US Afghanistan Withdrawal Stalls Indo-Pak Kashmir Diplomacy, Reports

SRINAGAR: With the US and NATO withdrawal from Pakistan dominating the strategic scene in the region, reports said Islamabad’s Kabul focus has stalled its backchannel engagement with New Delhi. The US troops left Bagram airbase – almost 30 sq km of key strategic space, early this week.

“There haven’t been any substantial contacts between the two sides since they agreed to revive the 2003 ceasefire on the Line of Control from February 25 and the two sides also haven’t been able to reach common ground on the next steps that could facilitate the expansion of the backchannel contacts,” Hindustan Times reported quoting people who are aware of developments but spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The revival of the LoC ceasefire was followed by a proposal piloted by the Pakistani military establishment in March to resume limited trade relations with India, but this fell through because of strong opposition from several leaders in the civilian government, including foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.”

The report said the Pakistani side has a feeling that “things should be allowed to cool down for some time”.

The backchannel engagement, according to the newspaper included ISI Chief, Lt Gen Faiz Hameed’s two meetings with Indian interlocutors – one with a senior security official and another with his Indian counterpart in the United Arab Emirates in January that led to the revival of the ceasefire. Some of the Pakistani security officials earlier busy with India Pakistan diplomacy are now busy with Afghanistan-US issues because Kabul is Pakistan’s immediate neighbour.

On the Indian side, the newspaper reported “there are concerns on whether Bajwa’s successor would continue efforts to work towards a normalisation of relations, and whether there is adequate buy-in from Prime Minister Imran Khan’s civilian government”. Bajwa will retire in November 2022.

The report said the two countries have failed in finding a “common ground” on Kashmir post-ceasefire. Pakistan initially wanted restoration of statehood and protection to demographic composition but for the last few days, Imran Khan is asserting a complete undoing f August 5, 2019.

However, the increasing diplomacy over Afghanistan has taken a sudden priority over the normalisation of India Pakistan ties. US and NATO troops are supposed to complete the withdrawal by September 11. They have already left the Bagram, airbase that Soviet’s built during their occupation and the Americans converted it into one of the best strategic assets in Afganistan Though it has been handed over to the Afghan security forces, the global media reported that it will soon be taken over by the Taliban.

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