Since 1947, both nuclear-armed archrivals, Pakistan and India, came head to head several times and the territorial dispute over Kashmir is the cause of their intractable disagreement. The strife between both nations is often typified as that of post-World War France and Germany, and it has been said that if those two nations made a truce then it is also possible that Pakistan and India can also reach a settlement. Along with four full-fledged wars and numerous skirmishes, several attempts have also been made for reconciliation by both nations but all efforts remained futile. Apart from adopting a beggar thy neighbor policies against each other, both nations are aware of the security threat, dilemma, and rising cost of conflict emanating from their long-standing rivalry. Whereas both, India and Pakistan are also aware that the dividends of peace are much higher than their enmity and bonhomie will lead to a prosperous, secure, and developed region.
In the last few weeks, the civil and military leadership of both states has shown the gestures of reconciliation and the underlying rationale of this rapprochement is the prevalent geopolitical and geo-economic dynamics of the region and beyond. Conceivably, a letter of Narendra Modi is an extension of an olive branch to his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan on National Day of Pakistan and it expresses India’s desires to restore cordial relations with its neighboring country.
Both, India and Pakistan are also aware that the dividends of peace are much higher than their enmity and a bonhomie will lead to a prosperous, secure and developed region.
Similarly, at the newly founded forum called Islamabad Security Dialogue, the decision-makers and intellectual elites of the country delineated a new strategic direction based on a comprehensive security framework considering the regional connectivity and development partnerships. At this forum, the Chief of Army Staff said that “Kashmir dispute is obviously at the heart of this problem and without the resolution of the dispute of Kashmir through peaceful means, the process of Sub-continental rapprochement will remain susceptible to derailment to the politically motivated bellicosity. It is time to bury the past and move forward but for the resumption of the peace process and meaningful dialogue, our neighbor will have to create a conducive environment, particularly, in Indian-occupied Kashmir.”
This statement reiterated the commitment of the Pakistani government to bury the hatchet and move forward in its bilateral relations with India but at the same time, the resolution of the Kashmir dispute plays an imperative role in this rapprochement. Both sides have made similar offers in the past but the resolution of Kashmir’s territorial dispute remained the deadlock.
Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Economic Coordination Committee gave a green signal to import cotton and sugar from India but later Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi reiterated that we are committed to regional peace and stability but there will be no trade with India until the restoration of the special autonomous status of Kashmir. Diplomatic and trade ties between Pakistan and India were suspended on August 5, 2019, when India revoked article 370 and changed the special status of the disputed region unanimously while violating the international customary norm and treaties.
However, a nascent development in this regard was the resumption of the hotline between India and Pakistan’s Director General of Military Operations (DGMOs), where both sides pledged to abide by the 2003 ceasefire arrangement at the Line of Control. This development also shows that Pakistan has been successful in convincing India to reconsider its position and showing the world that religious extremism in India is spilling over in its bilateralism. Similarly, the increasing clout of Pakistan in the region and its burgeoning partnerships with economic and military powers like China, Russia, and Sri Lanka, etc. is the reason that India is reevaluating its stance towards Pakistan.
Modi’s Stance towards Indian Muslims and Pakistan
The question arises that, why Narendra Modi, the leader of the Hindutva regime, a demagogue and fascist of the 21st century, is showing friendly gestures and extending offers to normalize the relations. Before any analysis, one should be cognizant of the fact that Modi is a full-time member of RSS – a Hindu supremacist party. Under his leadership, India has been morphed into an authoritarian and Hindu nationalist state. Religious and cultural polarization reached new heights in India during BJP’s tenure like acts of mob lynching, ban on cow slaughters, and hate speech against Muslims along with war hysteria. Modi regime induced hate in the pluralistic society of India by domestically manufacturing anti-Muslim rhetoric and then it as an instrument of whipping votes. Moreover, Modi is the one who has been denied entry to the USA in 2014 for violating religious freedom and his alleged involvement in the Gujrat pogrom but now India is deemed as the friendliest nation in the region by the USA. The practical manifestation of his loathing against Muslims also became evident when his government structurally marginalized the Muslims through introducing discriminatory laws like NPR, CAA, and revocation of Article 370, and during his regime right wing populist parties resorted to violence as their strategic tool. There are hundreds of examples where students, opposition leaders, and protestors challenging the government and demonstrating against the religious polarization have been charged with violence and sedition. Throughout his leadership, Indian policy towards Pakistan was of cooperation-defection and not considering Kashmir on the agenda of any talk or negotiation with Pakistan. In addition to this, the Modi regime pushed the narrative that Pakistan is the sponsor of terrorism in the region and tried to taint the legitimate struggle of Kashmiri Muslims for their right to self-determination as a terror campaign.
In April, the news surfaced that top-level intelligence officers of Pakistan and India met in Dubai and held secret talks on the issue of the disputed region of Kashmir. Multiple news outlets published the news and backed the fact that both sides were using backchanneling diplomacy for appeasing the longstanding hostilities and normalization of relations. An international news agency quoted a Pakistani defense analyst Ayesha Siddiqa who was of the view that this is not a new development and both sides have been meeting for several months, especially in times of crisis. This also sounds legitimate when we look at the focus of incumbent governments of both states, which at the moment are focusing on geo-economics and increasing their diplomatic clout at the regional level.
The rationale behind this re-engagement or rapprochement is that India, as always, is facing a security dilemma and threat of a two-front war, which has been exacerbated by the Chinese border confrontation last year. China has struck India at a highly sensitive spot in the Himalaya region, which has deprived India of control over Ladakh and its offensive option against GB, and rendered its 3 Corps at Leh and Siachin vulnerable. Above all, Iran has ditched India and befriended China. Similarly, Pakistan’s economic suffering and debt crisis demand increasing its exports and looking for low-cost imports, and India being the next-door neighbor is the most obvious solution. In addition to this, peace in Afghanistan is another reason of this bilateral concourse.
In addition to this, both India and Pakistan are looking for trading partners because Intraregional trade accounts for barely 5 percent of South Asia’s total trade and trade among South Asian countries currently totals just $23 billion — far below an estimated value of at least $67 billion. Amidst this prevalent tide of regional connectivity, there are huge prospects of connecting the South Asian markets with that of Central Asian Republics because the region is a potential market for exports and it provides direct access to the European markets as well. However, this economic potential is only tapped through mutual understanding and normalization of relations between Pakistan and India. Similarly, peace in Afghanistan is also essential for securing the shortest trade routes and fetching energy resources from the Central Asian Republics to South Asia.
There are numerous factors compelling the two countries to follow the path of reconciliation, resolve their intractable disputes peacefully and through dialogue. Among all other factors, the security and realization of the ever-rising cost of the conflict is a major aspect influencing the decision-making in Delhi and Islamabad. The defense expenditure is a major concern here because due to increased animosity between both and border skirmishes, both have to maintain a large standing army in addition to the up-gradation of military equipment, weapon systems, etc. This cost of conflict exceeds the amount of revenue both can generate through cooperation and for this; a case study of Kashmir’s tourism in the 1990s is a very pertinent example because with the decline in tourism, the loss of account to a staggering 165 billion rupees in 12 years. Meaning that both states collectively lost an opportunity to earn approx. 13 billion rupees annually.
Another factor making the dialogue and reconciliation more covetable is the option of multi-track diplomacy, and this had been the case in the recent UAE brokered deal between India and Pakistan. Previously, the US tried to overcome the communication gap through a confidence-building measure called Neemarna dialogues in 1991, similarly, the Foreign Office of Pakistan also opted for Track II initiatives supported by the third party, but has downplayed indigenous people-to-people contacts.
Economic ties between both, India and Pakistan deteriorated after the Pulwama incident because after suspending their diplomatic ties, India also removed Pakistan from the list of the most favored nation. It is obvious that trade and economic interdependence can draw down the level of hostilities among two actors, and especially when they are neighbors. Moreover, there is a huge economic potential for South Asia’s two biggest economies to connect with each other and with the region, especially when a regional integration drive is going on. According to experts, there is a potential of $26billion trade between Pakistan and India and currently a trade worth approx. $4billion is carried out between both but through the involvement of a third country, which earns profits for being an intermediary and adding the burden of extended delivery time as well freight cost. Moreover, if both nations can resolve their disputes amicably, then they can also join hands in international forums like the World Trade Organization for the socio-economic betterment of the region.
In terms of international relations, another reason for this rapprochement seems to the alliance formations of Pakistan and India with major powers, such as Pakistan backed by China and Russia, whereas the QUAD (USA, Japan, and Australia) supports India. The rise of China, its regional developmental programs, and most significantly the Belt and Road Initiative is perceived as a threat by America and its allies, because along with the economic progression, Russia is pivotal in this regional connectivity project. Moreover, an agreement between China and Russia to work together for a multipolar order, formation of Shanghai Spirit, and then enlarging its sphere of influence to the region and beyond. On the other hand, the US-backed India due to its economic potential, a considerable part of the world’s top five economies by 2030. Similarly, the US is using India as a counterweight against China, deterring the Chinese string of pearl through the formation of a QUAD, and declaring India as the regional strategic and security partner.
Moreover, the normalization of bilateral relations between Pakistan and India is a win-win situation for both because it will not only resurrect SAARC but also allow the completion of TAPI gas pipeline and other projects related to economic or energy corridors.
History of Indo-Pak Peace Overtures
Pakistan has always been in favor of peace, which is why; all the neighbors of Pakistan enjoy fraternal relations with the country, except its eastern neighbor. Pakistan has advocated the peaceful resolution of the dispute with its eastern neighbor, India, as well and offered to mitigate the situation through dialogues and CBMs. The most recent example of this tapestry is the release of Indian Pilot Abinandhan Varthaman whose plan was shot down in 2019 while flying over Pakistan administered Kashmir. Similarly, in the past, Pakistan had undertaken a welcoming stance in peace overtures and CBMs like the Composite Dialogue in 2004, 1972 Shimla Agreement, 1966 Tashkent Declaration, 1962 Indus Water Treaty, 1960 Indo-Pak Border Ground Rules Agreement, 1950 Liaquat-Nehru Pact, and 1949 Karachi Agreement.
However, all these proposals and talks for peace between Pakistan and India ended up in vain due to the adamant stance of both on Kashmir. UN mandate and resolutions supported the referendum and ceasefire in Kashmir and Pakistan complied with them but India denied these proposals and took hardline stance such as imposing curfews, introducing repressive laws, equating the Kashmiris right to self-determination with terrorism, and even carrying out a pre-emptive offensive in the disputed territory. Pakistan remained firm that there is no chance of rapprochement without Delhi resuming the special status of Kashmir first and then peaceful resolving the dispute.
The resumption of diplomatic ties, which were called off in 2019 after the revocation of the special status of Kashmir by India, is a nascent development and experts have been hinting about this development for the last few months. Parveen Swani, an Indian journalist and geopolitical analyst, wrote an article titled ‘The Time might have come for India and Pakistan to talk’, which spiked a controversy in the intellectual elites of Pakistan about distorting historical facts by Swami. A feature story was written by Asif Haroon also stated the fact that for weeks rumors have proliferated in New Delhi’s diplomatic and policy communities on the existence of a secret India-Pakistan diplomatic channel on Kashmir. The rumor mill adds color to the story by asserting that India’s NSA Ajit Doval visited Islamabad secretly. Another version talks of a meeting held between high officials in London and Washington. Topics for discussion ranged from the fate of Kashmir to the future of Afghanistan, and the trial of Kulbushan Jadhav. Praveen brings out another revelation that at a May 27, 2014 meeting, outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave Prime Minister Modi a set of unsigned notes, containing records of secret negotiations to seal a Kashmir deal with Pakistan’s former military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf. In addition to that, Mr Swami also casts aspersions on General Qamar Bajwa by insinuating that in meetings with British diplomats, the General is believed to have asserted his commitment to peace. However, Swami in his article also stressed that we should be wary of promises made by the civil-military leadership because such talks were held in the past but ended up as a futile effort.
UAE’s role in India-Pakistan Rapprochement
Reports have been surfaced in the past month alluding to the involvement of UAE’s involvement as the mediator between Pakistan and India. Journalists connected the dots and presented a story that in November 2020, the Indian Minister of External Affairs J. Shankar met the UAE ruler Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and this was followed by a visit from the Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. Then the telephonic conversation of PM Imran Khan with the Foreign Minister of UAE where the issues of regional and international security were discussed, also hinted towards the rapprochement and UAE’s involvement as the mediator. Another development in this regard was the Indian permission to the Pakistani premier to fly over their airspace while traveling to Sri Lanka, although both states barred each other to use their national airspace since 2019. After the meeting of DGMO’s of both countries and reasserting their commitments for a ceasefire, UAE was among the first few countries to congratulate both and showed its confidence in the agreement. Apart from having longstanding commercial ties with India and Pakistan, India is the largest national group in UAE accounting for approx. 27 percent followed by the Pakistanis with a population of over 1.5 million and constituting 12.5% of the country’s total population. Both Pakistan and India enjoy fraternal relations with UAE and the latter recognize the contributions of the former in the evolution of key institutions of their country.