It came as a pleasant surprise when the Director General Military Operations (DGMO) of India and Pakistan army announced on 24 Feb 2021, that both the countries have decided to implement the 2003 Ceasefire Agreement along the LOC and other border areas in letter and spirit from midnight 24 Feb 2021 onwards. This has been a result of ‘behind the scenes’ contacts between the senior security officials of the two countries over the past few months.
The ceasefire agreement between the two countries came into existence in 2003, after ‘Operation Parakram’, when the two sides under PM Atal Bihari Vajpai and General Musharraf decided to give peace a chance. The ceasefire held on for quite a few years but the violations started from 2014 onwards again. The bilateral relations came under severe strain, following the Pulwama suicide attack in February 2019 and retaliatory Balakot airstrike on the terrorist camps in Pakistan, by the Indian Airforce. The relations hit a low when India scrapped article 370 in Aug 2019, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir and reorganised the state into union territories of J and K and Ladakh. Since then, the ceasefire violations had increased manifold. In fact, in 2018 the ceasefire violations were around 1600, which increased to almost double in 2019 and became triple in 2020. But in 2021, the ceasefire violations had reduced over the past two months. The diplomatic ties and economic trade relations between the two countries also took a beating, with no trade between the two countries in the last two years. The High Commissions are staffed with minimum strength; High Commissioners stand withdrawn; trade is almost non-existent.
Of late, there had been softening of the stand from Pakistan side and reciprocated to some measure by Indian side too. Recently, Pakistan Army Chief, General Bajwa while addressing a graduation ceremony at the PAF Academy in the first week of February 2021 stated, ‘Pakistan is a peace-loving country that has rendered sacrifices and worked towards regional and global peace. We are committed to the ideal of mutual respect and peaceful co-existence. It is time to extend the hand of peace in all directions. Pakistan and India must resolve the longstanding issue of Jammu and Kashmir in a dignified and peaceful manner as per the aspirations of the people of J and K and bring this human tragedy to its logical conclusion.’ The statement was reiterated by Imran Khan in a public rally in POK on 05 Feb where he said, ‘India should come and resolve the Kashmir issue with us through talks, but do not mistake our hand of friendship for weakness. Modi should restore article 370 and then speak to us.’ India also reciprocated its soft stand by offering covid-19 vaccines to Pakistan if it requested it. India also permitted the PM of Pakistan to fly over Indian skies on his visit to Srilanka. This was done in spite of Pakistan refusing to allow our PM and the President to use its air space.
Why this sudden change?
Let us analyse, what could be the possible reasons for this sudden change in attitude by Pakistan. I presume that there are certain internal and external factors that led to the change in the stance of Pakistan. Firstly, Pakistan’s attempts to internationalise the Kashmir problem did not find suitable takers in the international forum despite Chinese repeated attempts to support Pakistan’s claims in the United Nations. Pakistan’s game plan stands exposed and there are very few takers to support it. With the abrogation of article 370, the incidents of terrorist activities are reducing in the valley due to a lack of active support from the local population. The terrorists themselves are on the run, trying desperately to remain in news by their dastardly terrorist acts. The restoration of 4G services in the valley recently is an indication that the security situation in Kashmir is under control. The tour of various foreign diplomats in the valley sends a loud and clear message to the rest of the world about the improved existing situation in the valley.
Secondly, the internal situation in Pakistan is very fragile with the opposition party led by Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Sharif gaining the support of the population and the hardliners exposing the corrupt military top brass and the fault lines of the present government led by PM Imran Khan under the direct control of the Pakistan army. The Pashtuns, Sindhi and Kashmiris are also up in arms against the present government. At the same time, the Baluch insurgency is picking up steam and are threatening to disrupt the CPEC. Pakistan army is actively engaged in controlling the Baluch insurgents. Pakistan had been blaming India and Iran for fuelling the insurgency and causing instability in Baluchistan. Gwadar has been militarised by the Chinese to protect their assets. The situation is worrisome for both Pakistan and China.
Thirdly, Pakistan’s economy is in a poor state. The pandemic has pushed millions of people under the poverty line. It has once again been put on the ‘grey list’ as it has failed to comply on all aspects as directed by the world body. Due to this it cannot borrow money from the IMF to repay loans and is forced to borrow money from China to finance projects under CPEC. China is slowly pushing Pakistan into a debt trap and made Pakistan it’s stooge to influence the decision making of the country. Pakistan does not have enough oil reserves to sustain itself in a major conflict with India. It is low on ammunition reserves too. China has been arming Pakistan with arms, ammunition and is also building Pakistan’s navy to increase its influence in the troubled sea waters.
Fourthly, Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan and Iran are at a very low ebb. The borders with Afghanistan are unstable with reports of regular border skirmishes between the two. Pakistan is facing threat from India in the east and Afghanistan in the west simultaneously. Perhaps it wants to have stable borders with India so that it could concentrate its efforts towards Afghanistan. The ceasefire offer from Pakistan after the Biden took over could also have been influenced by the US administration so that all efforts could be concentrated towards Afghanistan. Pakistan’s willingness to please the Biden administration may be to get into their good books to extract financial aid from the USA to deal with its battered economy. China too would be happy as it will not have to spend too much money to arm the Pakistan army facing the Indian borders. Therefore, it can be assumed that peace overtures by Pakistan have China’s approval too. Peace along the India Pakistan LOC also guarantees security to CPEC transiting through Gilgit Baltistan, where it is vulnerable to Indian strikes.
Pakistan was very happy to receive Chinese military aid during the standoff along the LAC, to pose a two-front threat to India in collusion with China. It thought that it will get a chance to settle scores with India in conjunction with China. But India stood strong against the Chinese threat and made all preparations to deal with it by building a mirror deployment. Since India and China decided to disengage along the LAC, Pakistan knows that military aid by China would reduce and it would be prudent to embrace the US to extract a price for its cooperation to find a lasting solution in Afghanistan.
Lastly. Pakistan has lost its allies in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia has demanded its repayment of loans. UAE has put a stop to Pakistan workers entering their country. Pakistan has very few friends left to support it; perhaps China, Turkey and Malaysia. India has been able to earn goodwill from all its neighbouring countries through its vaccine diplomacy by offering free vaccines to its neighbours.
Both countries are wary of each other’s true intentions. It has to be backed by deeds on the ground to see the visible change in future. By adhering to the 2003 ceasefire agreement in letter and spirit benefits both countries. Targeting each other’s bunkers and civilian population at the drop of hat results in unwanted casualties to soldiers and civilians both. The civilian population lives in constant fear of the unprovoked firing from either side. It is a waste of expenditure in terms of arms and ammunition and the loss of valuable lives without achieving any concrete results in the bargain. So, maintaining peace along the borders and LOC with Pakistan is a win-win situation for both countries.
The next step towards confidence-building would be to restore the diplomatic ties to the pre-August 2019 level. It was Pakistan that had downgraded the diplomatic ties, hence the onus of restoring the diplomatic ties would rest on Pakistan. The initiative must come from Pakistan. Thereafter, restoration of economic trade relations between the two countries would be a logical step to take forward the bonhomie between the two countries.
It is a known fact Pakistan army runs the country and its political leadership is just a puppet to show the face of democracy. Pakistan army will lose its relevance if India threat diminishes. Therefore, to maintain its relevance and importance, the bogey of the Indian threat will continue to be played as hitherto fore and Kashmir will continue to occupy a centre stage in Pakistan. Therefore, to expect Pakistan to stop the terrorist activities in Kashmir will be a far-fetched imagination, which may never happen.
It has been learnt that Turkey is actively supporting Pakistan with respect to Kashmir. It may plan to send ISIS terrorists to Kashmir to keep the pot boiling. It is also learnt that a lot of Kashmiris are being trained in journalism in Turkey to influence the rest of the world on the Kashmir issue. We need to be alive to this new emerging threat of propaganda by Pakistan and Turkey on the Kashmir issue.
I am not an astrologer by any means and cannot predict which way will India Pakistan relations go in future. I can only make reasonable assumptions based on known facts.