India-Pakistan Ceasefire: Back to Dialogue?

By re-affirming LoC ceasefire, New Delhi has agreed to respect the sanctity of the LoC, which until last year it threatened to breach to take back Pakistan Administered Kashmir

THE reaffirmation of the 2003  LoC agreement between India and Pakistan has taken everyone by surprise. This has happened at a time when the relations between the two countries have plunged to their lowest low following the revocation of Article 370 in August 2019.  Also, there was nothing in the recent political discourse in India and Pakistan that seemed to suggest that India and Pakistan were working towards normalization of their ties. True, some statements did emerge from Pakistan in recent past that were conciliatory towards India. First of them came from Pakistan Army Chief General Bajwa in February.

A  day  ahead of the LoC agreement, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan during his visit to Sri Lanka said India and Pakistan can resolve Kashmir through dialogue. His foreign minister Mahmood Qureshi said that Pakistan’s strategic priorities have “shifted from geo-political to geo-economic,” a statement that is of profound import as far as Pakistan’s policy with regard to the ongoing situation in Kashmir. It means that Islamabad’s  policies would now largely be geared towards promoting economic development at home and bolstering trade relations with its neighbours.

But this still doesn’t explain the change of heart in India towards Pakistan. By agreeing to LoC ceasefire, New Delhi has agreed to respect the sanctity of the LoC, which until last year it threatened to breach to take back Pakistan Administered Kashmir.

There are several factors at play in the renewed attempt at fresh engagement. One is the unfolding geo-politics of the region. Over the past ten months,  India has been engaged in a tense stand-off with China along the Line of Actual Control. In April last year, China staged incursions at four points – forcing India to mass its troops along the border to deter further ingress by the PLA.

Similarly, India has also been at daggers drawn with Pakistan. According to the information revealed to the parliament by the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh,  there were a total of 4,649 ceasefire violations on the LoC in 2020. This has resulted in loss of lives on both sides besides causing untold misery to the people living alongside the border. But this perennial state of conflict along the LAC and LoC has stretched New Delhi and this state of affairs is unsustainable in the long term.

Then there is war in Afghanistan. The unfolding situation in Kabul, where the Taliban are now being considered as a part of the political solution, has suddenly reduced India’s capacity to influence the outcome in the war-torn country. Accordingly, Pakistan is suddenly in a greater position of leverage.  On the other hand, Pakistan would benefit from a friendly India to ensure continued stability on its eastern flank.

The LoC agreement is also traced to the US nudging the two countries from behind the scenes. The US involvement in the relationship between India and Pakistan is a fairly complex affair. New Delhi wants the US to intervene to sort out the terror problem in Pakistan but it brooks no meddling in Kashmir.

Similarly, Islamabad wants US intervention on Kashmir but wouldn’t like Washington to speak on behalf of India on terror. More so,  at a time when the US is seen as partial towards India. This contradiction hardly makes the US an ideal mediator between the two countries. The starkness of this reality leaves India and Pakistan no choice but to engage and confront their problems themselves. And confront, they must.

But here again the two countries have exhibited a singular inability to talk sustainably. The suspension of the dialogue over the last decade is enlightening on this score. This makes it incumbent for the two countries to first make serious efforts, preferably through back channels, to accommodate each other’s positions and thereby reduce some trust deficit.

Today old equations between New Delhi and Islamabad and also between Kashmiri separatists and New Delhi no longer apply. Following withdrawal of Article 370, Hurriyat  has been obliterated from the scene. Pakistan is no longer bolstered by the strategic depth of Afghanistan or leveraged by an all-encompassing militant struggle in Kashmir. This has brought in a considerable inequality between the parties which no amount of rhetoric in Kashmir and Islamabad can hide. And this inequality — accentuated further by a stronger India — is likely to leave a deep imprint on the content of a future dialogue. And of course, on the outcome of it too, if the dialogue is sustainably held. It will be an outcome that will not be completely satisfying of the expectations of the weaker parties. Or else, the logjam that has persisted for the past seven decades will linger on.

Former Pakistan president Musharraf was the first to recognize new realities. His four point proposals on Kashmir envisaged a solution that would be a drastic climb down from Islamabad’s traditional stand on J&K. This solution was about some minor political and administrative adjustments, more phraseological than substantive in their nature. With moderate Hurriyat playing along, these proposals almost got the two countries to agree to a radical new solution for Kashmir, if the lawyers’ agitation in Pakistan hadn’t forced the sudden exit of Musharraf, this solution would potentially have resolved Kashmir.

There’s a possibility that the two countries could return to the formula. And the fresh effort has to be guided by the realization that ultimately India and Pakistan will have to solve their  problems themselves for a  peaceful sub-continent. Only such a dialogue can be hoped to lead us towards a positive outcome. The sub-continent needs the two countries to resolve their issues to usher in a true era of peace.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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