Back To Square One?

After the agreement on a ceasefire along the Line of Control, India and Pakistan have failed to build on the goodwill it generated. There have been no further measures, nor does it look likely there will be any in the near future, writes Riyaz Wani

India and Pakistan troops exchanging sweets on the day of Eid. This photograph shows the bilateral, engagement somewhere on Aman Setu in north Kashmir on May 13, 2021. Th two sides have revived the ceasefire and stick to it.

In response to rumours that Delhi is embarking on fresh constitutional and administrative changes in Kashmir, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi wrote to the President of the United Nations Security Council and to the United Nations Secretary-General on June 16. Qureshi alleged that there was a design on the part of India to alter the demographic composition of Kashmir, pointing out that fake domicile certificates were among the measures being employed to achieve that design. He urged the Security Council to call upon India to reverse its actions, including those initiated on and after August 5, 2019.

Bitter Exchanges

Pakistan foreign office too asked India not to take any further unilateral steps in Kashmir, which could imperil regional peace and security. “We once again call upon India to halt and revisit its unlawful and destabilising actions; ensure full compliance with the UN Security Council resolutions, and refrain from any further steps that might imperil the regional peace and security,” Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said on June 18.

In response, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India and no amount of questioning could change that reality. He also said that no amount of justification could make cross-border terrorism acceptable.

This familiar bitter exchange is a far cry from the recent signs of a thaw between the two nations following a back-channel dialogue that led to the re-affirmation of the 2003 ceasefire agreement in February. But after a period of some noise about re-engagement between the two neighbours, things have gone a bit quiet. More so in India where senior ruling party leaders have stopped talking about the improvement in the relations with Pakistan.

Imran Khan and Narendra Modi

Devastating Covid19

This could also be the result of the devastating second Covid-19 wave that has by now infected millions and killed thousands of people. The daily caseload at one time rose over 4 lakh. This threw the country’s healthcare facilities into disarray. There were no beds and medical oxygen to accommodate the growing number of patients.

This terrible situation consequently seems to have paused India’s foreign policy engagements, or at least their public expression. As a result, the nascent re-engagement between India and Pakistan also has moved into the background. Though there has been some occasional noise about the secret contact between the two neighbours in Pakistan, New Delhi has been tight-lipped about it.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has taken a more overt stance about the putative secret dialogue with New Delhi. In an interview with Reuters on June 5, Pakistan prime minister, Imran Khan once again called on India to reverse the withdrawal of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status for the dialogue between the two countries to resume. Short of doing that, Khan sought “a roadmap” towards restoring the previous status of Kashmir. He called the move to repeal Kashmir’s autonomy illegal and against international law and the United Nations resolutions.

Significantly, there has been no response to the interview by New Delhi. Nor has there been a response to earlier effusive statements by Khan and Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa who conspicuously advocated burial of the past between the two countries.

No Follow Up

But after the agreement on a ceasefire along the LoC, the two countries have failed to build on the goodwill. There have been no further measures, nor does it look likely there will be any in the near future. New Delhi seems in no hurry to do this. If anything, this only goes on to show that India feels little pressure to relent. Nor does it want to push the current engagement with Islamabad beyond a point. The unmistakable signal to Pakistan is to temper its expectation about the extent to which India can accommodate it on Kashmir. As always, India wants terrorism to be the central issue and wants Islamabad to stop supporting militancy in Kashmir. Pakistan doesn’t accept it backs terrorism.

Anyways, if last year’s figures for infiltration and the killings of foreign militants in Kashmir are anything to go by, Pakistan has held back from supporting the local militancy. New Delhi, it seems, is unlikely to reverse the revocation of J&K autonomy. It remains to be seen whether it restores statehood anytime soon. A sustained, meaningful dialogue between the two countries has the potential to lead to a positive outcome. So, the neighbours should restore it sooner than later.

But the challenge once again for the two countries would be to sustain a dialogue should it start. In the past, many such attempts have been derailed by a major attack in India traced to elements in Pakistan or sometimes due to the rigid negotiating positions of the two countries. It would be interesting to see how the two countries negotiate their respective conditionalities before reaching out to each other. The dialogue that will follow, as a result, will go a long to usher in peace in the region and turn the LoC into a line of cooperation.


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