By Maria Amjad
Pakistan and India relations have always been termed as the roller coaster ride, with fledgling democracy, imperious military dominion and uncanny mistrust decelerating its velocity. During the season of peace, the governments of both countries confabulates the campy slogans and glib promises of never-ending friendship between both nations, which turns into irksome babbling in times of political tension.
The masses of both sides have also started to question the tendency of recidivism of ties after a peaceful tenure. Uri-attack is the latest in the series of the events that have resulted in political impasse between both the nuclear armed states. The attack, which was made on rear administrative base of Indian army at Uri, Kashmir by group of heavily armed terrorist, jeopardized the subtle relations between the two arch-rivals, where one alleged the other for the deadly attack, and the other ranted about its own innocence on different international platforms. This has led to series of minatory finger-wagging in cross-talks between both countries’ army chiefs and lethal cross-fire on Line of Control (LOC) between both the armies. These clashes not only infuriated the masses against each other, but also desiccated the relations between the two countries on level of: diplomacy, trade and culture exchanges. Even though after five months of Uri-attack, the relations between both the countries have remained brim, however, it has been observed that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government has taken some diplomatic measures to reach out India.
Nawaz government’s change of gears towards India has been comprehensibly reflected in some of the steps it has taken in past four or five months. Just three months after the attack, Nawaz government released 220 Indian fishermen on the occasion of Christmas as a “Goodwill Gesture”. Moreover, government also released an Indian soldier in January 2017 who claimed to inadvertently strayed across LOC on the day Indian claimed surgical strike was held. Previously, the Indian soldier was being alleged as a spy who was imprisoned and was being investigated and elicited. His unexpected release by Pakistani authorities has been taken as a first signal of thaw in India-Pakistan ties.
In the same month of January, Nawaz approved the resumption of screening of Indian movies in Pakistani cinemas. Following Uri-attack, Pakistani cinema owners boycotted Indian movies by implementing self-imposed ban to not show Indian movies in their cinemas. The idea was to register their vastitude of hatred towards India and its culture. Their decision was later backed by Nawaz government as well. Indian Bollywood movies and dramas have always acted as a channel to promote Indian culture, tradition and language to Pakistan. While every deadlock with India has witnessed the ban on Indian movies and dramas in Pakistan, the resumption of their screening in Pakistani cinemas and on televisions have always been used as a symbol to escalate tensions between both the neighbors.
With CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) widening its extent by garnering more supporters from around the region, a lot has been said and written about India’s objections over the project and building of Chahbahar port with Iran and Afghanistan as rival of Gwadar port, the baseline of CPEC. In the past, the impact of these two projects on regional and extra-regional actors has always been used as a source of power struggle in the region, but the recent flexibility of attitude shown by both sides have been commendable. On one hand, Iran and India have indicated that they will not use their project to counter the CPEC, on the other hand, Minister of Planning and Development of Pakistan Ahsan Iqbal have invited India to join the CPEC, something which have been called as an unexpected move by the current Pakistani government. The Minister also seeks to pursue peace-talks with India which have been adjourned after the Uri-attack. At least one of them should realize the importance of getting out of the vicious circle of eternal issues by condoning them for a while and collaborating with the other. If the intention for building these two projects will be to reap economic benefits rather than to indulge in inept power competition, then these projects will bring prosperity to the region in the “Asian Century”.
The recent of all these steps taken by Nawaz government is the detainment of Hafiz Saeed at the end of month of January. Following his detainment, he was also listed under anti-terrorist attack and in Exit Control List. Furthermore, recently government has also canceled license of 44 weapons issued to Saeed and his aid. Although many experts contend that these bold measures are taken by Nawaz government in part by President Donald Trump’s arrival on the world stage as well as pressure from China, however, the factor to use Saeed’s detention to please India cannot be ignored. Saeed, mastermind of Mumbai attacks, is virulently anti-India and have always stood against Indian government’s occupation of the disputed territory of Kashmir. So, his detention will make India to persuade Pakistan on one lesser factor in order to make peace-talks effectual. While the majority of analysts state that the action has been done to placate Trump, but taking it as killing two birds with one stone, Pakistan has also used this opportunity to ameliorate India government as well. US, India and China have repeatedly asked the detainment of Jamaatud Dawa leader as his unrestricted campaigns have been a continuous threat to stability and peace of these countries.
Moreover, in the first week of February it has been signaled that Abdul Basit, the Pakistani envoy to India, will be replaced soon as part of a wide-ranging reshuffle to be carried out by Pakistan’s new foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua. Basit, who was posted to India in March 2015, is believed to have shaggy tenure as High commissioner to India, because of prickly relations between the both countries following Uri-attack. There was also news of Basit being the strongest contender for the post of foreign secretary before Tehmina Janjua’s appointment, however, he was not been chosen by Nawaz because of his recent cold relations with India being Pakistani envoy. Therefore, the wider reshuffle in Foreign Office of Pakistan and Basit’s end of tenure as High Commissioner to India next month has been considered as an explicit indication by Nawaz government to reset India-Pakistan ties.
The question arises that what engendered Nawaz government to take all these measures now?
Many analysts relate Nawaz current policies towards India with the retirement Pakistan’s 15th Army Chief’s Raheel Shareef, on 29th November 2016, as he was perceived to be hostile against India. This factor cannot be ignored but Raheel’s retirement will have minute implications over the policies of Nawaz government as the new army chief Qamar Jawed Bajwa is considered to be as hostile against India as Raheel was. Bajwa is believed to be well-versed with the complexities, nature of operations and terrain along the LOC. Although the news of his acclamation of Indian mature democracy while addressing a gathering of senior army officers at the General Headquarters in December 2016 got Indian and Pakistani media into tizzy, but his recent anti-India stance and open admonishment to Indian army has restored his status as a quintessential Pakistan’s army chief. Therefore, to argue that Nawaz government will face lesser resistance from new army chief will not be a fair argument to make.
The discreet behavior shown by Nawaz government towards India by the above mentioned factors can act as foundational step towards the new phase of healthy and friendly ties between both the countries, however, a lot need to be done to take relations forward from here. Pakistan and India should recommence the stalled peace-talks after six months impasse. Both countries’ Foreign Offices should realize the dire need of multi-faceted dialogues which could build long-term cooperation in energy, strategic stability and nonproliferation, counterterrorism, economics and education. Specifically they should resume their trade relations which have been on low following Uri-attack. Recently it has been in news that Indian Punjab have asked their government to negotiate with Islamabad to boost exports to Pakistan through the land route, keeping aside the ongoing diplomatic stand-off following the Uri attack and the surgical strike. This can be used as an opportunity to reinstate the trade relations between the two countries which are vital for the economic uplifts of both the states. However, despite a more peaceful LOC and stable situation in Kashmir, Indian Foreign Office has categorically rebuffed any possibility of peace-talks with Pakistan. Therefore, Indian government also needs to show flexibility in mending the old scars as one hand cannot clap alone. There is a dire need to rebuild the transactional relationship between the two countries which later need to be transformed into strategic one with deeply rooted trust and interest. The measures taken by Nawaz government in this aspect are appreciable however there is a need to put further efforts to persuade India for another episode of dialogue with firm belief to not let it file under the saga of ineffectual outcome this time.
This article was published at Modern Diplomacy
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