until the ‘26/11 attacks’ happened in November 2008. New Delhi has produced incontrovertible evidence to the involvement of Pakistan’s ISI in most of these major episodes of cross-border terrorism, be it in Mumbai, Delhi, Kashmir or anywhere else in the country, whether operated from Pakistan or POK, Nepal or Bangladesh (as used to be the case in the past).

Now, it looks as if Dawood Ibrahim and others may die of old age and/or other causes before Islamabad actually decides to hand the survivors among, for them to brought before justice in Indian courts. Prime Minister Sharif should also know that from an Indian perspective, ‘cross-border terrorism’, though supposedly linked to the ’Kashmir issue’, has assumed a bigger role in bilateral adversity (both political and military) than the ‘Kashmir issue’, proper. There has not been any major terrorism-episode after the ‘surgical strike’ in 2016, but that is not for want of ISI’s trying.

China factor

Unlike the rest of South Asia, where Chinese presence, dominance and interference are being felt only in recent years, India has been alive to Beijing’s role in shaping bilateral relations with Pakistan. Earlier, it used to be China funding, arming and diplomatically backing Pakistan’s war-efforts, working alongside North Korea for Islamabad — nay, Rawalpindi — for the latter acquiring nuclear and nuclear-weapons capability, which are trained only against India. The AQ Khan story and the US-led West looking the other way is legendary, mostly owing to Washington’s Cold War ‘compulsions’.

In a way, India’s Pokhran I (1974) and Pokhran II (1998), respectively, for nuclear and nuclear-weapons testing, and now the weapons programme, flowed from the nation’s nuclear adversaries to counter, in China and Pakistan, acting separately and/or in tandem. Then defence minister George Fernandes’ (leaked) missive to his US counterpart, at the height of post-Pokhran II nuclear/ weapons tests of Pakistan at Chagai, that China was India’s ‘Enemy No: 1’, has been proved right.

China also sees India as an economic adversary on the global scene. Some in the Indian strategic community believe that Chinese misadventure as in Doklam (2017) Galwan (2020) sub-serves the purpose of New Delhi having to divert scarce resources, especially from its fortified forex savings, for importing weaponry and fighters of every kind – moneys that could have gone to economic development.

It is in this context that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ covering defence manufacturing as much as other industrial sectors needs to be viewed. It is a revival of Nehruvian ‘self-reliance’, which was imposed on India, by friendly and not-so-friendly western nations that refused to supply spares for their defence equipment at times of war, be it with Pakistan or China — and still has its continued relevance in a different context decades later.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the National Labour Conference of Labour Ministers of all states and Union Territories via video conferencing on Thursday. ANI

Indian street anguish

Beijing has since reacted not unfavourably — or, rather positively — to Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s recent Bangkok observation that India-China cooperation alone would help realise the ‘Asian Century’. But for that cooperation, aimed mainly at the economic sector, military tensions need to be de-escalated to zero-level, if not ‘minus’.

After Galwan, China is yet to retract from occupied Indian territories and also the ‘no-man land’ between the two nations. New Delhi has been denying Beijing’s public protestations about progress and improvement in bilateral military-level talks for such de-escalation. The world too has got tired of listening to Chinese ties.

If anything, China has only been raising India’s temperatures through provocative actions like the ‘Yuan Wang-5’ research / spy vessel episode, embarrassing India’s Sri Lankan neighbour no end. Today, after months of supplying the much-needed food and fuel to Sri Lanka in the midst of the nation’s continuing economic crisis, New Delhi is not as much comfortable with Colombo as the Indian strategic community thought it would have become, post-aid.

The Chinese Embassy in Colombo has since added fuel to the Indian ‘street anguish’ over Colombo’s ‘ungratefulness’—w hich matters in a democracy – through provocative statements on Sri Lanka’s ‘northern neighbour’. An unprecedented Sino-Indian war-of-words going on in a third-nation capital, long after their so-called research vessel has left the Chinese-controlled Hambantota Port in southern Sri Lanka.  This has further exposed the perceived Chinese positivity towards ending all tensions with India, in the dream of a shared ‘Asian Century’.

Bilateral, not trilateral

Though it has not said so in public, China seems to be strategizing for a ‘trilateral approach’ to problem-solving on the India-China and India-Pakistan fronts, especially on border disputes. New Delhi sees them only as two ‘bilateral’ or ‘parallel’ issues. Like a railway line that takes the train to the same station, resolution of these two disputes will lead to regional peace as a whole, yet, India has sound reasons for keeping them bilateral.

Also, five full decades after the India-Pakistan ‘Simla Agreement’ (1972), successive governments in New Delhi have stuck to the pact provision that both nations would treat their problems only as ‘bilateral issues’, and try resolve them without involving ‘third-parties’ (including the UN). The Chinese perception that POK’s Aksai Chin that is in Beijing’s possession would help make the India-Pakistan border dispute trilateral is misplaced.

Over and above this is China’s earlier added provocative action, in which again Pakistan played its part, by including PoK territories in their Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (CPEC) highways project, which Beijing promoted as a part of its failing Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In what should be deemed as a cheeky insult to India, Beijing had the temerity to invite New Delhi to the BRI inaugural in 2019. India turned down the invitation, and rightly so, by citing the CPEC route as the main reason for its decision.

According to more recent and equally contradictory reports, China wants to extend CPEC into Afghanistan, and also seems to go slow on the Pakistan component by letting Islamabad dissolve the CPEC Authority, if it so desired, owing to tardy progress. Other reports indicate that Pakistan was moving closer to the West. Even so, the question remains if China would want to confer ‘strategic autonomy’ on Pakistan, and also surrender Aksai Chin to Islamabad, for the latter to commence border-talks with New Delhi, in any acceptable way.

Internal compulsions

The real solution to India-Pakistan border dispute, centred mainly on the Kashmir issue, could still be based on converting the ‘Line of Control’ (LoC) between the two nations into the ‘International Border’ (IB), as was being considered through bilateral Track-II discussions when Vajpayee was Prime Minister. China, under a different leadership, did not seem to have any reservations, or the then Nawaz Sharif government in Islamabad was ready to assert its strategic freedom that much. It may not be so with Xi Jinping’s China at present.

There is another major domestic problem in Pakistan. As British writer Carey Schofield’s observation that ‘Every country has an army but Pakistan army has a country’ holds good even today. Most predecessors before incumbent Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had talked peace with India in their early days in office, only to turn the tables on New Delhi once they succumbed to domestic failures.  Shebhaz’s immediate predecessor in cricketer-politician Imran Khan changed his own original tunes and declared that ‘normalising ties with India would be a betrayal of Kashmiris’.

In India, too, there are domestic compulsions, of the greater democratic kind. A BJP-led ‘right wing’ government is better-placed than any other to market a border/peace package with Pakistan, or even China, to the nation, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is at an advantage than party predecessor Vajpayee. Yet, there are inherent legislative and political limitations.

Under prime minister PV Narasimha Rao, Parliament passed a unanimous resolution that the ‘whole of Kashmir, including POK (and thus Aksai Chin) is a part of India’. Defence Minister Rajnath reiterated the same when Parliament passed the Constitution Amendment abrogating Article 370. Indian position in the matter has been consistent, independent of the party or leadership in power.

Narendra Modi, if his government fancied a peace pact with Pakistan that acknowledged the status quo on the border dispute, would have greater difficulty selling the idea to their hard-core ideological cadre and partner, compared to the ‘recent converts’ and even the political Opposition, who do not have any ideological hang-ups, whatever be their public posturing over the short term. Yet, any government in India will be at a greater advantage than its counterpart in Pakistan when it comes to carrying the nation on any peace deal with the other. And that is saying a lot about the inherent limitations that Shehbaz Sharif would face, if he is serious about his proposal.

The writer is a Chennai-based policy analyst and commentator. Views expressed are personal.

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There is more to ‘permanent peace’ between India, Pakistan than Kashmir issue
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