Breaking the Pakistan-India logjam

Taliban’s control of Afghanistan and improved relations with China has been a huge setback for both the US and India


Lt Gen (retd) Talat Masood September 22, 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

Relations between Pakistan and India have remained highly adversarial since their independence in 1947. Hostility between the two countries continues unabated. Since Narendra Modi took Office of the Prime Minister in 2014, there have only been a few months of positive exchanges, but the situation has taken a turn for the worse. Until recently, the Indian intelligence agencies were taking advantage of its close relations with the Afghan government and harbouring anti-Pakistan elements that included the Baloch nationalists and TTP.

In Kashmir, India is pursuing policies with the definite objective of changing the character of the state. It has undertaken draconian measures that no civilised society could comprehend. Revoking Article-370 and 35-A and fully integrating Kashmir in the Indian Union was a clear violation of the UNSC resolutions to which India is a principal party. It raised the ante and gave a dangerous dimension to the India-Pakistan relationship. The brave Kashmiri people have been facing these harsh measures with courage and defiance. However, India plans to crush the resistance with the full might of the Indian state and readjustments in population.

The irony is that the world is merely a silent spectator. The West that claims to be a champion of human rights and defender of freedom looks the other way. Major powers, including most Western countries, criticise and even sanction countries violating human rights. However, they have continually overlooked India’s gross violations. China’s rising economic power challenges US supremacy. Therefore, India has sided with the latter and introduced a new strategic dynamic, which has emboldened India to pursue its highly aggressive and authoritarian policies toward Pakistan without any inhibition. It is possible that the hardline pursued by the US Secretary of State, which was reflected in his recent statement that Pakistan is playing a double game, reflected their frustration over Afghanistan, but also, complimented India’s policy of keeping Pakistan under pressure.

The Taliban’s complete control of Afghanistan and improved relations with China has been a huge setback for both the US and India. It is possible that India’s frustration in Afghanistan may create problems for the Taliban government by supporting its opponents. There are other implications of the India-Pakistan rivalry. Pakistan has to allocate substantial resources to maintain the credibility of its defence and keep India at bay. It is not surprising that Pakistan is lagging in development indexes even from South Asia because it spends relevantly more on defence and national security. What the provinces devote to education and health is also affected by a weak economy.

A more holistic approach would require Pakistan to be capable of dealing with its internal economic, social and security challenges. This would be good for Pakistan and the region. Unfortunately, neither India nor the US has given serious thought to what Pakistan’s democratic development, self-reliant economy, and safe borders would do. It will support Pakistan and promote stability in the region. This type of thinking perhaps would sound too idealistic and futuristic.

It is important to consider what India has gained in the pursuit of an anti-Pakistan policy. It has given rise to the worst form of Hindu nationalism that has subjugated the rights of minorities, especially the Muslims that are over 150 million by conservative estimates. This type of discriminatory treatment may be ignored by major powers, but its ill effects would be extremely damaging, which the people have to bear. Suppressing the Kashmiris or Dalits will eventually have consequences.

The treatment of minorities in Pakistan has somewhat improved but a lot more needs to be done. PM Imran Khan realises the importance of a culture of tolerance and respect for other faiths, which needs to be inculcated. What the world is now realising is that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) under Modi is one of the largest and most organised extremist hate groups in the world. According to India’s own intellectuals, India under Modi is acquiring the ignoble distinction of being inspired by Nazism and fascism. India is no more secular but a religious state. Muslims and other minorities are relegated as second-class citizens.

These policies have a direct bearing on how the Kashmiri Muslims and the Indian Muslims are likely to be treated. These internal developments will certainly impact India-Pakistan relations. As for now, Muslim countries remain oblivious to or have deliberately ignored the developments in India. They have instead prioritised economic and trade relations. We have witnessed indifference to the plight of Palestinians by most governments of the Middle East. Moreover, only those countries that have an impeccable record of treating minorities fairly would be able to raise their voice against the events in India.

Unfortunately, among Muslim countries, there would be few who fall in that category. China despite having serious differences with India has always advised India and Pakistan to engage in dialogue. China encouraged the two countries to build a relationship that would facilitate the resolution of the Kashmir problem and other issues. Moreover, Chinese leaders have advised Pakistan to focus on economic and human resource development while ensuring internal and external security. A few years back the Chinese President on a visit to Pakistan in a speech advised Pakistan to place the Kashmir dispute on hold.

Of course, Chinese leadership takes a long-term view and formulate policies on that basis. They have the strategic patience that works well and has been one of their sources of strength. To break the present impasse and reduce the level of hostility, India and Pakistan should engage in dialogue at both the official and unofficial levels. The highly restrictive movement across the IndiaPakistan border and few exchanges even at the unofficial and personal level have created a dynamic of its own — something that has pushed the countries further away.

It is necessary that the two countries relax on travel restrictions, open trade and commerce, and engage in dialogue at the official level. India must take the lead because it was India that imposed restrictions initially.

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