Even though Pak PM Shehbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Zardari may have raked Kashmir and Yasin Malik for domestic audience, the message to Delhi is that nothing has changed after ouster of Imran Khan from Islamabad

From an Indian perspective, the statements made by Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif after the conviction of proscribed JKLF chief Yasin Malik on terror charges, along with his foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto on Kashmir makes it evident that the more things change, the more they remain the same when it comes to India and Pakistan relations.

PM Shehbaz Sharif asked the global community to hold the Modi regime accountable for “fake terror” charges on Yasin Malik. The Pak National Assembly discussed the incarceration of the Indian extremist facing murder charges and passed a resolution at a time when Imran Khan Niazi and unruly PTI supporters held Islamabad to sword during his much-hyped long march to the Pakistani capital.

Pakistan and Gupkar Alliance leaders have condemned the sentencing of Yasin Malik by NIA Court in 2017 terror funding case. Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif termed the sentencing a black day for Indian democracy. His foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari vowed to continue to support the Kashmiri people. Pakistan Army also condemned the sentencing of JKLF chief. In Srinagar, Gupkar...

Today is a black day for Indian democracy & its justice system. India can imprison Yasin Malik physically but it can never imprison idea of freedom he symbolises. Life imprisonment for valiant freedom fighter will provide fresh impetus to Kashmiris' right to self-determination. — Shehbaz Sharif (@CMShehbaz) May 25, 2022

Not to be left behind, foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, following his mother’s footsteps, raked up the Kashmir issue in his meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi at Guangzhou on May 22. The Kashmir issue figured in the joint statement issued during the visit with Pakistan’s iron brother asking for a peaceful resolution of the dispute based on UN Charter, relevant Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements. Bilawal’s mother Benazir was a hardliner on Kashmir and used covert power to bring violence into the Valley in the late 1980s.

It is quite evident from the above statements that Pakistani politicians will continue to politically cash Kashmir by selling the pipedream to the public of the Islamic Republic in the hope that one day the Valley will be co-opted by force from India on religious grounds. Since Pakistan government continues to adopt a hard line on Kashmir, there is no meeting point with the Narendra Modi government, which wants Islamabad to put an end to cross border terrorism and Islamic jihad in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir as a precursor to normalization of ties.

Even though after being ousted, former prime minister Imran Khan Niazi had praised the Indian army and foreign policy for not being corrupt and working in the national interest, the same former cricket bowler was swinging to the other extreme when he was on the hot seat at Islamabad. Niazi not only took personal shots at PM Modi but also called him all sorts of names when he was the PM apart from launching tirades at the RSS.

The only positive development between India and Pakistan is that the February 24, 2021, ceasefire across the Line of Control (LoC) is holding due to pragmatic military commanders on both sides. For this, the credit must go to Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Jawed Bajwa and his Indian Army counterpart.

Although several Indian diplomats are virtually convinced that Pakistani politicians must sing Kashmir globally for their own survival, this latitude will not be allowed by the Modi government as Islamabad has no locus standi in the Valley. Simply put, the Modi government does not suffer from pre-partition nostalgia with Pakistan as the previous Manmohan Singh government did and believes in hard diplomacy with a neighbour who chooses to remain adversarial and has umbilical links with another military adversary, China.

When the present external affairs minister S Jaishankar was a foreign secretary in 2015, he met the then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at Ufa in Russia in July and carried the entire conversation with him in chaste English. Jaishankar met Nawaz Sharif again at Jati Umra in Raiwind on December 25, 2015, when PM Modi stunned the world by landing at Lahore from Kabul while en route to Delhi and also attended the wedding of PM’s granddaughter. Apparently, at Raiwind, PM Nawaz Sharif quizzed Jaishankar about why he was speaking to him in English. The now Indian foreign minister replied because he was a foreign head of state to him. It is another matter that Jaishankar has links with Lahore through his maternal side.

The ball is now in Shehbaz’s court on whether he wants to normalize ties with India by asking the Army to block cross border terror into Jammu and Kashmir or let the relationship remain toxic by singing songs longing for Kashmir. Either way, India is prepared.