Indo-Pak ties: back to square one

A rare joint statement comes as a big surprise given the recent history of hostilities between the two sides

Kamran Yousaf July 12, 2021
This writer is a senior foreign affairs correspondent at The Express Tribune

When Pakistan and India issued a rare joint statement after talks between their senior military officials in February, renewing the 2003 ceasefire understanding, it came as a big surprise given the recent history of hostilities between the two sides. The two directors-general military operations agreed to honour the truce along the LoC, with the joint statement also speaking about addressing each other’s core issues and concerns.

The surprise development compelled the people on both sides to think whether that was possible without backchannel contacts. However, the two sides publicly denied having any backdoor diplomacy despite media leaks suggesting to the contrary. As the ceasefire came into effect more details emerged which indicated that a third country facilitated secret talks between senior intelligence officials of the two countries. Held in Dubai in January, the meeting led to the ceasefire agreement. The idea behind the ceasefire was to pave the way for next steps. Both countries also quietly lowered the rhetoric against each other as part of the understanding. The next steps both countries were contemplating included restoration of diplomatic ties to the level of high commissioners. Pakistan was then also considering reviving trade ties but that did not happen after opposition by certain cabinet members.

But all these steps hinged on India taking certain measures that would address Pakistan’s concerns on the changes New Delhi brought to the disputed Kashmir region. In private discussions, officials in Pakistan said India had assured that it would revisit some actions and at least take steps to halt demographic changes over the occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan has repeatedly stated that it is ready for talks but for that India has to restore the pre-August 5, 2019 status of Kashmir. Prime Minister Imran Khan even said in an interview that Pakistan could re-engage with India if New Delhi gave a roadmap envisaging restoration of statehood. But despite those overtures, India never gave any hint of revisiting the Kashmir situation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently convened an all-parties meeting of pro-India Kashmiri leaders but refused to give any timeframe for restoring the territory’s special status.

The lack of progress on these issues put the backchannel contacts in jeopardy. While the two sides struggled to find common ground through quiet talks, the June 23 terrorist attack in Lahore dealt a fatal blow to efforts seeking a rapprochement between the two neighbours. Pakistan, which lowered the rhetoric in recent weeks, publicly accused India of being behind the Johar Town attack. Pakistani investigations concluded that the mastermind of the attack was an Indian who had direct links with the Indian intelligence agency, RAW. National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf — who was not long ago elevated to this status, in hopes that backchannel talks would lead to some tangible steps –categorically stated that Pakistan had the evidence of Indian state-sponsored terrorism in Pakistan.

The Indian external affairs ministry rejected Pakistan’s allegations and instead launched a counter-attack against Islamabad. The return of the blame game by both sides is a clear indication that efforts to seek normalisation have met a dead end. But given that both Pakistan and India are facing a two-front situation — India has to deal with Pakistan and China, while Pakistan has its hands full on both the eastern and western fronts — the two sides will have to keep the channels of communications open. For now, it is all back to square one!


Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2021.

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