Indo-Pak Peacemaking: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

While both India and Pakistan wanted the firing along the LoC to stop, pushing the peace envelope is not going to be easy and will have to be done with one baby step at a time.

Indo-Pak Peacemaking: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Following the announcement about the ceasefire agreement by the Director-General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of India and Pakistan in February, there was a general cooling of temperatures between the arch-foes. Shrill rhetoric emanating from both capitals was scaled down and there was a sliver of hope that the attempt at normalising ties would gather some momentum.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote to his counterpart Imran Khan to wish him on Pakistan Day. Khan wrote back to thank Modi and said the people of Pakistan wished to live in peace with all neighbours including India.

Cynics, however, remained sceptical even though the ball had been set rolling by none other than the Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa who had said it was time for India and Pakistan to bury the hatchet and move on to unlock the tremendous potential of economic growth in the region.

When Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had tried to push the peace agenda with both Vajpayee and Modi, it was Pakistan’s military that blocked the move. General Musharraf, who planned Kargil while the Lahore bus diplomacy was on between Vajpayee and Sharif, as president also tried his hand at peace. Nothing finally came of it.  

By the time the DGMOs decided to agree to the ceasefire agreement, India and Pakistan had nosedived to a new low. The ceasefire agreement came as a shock to people on both sides of LoC as the domestic constituencies were not prepared for it. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is reported to have played a role in getting the two sides to work on the ceasefire. However, neither Delhi nor Islamabad has formally acknowledged a third-party hand.  

However, that it would be difficult to make peace with India after the crackdown in Kashmir when the entire population was backing Imran Khan’s move to be the flag bearer of the Kashmir cause, was a given. 

So, it was no surprise that the Pakistan cabinet on Thursday decided to reverse the decision to import limited quantities of sugar and cotton from India announced by finance minister Hammad Azhar a day earlier. Though according to reports in the Pakistan press, the order had been okayed and signed by Prime Minister Imran Khan.   

The Cabinet meeting on Thursday chaired by the PM turned down the move to partially lift the ban on trade with India. The ban was ordered by Islamabad in August 2019, soon after India scrapped Kashmir’s special status and divided the state into two union territories, directly administered by the Centre.

According to a report in Dawn, a well-respected daily newspaper, four ministers — Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar, Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari and Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed — opposed trade with India till Kashmir's special status was restored by Delhi. If Pakistan is waiting for New Delhi to undo its decision to scrap article 370 before talking of normalising relations, it would be a long wait. It is very unlikely that the BJP government would ever do so.

It is not known why Imran Khan and his cabinet decided to reverse the finance minister’s order.  Considering that the army is positive about normalising ties with India, is it the religious right that has enforced its views of not doing business with India until Kashmir gets back its special status.

While both Delhi and Islamabad wanted the firing along the LoC to stop, pushing the peace envelope is not going to be easy and will have to be done one baby step at a time.

An indication that neither side wished to speed up the process, came from Dushanbe.

Foreign ministers of India and Pakistan were both attending the Heart of Asian conference on Afghanistan in Tajikistan but did not sit down for a bilateral. A conversation between S Jaishankar and Shah Mahmood Qureshi would have been the natural thing to do if both countries wished to push the peace move.

Perhaps, a slow cautious effort is the way forward. The Indian army while acknowledging that there has been no violation of the ceasefire has also pointed out that the launch pads near the LoC have not been dismantled. India is waiting to see if the melting of snow will mean a fresh bid at pushing in armed infiltrators across the LoC to Kashmir. For now, both sides are waiting and watching.