2019 Election: Delhi Refused Pakistan Army Olive Branch, NYT Says

SRINAGAR: Pakistan army’s bid to reach out to India with a proposal to revive peace talks have not succeeded, the New York Times has reported. The initiative preceded Imran Khan’s takeover as the Prime Minister of Pakistan and had come directly from the GHQ in Rawalpandi.

Army Chief General Bipin Rawat

“The outreach, initiated by the army’s top commander, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, began months before Pakistan’s national elections. Pakistan offered to resume on-and-off talks with India over their border dispute in the Kashmir region, which stalled in 2015 as violence flared up there,” the NYT’s Maria Abi-Habib reported from Islamabad. “A key objective for Pakistan in reaching out to India is to open barriers to trade between the countries, which would give Pakistan more access to regional markets. Any eventual peace talks over Kashmir are likely to involve an increase in bilateral trade as a confidence-building measure.”

Economically, Pakistan is not in a sound situation. NYT reported Islamabad is expected to ask the “International Monetary Fund for the US $9 billion in the coming weeks, after receiving several billions of dollars in loans from China this year to pay its bills.”

The influential American newspaper said that Pakistan army chief has linked the country’s economy to the region’s security in a hallmark speech in October 2017, which forms the basis of Bajwa doctrine. He is also being seen as “more moderate than his predecessors were on India”, the newspaper said.

File image of Gen Bajwa

His moderation towards Delhi has a strong reason. “The Pakistani general and his Indian counterpart, Gen. Bipin Rawat, served together in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo about a decade ago and get along well,” the newspaper quoted diplomats saying. “This year, General Bajwa said the only way to solve the two countries’ conflict was through dialogue, a rare statement from the military.”

The newspaper further added: “Diplomats say General Bajwa has tried to reach out to General Rawat to initiate talks. But the effort has been stymied by what one diplomat called a “system mismatch.”

The NYT said the army is “Pakistan’s most powerful institution” unlike India where it is “much weaker and could not agree to a peace deal without the civilian government’s approval.” Quoting diplomats in Delhi, the newspaper said the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is “preoccupied with elections” and “does not want talks before then, fearing that if talks collapse — as they have many times before — it could cost them at the polls.” India is going for next general elections in early 2019.

“Till the Indian elections, there cannot be an immediate betterment in bilateral relations,” the newspaper quoted Pakistan Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry saying.  It has mentioned Pakistan Prime Minister’s excerpts from his ‘victory speech’: “If you take one step forward, we will take two steps forward. We need to move ahead.” The NYT believes that Khan’s outreach as “sanctioned by the military.”

The other reason for Pakistan’s outreach, the newspaper quoted diplomats in Islamabad saying, was Beijing’s prodding that she must “stabilize its border with India”. China is investing some US $62 billion in Pakistan, mostly in infrastructure project under CPEC.

Its erstwhile ally, the US has cut more than the US $1 billion aid to Pakistan in January 2018. Days ahead of Trump’s first meeting with the newly elected government in Pakistan, US military is withholding another US $ 300 million aid, the NYT added.

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