Why India, Pak Can’t Talk

For Representational Purposes Only

Today old equations between New Delhi and Islamabad and also between Kashmiri separatists and New Delhi no longer apply

ON the eve of his controversial visit to Russia, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in an interview to a Russian Television channel offered a televised debate to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to resolve their issues. The offer which came amidst his usual railing at the BJP’s “racist ideology,” hasn’t received any response from New Delhi. India’s position remains that the talks with India will go ahead if Pakistan ceases support to terrorism in India.

On the other hand, Islamabad has its condition: And this has been explained in detail earlier in an interview to Karan Thapar by Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf. Pakistan, he clarified, wasn’t interested in the nomenclature of the revoked Article 370 but what the constitutional provision guaranteed to Kashmiris. He wanted New Delhi to promise a permanent halt to any demographic change in Kashmir, restore the rights of Kashmiris and give these concessions whatever name it wanted.

But would New Delhi make these concessions in the first place? Very unlikely as this would effectively mean restoration of Article 370 in disguise or something close to it. And this should normally rule out a fresh engagement between the two countries. But if that were the case, the two neighbors wouldn’t have established a contact early last year and agreed to re-instate the 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control. The agreement caught people on both sides of the border by surprise. More so, the people of Kashmir who were expecting Pakistan to escalate matters for India for its withdrawal of the semi-autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir. On the contrary, Pakistan now appeared to play down New Delhi’s far-reaching action. And by agreeing to the LoC ceasefire, New Delhi agreed to respect the sanctity of the LoC, which otherwise it had threatened to breach to take back Pakistan Administered Kashmir.

The ceasefire has since been held, completing its first anniversary on February 25. According to Army, not a single bullet was fired along the LoC over the last year which is quite an achievement considering in 2020, 4,645 violations were reported between the two neighbours which equates to nearly 12.7 violations a day.

There are several geopolitical factors at play. One is the unfolding geopolitics of the region. Since April 2020,  India has been engaged in a tense stand-off with China along the Line of Actual Control. China staged incursions at four points – forcing India to mass its troops along the border to deter further intrusions.

Similarly, India and Pakistan have also been at daggers drawn despite the ceasefire. Given the tense state of affairs, it is unlikely that the ceasefire will last. It doesn’t seem to be undergirded by any mutual understanding between them.

Then there in Afghanistan. The unfolding situation in Kabul, where the Taliban are now back in power has reduced India’s capacity to influence the events in that country. Accordingly, Pakistan is suddenly in a greater position of leverage.  Pakistan would also 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. Following the attack on Mumbai that killed 166 people, the two nations have struggled to get back to a durable engagement.

Today old equations between New Delhi and Islamabad and also between Kashmiri separatists and New Delhi no longer apply. Following the withdrawal of Article 370, Hurriyat has been obliterated from the scene.  In theory, at least, Pakistan is once again bolstered by the strategic depth of Afghanistan. But it has not only continued with the truce on the LoC but also stopped well short of exacerbating militancy in Kashmir, a behavior that should be to the liking of India. But as things stand, this hasn’t brought the two countries closer to dialogue. India isn’t amenable to talk about Kashmir let alone concede to Islamabad’s demands to restore constitutional protections to Kashmiris, even in some milder form.  One factor in this is the considerable power gap that has come into play  between the two countries in recent years, something which no amount of rhetoric in Kashmir and Islamabad can hide. India’s GDP is now ten times larger than that of Pakistan. And this inequality is likely to leave a deep imprint on the content of a future bilateral dialogue. And of course, on the outcome of it too, if it is sustainably held. It would be an outcome that might not be completely satisfying of the expectations of the weaker parties. Or else, the logjam that has persisted for the past seven decades would 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 climbdown from Islamabad’s traditional stand on J&K. This solution was about some minor political and administrative adjustments in Kashmir. 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 potentially could have resolved Kashmir.

There’s a possibility that the two countries could return to the formula sometime in the future.  And the fresh effort will have to be guided by the realization that ultimately India and Pakistan would have to resolve their problems themselves for a peaceful sub-continent. Only such a dialogue could be hoped to lead us towards a positive outcome. At the end of the day, 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 

  • The author is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer 

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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