By the desk of Huma Baqai


YET once again, because of the recent developments, South Asian media, especially that of Pakistan and India, is ripe with discussions about the thaw between the two protagonists of the region.

The attempts at normalization are also quite normal between Pakistan and India.

The two usually hostile neighbours have experienced several such occasions of cautious optimism where both the countries from the lowest ebb in the relations have moved to a semblance of normalization. The ongoing events are indicative of improving relations between Pakistan and India.

This can be categorized as the eighth time, where both countries have realized the need to move beyond conflict.

An important query, in this regard, is the sustainability of this ‘newfound resolve’ to improve relations, keeping in mind the fact that the last five years have seen a substantial transformation in the regional and global backdrop of the conflict matrix.

It has changed dramatically. There is optimism and skepticism regarding the ‘New Engagement’.

Will it be forward looking, and not the ‘dialogue of the deaf’, that have taken place several times in the past, where meetings happen, photo opportunities take place, and the glamour and drama of high-profile diplomacy is in full display.

However, nothing beyond tepid Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) is achieved.

The CBMs that should eventually culminate into conflict resolution and consolidation of relations –are absent, and the relationship is back to square one.

Pakistan-India relations can fit into William Zartman thesis of mutually hurting stalemate. According to Zartman, the parties to the conflict may feel the pain of mutually hurting stalemate at the same time but not necessarily at the same level.

They both calculate the cost benefit analysis of conflict and peace and come to the realization that they pay heavily and gain nothing by being in a state of constant conflict.

In some way, coming to the ripe moment to resolve the conflict and this may have three elements: gains and losses, deadlock, and the realization of the deadlock by the parties.

The question is, has India-Pakistan impasse reached that point? Are we living the ripe moment? Mani Shankar Aiyar, an Indian politician, and former civil servant/diplomat, had called for an ‘uninterrupted and uninterruptible’ dialogue between India and Pakistan in 2018.

However, the talks between the two countries have been closed since August 2014, when the BJP, soon after taking over the reins of power in New Delhi, had called off scheduled foreign secretary-level talks to show its strong displeasure at Pakistan’s intimacy with the Kashmiri leadership.

Worse, the hostility between the two countries remained at its peak during the past more than two years, especially after the militant attack on Pathankot Air Force station, the suicide attack on CRPF convoy at Lethpora (Pampore), and the Balakot airstrike drama carried out by India in February 2019 and finally the abrogation of Article 370 of Indian Constitution in August 2019.

The ongoing developments, which include going back to the 2003 agreement on the LoC, and its holding, restoration of Indus Water Commission talks after 2.5 years.

Pakistan and India have decided in the 116th meeting of the India-Pakistan Permanent Indus Commission held in March 2021, to make efforts to resolve water issues related to the River Indus and to conduct tours of inspection. The two sides have also agreed to hold the next meeting in Pakistan.

Most importantly, the statement by General Bajwa in the Islamabad Security Dialogue 2021, saying that it is time for India and Pakistan to “bury the past and move forward,” has created ripples.

He added on to say that there is positivity on the other side also, Kashmir is important, but both India and Pakistan should go after low-hanging fruits.

This of course is seen by many as very encouraging and a major paradigm shift.

Prime Minister Imran Khan also at the Islamabad Security Dialogue and on several other occasions has emphasized the importance of having functional relations with India, as extremely important to untap the geo-economics potential of Pakistan’s location, without compromising on Kashmir.

The difference here is that the military leadership was more forthcoming on its relations with India than the political leadership.

The Bloomberg report clearly talks about the secret India-Pakistan peace roadmap brokered by top UAE royals.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry did not comment on the talks or the role of the UAE, while the Foreign Ministries of India and the UAE also had no immediate comment.

However, the real external players that have triggered this latest thaw are perhaps the US and China.

Most political pundits say that US withdrawal from Afghanistan and China-India skirmishes in the Himalayas, which left India with a bloody nose, are among the factors that have made both countries change their behaviour towards each other.

They are also of the opinion that the domestic challenges have also triggered the desire to engage again.

For example, they say Pakistan is grappling with acute economic crises and wants to be out of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list; and likewise, India is facing defamation at the international level, especially in Western and European countries for human rights violations in Kashmir and going against the spirit of Indian secularism and constitutionalism.

The rationale, logic and call of sanity all demand from Pakistan and India to move beyond the cold war mentality of confrontation and competitive security to a 21st Century framework that involves nations to be connected through shared economic and security interests.

The sharing of economic and security interests has unimaginable potentials for growth and progress of this region.

There is a tangible change in the mindset, regarding relations with India in Pakistan, these need to be strengthened and reciprocated.

Pakistan and India have tried everything, they fought wars, used each other’s land for proxy wars, have indulged in propaganda war against each other, have also tried to talk to each other and have failed several times.

Let this thaw be sustainable and culminate into something which may change the fate of this region.

—The author is an Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi.

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