Monday, June 14, 2021

Are India, Pakistan Headed For A ‘Secret Deal’ As Economic Benefits Outweigh Decades-Long Confrontation?

Relations between India and Pakistan have been engulfed in flames since their partition in 1947 primarily over the Kashmir issue. 

Recently, Pakistan’s powerful army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, has reportedly agreed to back down on the country’s demand asking India to revoke the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.

In an explosive revelation, first reported by SCMP, months of backchannel talks with India during which the two countries announced a ceasefire on the border, Bajwa appeared to give major concessions to India on Kashmir in return for the restoration of economic and bilateral ties between the two countries.

India-Pakistan Dialogue

The news report refers to the secret dialogue held in Dubai between India’s national security adviser Ajit Doval and ISI Chief Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, which was held while keeping the civilian administration led by PM Imran Khan in the dark.

The meeting exposed a major communication gap between the military and Imran Khan’s government, which has not directly been involved, the report by SCMP adds.

The Pakistani Army Chief had called for the complete restoration of ties with India early this year, surprising the masses on both sides of the border.

Many had questioned the rationality of the speech by Bajwa since there had been no concessions given by India’s Narendra Modi on the revocation of Article 370, enacted on 5 August 2019, taking away the special status of the state of Jammu & Kashmir.

The expose of closed-door conversations of the army establishment in Pakistan may finally explain the thawing of ties with India. According to SCMP, the revelations were from a “lengthy off-the-record meeting between Bajwa and leading media opinion-makers at army headquarters on April 25,” which it said has angered many even in the military-led establishment against a compromise on Kashmir.

Article 370

The Indian Parliament had unilaterally abrogated Article 370 of the constitution which granted a special status to Jammu and Kashmir, while article 35-A barred non-locals from acquiring land in the state. The decision by the Modi-led government had created widespread opposition both in Kashmir and outside.

The Indian government had jailed protestors, separatists, and even the pro-India politicians in the Kashmir valley in anticipation of the vehement opposition of the decision. The decision also irked both of India’s neighbors – China and Pakistan – and created major diplomatic tensions with these countries.

Pakistan had severed all trade ties with India after the country snatched away the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, with PM Imran Khan taking the issue to all the major world forums to compel India to withdraw its decision.

Pakistan Softens Its Stance

More than one and a half years later, Pakistan’s stance appears to have softened towards India, which was apparent with a number of steps taken since March this year.

Now, multiple journalists quoted top national security sources attending Bajwa’s off-the-record briefing said that “they did not see India’s point-blank refusal to reinstate article 370 as a serious impediment to talks.”

The decision to revoke Article 370 was reportedly dismissed as a “change of India’s internal nomenclature,” signifying a paradigm shift in Pakistan’s military-led establishment towards Kashmir.

The SCMP quoted the sources adding that the concern was more of a change in the demography of the Muslim-majority Kashmir, as India granted domicile certificates to more than two million non-Kashmiris in the state.

These remarks have reportedly created a storm in civilian administration, which has most certainly been kept dark in all the important conversations emanating from the army headquarters.

Experts say that if the revelations were true, it would not only be a source of major embarrassment for the Imran Khan government but also undermine public trust and the sense of security of the Pakistani people in a democratic institution.

Will India, Pakistan Restore Bilateral Ties

This literally means Pakistan could be heading for a complete restoration of bilateral relations with India, without demanding any relaxations or revocation of key decisions when it comes to Kashmir.

Interestingly, during a TV talk show early this month, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that the revocation of Article 370 was India’s “internal matter,” setting off a storm in the public circles.

The Minister later retracted his remarks in a tweet saying “Jammu & Kashmir is an internationally recognized dispute,” and adding that, “Nothing about J&K can be India’s internal matter.”

The dithering Pakistani political opinion regarding the relations with India has left its people confused and frustrated, with many asking the establishment to come clean on its position with respect to Kashmir.

However, the latest revelations may be shining light on what’s going on behind the curtains.

In his speech in February this year, Bajwa had called for “a strategic shift away from geopolitical goals which have fueled confrontation in Kashmir and Afghanistan for 30 years, in favor of a geo-economic agenda built upon peaceful relations and economic connectivity with Pakistan’s hitherto adversarial neighbors.”

Although the then Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) Imran Khan on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning, Moeed Yusuf, who was elevated as the National Security Advisor, is said to have been involved in backchannel negotiations with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval before the military commanders of the two countries announced a ceasefire in February this year.

Yusuf, however, denied that any talks had taken place between him and Doval, saying the ceasefire on the border had been “the result of discussions through established channels of DGMOs.”

The revelation by the Indian media indicated in some way that the civilian government of Pakistan led by PM Imran Khan has been endorsing the military leadership’s push on establishing relations with India notwithstanding the Kashmir conundrum.

The desire to restore relations with India and other neighbors has been echoed by the whole Pakistani administration, civilian and military, as the country struggles to come out of economic stagnation, and bettering relations is expected to boost trade.

However, it would be interesting to watch whether Pakistan really backs down on Kashmir and instead favor economic progress and prosperity.

 

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