General Bajwa, addressing the Islamabad Security Dialogue stated, ‘We feel it is time to bury the past and move forward.’ He added, ‘Kashmir dispute is obviously at the head of this problem. It is important to understand that without the resolution of Kashmir dispute through peaceful means, process of subcontinental rapprochement will always remain susceptible to derailment due to politically motivated bellicosity.’ He also stated, ‘Our neighbour will have to create a conducive environment, particularly in occupied Kashmir.’[i] The same words were stated a day earlier by Imran Khan.
Both India and Pakistan have been insisting that the responsibility of creating a conducive environment for further talks rests with the other. Indian demand has been no terror and talks, while Pak’s has been a conducive environment in Kashmir. What they mean by ‘conducive environment’ remains a mystery as Kashmir has been witnessing peace and development, with negligible violence. The Hurriyat and other political parties in the region have stopped demanding to be included in any Indo-Pak discussions, indicating that the valley is firmly in Indian grasp and pro-Pak elements have lost steam.
This is the second time, in past weeks, when both, Imran Khan and Bajwa have mentioned talks between India and Pakistan to resolve all issues. These comments have come post the announcement of a ceasefire by the two DGMO’s.[ii] The ceasefire has been holding for almost a month. Every comment by the Pak leadership harps on Kashmir. After all, it is the narrative of regaining Kashmir that the Pak army has projected to justify its power, budget and military strength through the decades.
Reports state that S Jaishankar may meet his Pak counterpart, SM Qureshi on the side lines of the Heart of Asia conference in Dushanbe at the end of the month.[iii] This could be the first interaction between senior politicians of the two countries in years. How will it fan out remains to be seen.
Many in India doubt Pakistan’s intent as over the years all attempts at dialogue have been scuttled by the Pak army themselves. The change this time appears to be that the proposal possibly has the stamp of the Pak army or maybe even initiated by them, hence was first raised by Bajwa. A survey conducted on Twitter on whether Pak can be trusted resulted in 85.5% respondents stating No, with just 8.7% stating yes. The balance came in the do not know category.[iv]
Bajwa’s words ‘bury the past’ leave multiple questions unanswered. How far back should the past be for both nations? Should India stop insisting on legal action against perpetrators of Mumbai and Pathankot? Should India stop demanding return of Dawood Ibrahim? Should India ignore the fact that terrorist group leaders are treated as royalty in Pakistan and that terrorist launchpads continue being occupied? Should India ignore the fact that Pakistan is attempting to re-create the Khalistan bogey?
How far back is Pak willing to go? Will it stop demanding restoration of status quo in Kashmir? Will it stop attempting to push in terrorists or weapons into the valley? Does it expect only India to bury the hatchet? Will it stop accusing India of sponsoring the Baluch insurgency? Will it desire discussions on Kashmir first or after other confidence building agreements are reached? With the mention of Kashmir in every statement, Pak’s attitude appears unchanged, while demanding the opposite from India. Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir has been a major cause of its economic collapse and skewed political system where the army runs the country by projecting Indian intentions of splitting Pakistan.
The next question is recreating trust. Does announcing a ceasefire alone imply trust. It is still winters, when passes are closed, and infiltration can be traced. What would happen in summers? Who should take the first step to build confidence, India or Pakistan. Historically, Pak has projected India as an eternal enemy. Its history taught in schools for decades have blamed Indian Hindu’s for its woes commencing from partition to all wars fought between the two nations including the loss of Bangladesh. [v] The hate created by the state has ensured that the common Pakistani would never consider normalcy with India.
Hate is prevalent even within the Pak polity. Pakistan’s parliamentary affairs minister, Ali Muhammad Khan, in response to PM Modi’s tweet wishing Imran Khan a speedy recovery from COVID 19, responded, ‘Instead of sending fake good wishes (to Imran Khan), stop genocide in Kashmir.’[vi] Almost all Pak’s politicians have been spewing hate against India. Will Pak work to change this mindset prior to serious discussions?
Within India, the rhetoric flowing from Pak, its actions of backstabbing dialogue every time, continuing support to terrorism and falsely accusing India have resulted in a strong anti-Pak sentiment. There is a perpetual concern of whether the Pak army would continue backing Bajwa’s talks on peace or would he be compelled to go back on his words. India has the experience of differences between Kayani and Musharraf on talks when Musharraf was forced to call of backchannel diplomacy because Kayani disapproved.[vii] Years of terrorist attacks and losses of security personnel and innocents in the valley have led to an anti-Pak wave in India. Will the Indian government move to reduce this wave?
In such a scenario, how should dialogue proceed? In case Kashmir becomes the paramount topic for discussion, the chances of failure are very bright. The firm stand by both sides leaves little room for manoeuvre. In case economy, diplomacy and sports are initially discussed and implemented, there are chances of some forward movement. However, the positioning of High Commissioners, withdrawn post abrogation of article 370, must be the first step in confidence building. Will Pak understand these dynamics and change its narrative for talks, or will it demand initial talks on Kashmir? The manner Pakistan moves will determine chances of success or return to status quo in ties.