Pakistan and India on the cusp of peace?

The guns are not just silent on the LoC but the two sides also seem to have halted verbal assault against each other


Kamran Yousaf March 29, 2021
This writer is a senior foreign affairs correspondent at The Express Tribune

A month after Pakistan and India agreed to restore the ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC), brigade-level talks were held on Friday between the two countries to review the implementation of truce. The face-to-face meeting at the LoC suggests that the truce is not only holding but the two nuclear-armed neighbours appear to be in for serious business. Since the February 25 understanding between the directors general military operations (DGMO), not a single incident of ceasefire violation has been reported by either side.

“I am glad to inform you that in the whole month of March, we have not had a single shot fired at the Line of Control barring an odd incident. It is for the first time in about five or six years that the LoC has been silent. That really bodes well for the future,” Indian Army Chief General MM Naravane had said on Thursday.

The guns are not just silent on the LoC but the two sides also seem to have halted verbal assault against each other. There has been visible change in the tone and tenor of both sides. Prime Minister Imran Khan is no more targeting the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, while the official statements coming from New Delhi also sounded conciliatory. In the middle of this, PM Modi wrote a letter to PM Imran, congratulating him on Pakistan’s National Day. He expressed his desire to have a “cordial relationship” with the people of Pakistan. But he reiterated the Indian stance that for any improvement in the relationship there has to be an “environment of trust, devoid of terrorism and hostility, is imperative”.

Last week, Pakistan and India also held talks on water issues. The meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission in New Delhi was the first since August 2018. If sources are to be believed the two countries are contemplating other measures too to ease tensions. In the next phase, the diplomatic ties may be restored to the level of high commissioners. Pakistan had downgraded the diplomatic ties soon after India revoked the special status of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. Other steps may include restoration of bilateral trade, religious tourism and a possible bilateral cricket series between Pakistan and India. There is also a possibility of Indian troops taking part in anti-terror exercises in Pakistan for the first time, under the banner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

But the big question remains: will there be any structured dialogue on the longstanding issue of Jammu and Kashmir? India at the moment is not even willing to restore the status quo of the disputed territory that existed before August 5, 2019. But the two sides are believed to have been quietly working on a roadmap on the issue of Kashmir. There may be a possibility of a new mechanism under which the issue of Kashmir and terrorism can be discussed and sorted out. But there has to be a word of caution. First, can the Modi government, riding on anti-Pakistan sentiments, afford a U-turn? The feeling is that the Modi government will only use the latest push for peace to advance this narrative that all is well between India and Pakistan. Also, given the current deep political divisions in Pakistan, can the government take any major decision on India without evolving a national consensus? All these factors will ultimately determine the fate of the renewed push for peace. We may see some semblance of improvement in ties in the coming months, but it will be a matter of time when the situation will be back to square one if tangible steps are not taken to address the core issues.

 

Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2021.

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