Imran Khan’s peace gestures and India’s response

Published: December 5, 2018
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

The recent opening of the corridor connecting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur area to Dera Baba Nanak in India’s Gurdaspur district was in many ways a major event. It demonstrated what Imran Khan had remarked that we want civilised ties with India and indeed was a step in that direction. It is unfortunate Pakistan’s initiative is viewed in India with suspicion. Subsequent statements and tweets from the foreign ministers of both countries cast a shadow on this otherwise purposeful development.

The negative response of the Indian foreign minister and the Punjab chief minister to Pakistan’s invitation to attend the opening ceremony was a clear snub to Pakistan’s goodwill gestures. From the frenzy generated in some hawkish Indian media an impression was being created as though Pakistan by opening the corridor is trying to promote separatist trends among Sikhs and undermining India’s national unity. This is another demonstration of the lack of trust and misreading of each other’s motive. Besides, there is more to India’s rebuttal that we need to comprehend as several determinants govern its policy towards Pakistan.

First, if India were to move towards reconciliation with Pakistan it fears that it will strengthen the Muslim minority of India, and indirectly other minorities too. And this will be in conflict with the BJP’s policy of exclusive dominance of Hinduism. The most blatant manner in which the BJP leadership is demonising the Muslim community is evident from the stream of hate speeches by Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath, while campaigning for its allies in Andhra Pradesh state elections.

Second, the main challenge for India’s supremacy in the region emanates from China, and Pakistan-China ties presents another great hurdle to this ambitious power play. It considers CPEC and the expanding and deepening relationship of Pakistan with China a major roadblock in its pursuit to dominate the region.

Moreover, Afghanistan is another area of serious differences between the two countries and chances of compromise seem remote. Pakistan views India’s role in Afghanistan with suspicion. This has led to our support of the Taliban and using them as a countervailing force against Indian dominance. General Bajwa’s serious attempts at reconciliation with the Afghan leadership have not been successful primarily due their convergence with India’s thinking.

What emboldens New Delhi is that its Afghan and China policy is in total accord with Washington’s!

The United States, as is well known, has been consistently putting pressure on Pakistan to ‘do more’ implying that it brings the Haqqani network and Afghan Shura to the negotiating table. The latest letter of President Trump to PM Khan, however, shows that realism is dawning on Washington. Pakistan has a crucial role in the stability of Afghanistan and its insistence that political dialogue is the only route to peace is after all being recognised. European powers too need to fully support efforts towards a negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict.

Apart from genuine reasons for dismay regarding India’s policies we from our side have not been able to fully justify the lack of progress on pursuing the alleged conspirators and accomplices in the Mumbai attack. Very cleverly India has used it as a lever to pressure Pakistan and project it in a bad light.

Whereas what will be India’s gains if it were to take a conciliatory approach towards Pakistan?

There are clearly medium-and long-term benefits. It would reduce tensions in the region; bring the peoples of the two countries and those of South Asia closer by opening up opportunities for tourism, trade and commerce. This would incentivise local and foreign investors and boost the economy. Reduce influence of global players in South Asia and increase space for determining the region’s own destiny. For this India would have to gain confidence of its neighbours by supporting them at international forums where policies converge and treating them with respect.

But Indian leadership in general and the BJP in particular are not interested in this approach. It considers these policies would compromise its agenda for a Hinduvta India and be a setback for achieving its regional aspirations of dominance. Moreover, it would set forces wherein the minorities would gain political space thereby thwarting its national and regional ambitions. In short, altogether a new strategic, political and economic paradigm would emerge in which the status of Kashmir could also undergo a change. The prevailing unrest in Kashmir valley is an unnerving phenomenon yet the BJP government mistakenly feels it could handle it by mere application of brute pressure. Latest move of the governor of Indian-Occupied Kashmir to change the Permanent Residency rules in J&K is another manifestation of its harsh policies. Indifference of the international community towards the Kashmir movement allows India greater space to continue suppressing it.

What is less realised is that Pakistan’s alleged support of the LeT and Milli Muslim League is ingeniously exploited by India to provide cover to its gross human rights violations and gain Western sympathy. This problem is also contextualised with events of 26/11 and 9/11 and projected as a constant reminder that Pakistan is failing in its international obligations to take genuine punitive action against these militant organisations and its leaders.

The unfortunate aspect is that India instead of dealing with the Kashmir issue sympathetically has resorted to pursuing policies that undermine Pakistan’s stability and integrity. It is brazenly supporting the Baloch Liberation Front and TTP. This vicious cycle of weakening each other’s state by supporting dissident elements has to be broken.

The United States deliberately overlooks these Indian destabilising tactics but comes hard on Pakistan for its retaliatory measures. The preponderant basis of the US’ relations with Pakistan is how it relates to Afghanistan. And this obsession overlooks Pakistan’s national interests and sensitivities. The United States should raise its interest in the region and promote India-Pakistan dialogue.

Prolonged disengagement by India could have serious implications for the region. Multiple problems relating to security, strategy, economy and ecology can only be undertaken through a cooperative approach and efforts toward normalisation are the only sensible course.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2018.

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