By Aisha Saeed
Only a few days ago, a video of Indian troops, stationed at the highest battlefield of Kargil, were filmed dancing on the tunes of a hit Pakistani song Hawa Hawa. However, in the study of South Asian conflicts, the arch rivalry between Pakistan and India has become a case study for years including the battlefield of Kargil; where both the countries still stand gun to gun. Pakistan’s new government, with a revived sense of foreign affairs, has not been shy from addressing the disconnected conduct of its foreign policy during the previous governments.
Pakistan offered an olive branch to India by committing to its word of opening Kartarpur; a move which India did not expect as the relations between the two countries have only plummeted lately. Pakistan’s Prime Minister along with the army Chief showed a joint front, conveying a message of being on the same page in regards to their position on India.
India’s response to the goodwill gesture was in the form of accusations against Pakistan and its refusal to attend the SAARC summit. India is sceptical of the Kartarpur opening by Pakistan and considers it an ill-intentioned strategic move. Pakistan, on the other hand, went ahead as planned despite an attack on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi.
By year 2020, India will have obtained the Russian S-400 missile defence system, disturbing the region’s deterrence. The fact that both India and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons, and other advanced weapons systems including India’s S-400, does not deter conflict but changes the nature and tools of conflict.
This has compelled Pakistan to draw a parallel capability to maintain a balance in the weapons race of South Asia. Despite having one of the most heavily militarized boarders in the world and a frequently violated Line of Control (LoC), the opening of a visa free corridor will put a strain on the security of Pakistan – where it would require more active vigilance. While Pakistan cannot ignore India’s weapons’ built up and must take necessary measures to ensure its security, it does not want to engage in another conflict.
With the elections up close, India’s Pakistan rhetoric is sure to gain votes for the hardliner political parties. As Kashmir remains a conflict flashpoint between the two, India’s growing interest in Afghanistan to push Pakistan into isolation continues to strain the ties. But Pakistan is willing to understand the nature of bilateral ties between India and Afghanistan for the greater good of the region. However, if the US plans to bring back the Taliban into power, India is least likely to engage with the new government as it considers the group to have roots in Pakistan.
If India does engage the Taliban, it could use its resources to take the Taliban on their side. This is where Pakistan seems to be taking a risk. In his recent comments, former Indian Intelligence chief called the Pakistani Prime Minister their “best bet” for peace after former President Musharraf. But India sees Imran Khan differently and considers him the civilian face of the deep state. Both Musharraf and Vajpayee were close to resolving the Kashmir dispute but the deal fell through as Musharraf departed India.
Imran Khan is giving India a similar chance (for peace) years afterMusharraf. Musharraf’s Four Point Formula was a good balance of “give and take”. However, India’s Pakistan-centric approach dominates its foreign policy till date. Theissue of Kashmir is just one of the many issues that PM Imran Khan will have tounderstand and address, while proposing peace plans to India.
Cashing in on the religious sentiments, India also agreed to send its officials to participate in the opening ceremony of Kartarpur to appease the followers but remained reluctant to fully appreciate the stance by Pakistan. Initiatives such as Kartarpur often compel governments to take a humanistic policy approach. But India insists on keeping initiatives like Kartarpur separate from politics with its “terror and talks” cannot take place mantra.
While India denies its own meddling in Pakistan, where it supports groups like the BLA in Balochistan, Pakistan on the occasion of opening of Kartarpur made no statement about the Indian spy in its custody. The Pakistani Prime Minister only focused on achieving perhaps the impossible notion of peace with India.
While India and Pakistan are not in an active state of war, the relationship between the two is not that of complete peace either and remains highly frictional. Economic and diplomatic activities stand at a bare minimum but India’s guarded response to Pakistan will not help in resolving any issues, let alone agreeing on any new deals.
While “terror and talks” can never go together, abandoning opportunities to discuss matters with Pakistan only halts further development in state relations. For Pakistan, seeking peace with India means having a relaxed border and a chance of showing that the military centric approach towards India has changed dramatically but positively despite the arms race.
The reality of India and Pakistan is not Kashmir but India’s
unwillingness to accept the inevitable that Kashmir demands the chance to
decide its fate for itself. As long as India sees Kashmir through the optics of
Pakistan and the not the two separately, it will lag behind in understanding
the true essence of initiatives like Kartarpur. For now, Pakistan has put
the ball in India’s court, leaving New Delhi in a state of awe.
Aisha Saeed is an independent analyst on media and foreign policy. She tweets @MsAishaK.