Ensuring durability of the peace process

Unending Indian antagonism leaves Pakistan with no other option but to get closer to China

Talat Masood March 03, 2021
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 broader objective for the partition of the Sub-continent was that the people of India and Pakistan would live in peace and harmony and establish their countries on the basis of their separate identities, religious ethos and democratic values. Unfortunately, the exact opposite has been their history, for ever since independence they have been engaged in perpetual hostility, fought two major wars and experienced several serious military encounters. Whereas the territorial and ideological dispute of Kashmir which remains central to this lingering hostility remains unresolved, like an open wound, bleeding and causing untold pain and suffering to its people. The worst affected are, of course, the people of the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK). 
But the fallout has also seriously impacted both countries with Pakistan taking the maximum brunt. So, the question is: when will India, the intransigent party to the Kashmir conflict, change its attitude and be willing to find a peaceful and honourable solution to this intractable dispute?
The question arises as to how one should interpret the latest development in which Pakistan and India have recommitted themselves to the 2003 ceasefire arrangement at the Line of Control (LoC) and agreed to address the core issues that could undermine peace and stability. Because of past history there is considerable scepticism regarding the latest ceasefire agreement and the possibility of the two countries turning a new chapter in the relationship. 
Pakistan has all along been a proponent of political engagement and it is only India’s unilateral freezing of all communication that had shut the door. It seems very possible that the trying economic conditions in India were a major factor that has prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lower the animus against Pakistan. Moreover, pursuing the Hindu nationalist agenda in a country where diversity would flourish was destined to fail. The spread of the pandemic, the government’s mismanagement of the economy and the Sikh community’s mass protests reflect that the people in India are greatly disillusioned. These happenings have pushed the BJP government on the back foot, its reputation has been seriously impaired and the myth of shining India has exploded. 
The real test of India’s sincerity in pursuing the peace agenda with Pakistan would be gauged by how it abandons its inhumane policy in Kashmir and as a first step, reverts back to the August 2019 position. There are many who argue, and for good reason, that even if the Kashmir dispute is somehow resolved, the animosity and confrontational policies would not cease. And the time for an honourable settlement, if there was any, has long gone past. Tragically, the perpetuation of the conflict has acquired a certain pattern of external and internal dynamics that has the support of influential groups in both countries and is backed by major powers. Moreover, it would be an unrealistic expectation that the current peace gestures would lead to any change in Kashmir’s territorial status. Countering the forces that undermine the peace process would be a common challenge of the two countries.  
The global strategic environment that earlier was dominated by the United States to counter the former Soviet Union is presently pitched against China. Inferring from this it is not surprising that the US-China rivalry is already casting its shadow on India-Pakistan relations making the Kashmir dispute even more intractable. These undercurrents where major powers side with one group or the other are generally present in most of the major chronic regional conflicts as is evident in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, undermining the very integrity of these states.
The new Biden administration has come with a new resolve and definitive plans to counter China’s emerging global rise and expects India, Japan, South Korea and Western powers to actively thwart its ambitions. Unfortunately, this is a replication of the Cold War strategy, but this is how the US plans to perpetuate its position as a global hegemon. China seems prepared to face this challenge and is exuding confidence by strengthening its economy and expanding its influence globally. It is focusing on catching up with the US and the West in space and cutting-edge technologies. The recent successful mission of its highly sophisticated Tianwen-1 spacecraft in the Martian orbit was a demonstration of this national resolve. It is taking a lead in developing technologies to counter the delirious effects of climate change that unfortunately the Trump administration was deliberately giving a low priority to. 
India too has made exceptional progress in space endeavours. The Mars Orbiter Mission is a space probe orbiting Mars since 2014 and the first Asian nation to reach the Martian orbit. 
Washington would particularly like India not to fritter away its national power on Pakistan and focus more on China. In all likelihood, it is nudging the two neighbours to engage in dialogue and resolve their differences peacefully. Currently, the gap between China and India’s economic, political and strategic power is too wide and the hostility with Pakistan is increasing it even further. 
Moreover, unending Indian antagonism leaves Pakistan with no other option but to get closer to China. In this scenario, how would Beijing respond to a durable Pakistan-India détente? There is a school of thought that it suits Beijing that India remains embroiled with Pakistan and its internal uprisings so that it is not in a position to counter its global ambitions.
India has been operating in Afghanistan and patronising elements in the Afghan army and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and other groups that are inimical toward Pakistan. Hopefully, this would end soon. It is expected that the easing of Pakistan-India tensions would contribute to facilitating the Afghan peace process and reduce incidents of violence on the Pak-Afghan border. 
Despite the unfavourable international environment and serious misgivings due to a gloomy past, the hope is that the leadership of India and Pakistan will take a hard look at the plight of its people and prioritise their wellbeing and harmonise state policies accordingly. Moreover, why should South Asia remain burdened with its inherited legacy while many former colonies have come out of it? 


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