Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is considering appointing a national security adviser to revive back channel diplomatic talks with India.

by Fatima Khan

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is considering appointing a national security adviser to revive back channel diplomatic talks with India. This news comes after India voted in the final phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections Sunday. Imran Khan had previously said that Pakistan sees a better chance of peace talks with India if Modi’s BJP came to power again.

ThePrint asks: With Lok Sabha elections over, how can India and Pakistan now repair fractured ties?

Potential of Bilateral India-Pakistan Trade, Estimated At Nearly $30 Billion, Remains Unrealised 

Bharat Karnad - National Security Expert And Research Professor, Centre For Policy Research

India-Pakistan relations must return to normalcy and Narendra Modi-led BJP government, which is likely to come back to power, cannot avoid this for long.

‘Balakot’ and ‘surgical strikes’ issues have been milked dry for votes, but they don’t have long-term political value.

The nature of ties between India and Pakistan are an externalisation of the prevailing Hindu-Muslim tensions in Indian society. A likely second term in office offers Narendra Modi an opportunity to address the mutual suspicion between the ruling party and the country’s biggest minority group.

The new government can also revive the possibility of a genuine rapprochement between the two countries, which was last witnessed when then-Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif attended Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in 2014.

Current Pakistan PM Imran Khan has taken several steps in good faith — promptly handing over IAF pilot to India after his MiG-21 was downed and considering appointing an NSA to resume ‘back-channel’ talks with India.

Modi has, so far, acted as a good tactician but not as a strategist with a long-term vision vis-à-vis Pakistan.

Consequently, Pakistan’s ill will against India has allowed China to consolidate its hold on Gwadar. Pakistan has, in turn, enjoyed Beijing’s economic largesse and its political protection for its policy of harbouring terrorists.

The potential of bilateral India-Pakistan trade, estimated at nearly $30 billion, remains unrealised.

Bad relations with Pakistan have nixed India’s geopolitical ambitions because the precondition for any great power is a pacified neighbourhood, which is not possible with a hostile Pakistan. The sooner Modi recognises that an adversarial Pakistan is impeding India’s rise, the more swiftly he may move to befriend the neighbour.

India-Pakistan Can Continue Fighting Or Rise Together To Set An Excellent Example For The World

Farhan Khan Virk - Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf member and youth activist

It is easier to break ties than repair them. It’s a long and lengthy process, and requires a lot of confidence building and trust.

The difficult days are now over. As a Pakistani observer, I have seen that the months leading up to elections in India witness bloodshed and violence. Be it the 2003 Mumbai bombings before the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai before 2009 elections, or Pulwama terror attack before the 2019 polls. It seems that some elements want India-Pakistan hostility to have a bearing on the Lok Sabha election results.

Now that the elections are over, the tensions between the two countries will defuse.

As economics remains the focus of every new government, it must be reiterated that war is never an option for two neighbours who can benefit from each other economically. India has an opportunity to become a part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which aims to transform south Asia into an economic power zone.

Poverty is one of the factors that can make people vulnerable to radicalism. If we focus more on economic development of our countries, radicalism can be checked and maybe we can see a day when India and Pakistan have shared borders on the lines of several European countries.

Imran Khan wants India and Pakistan to be friends, and he has sent this message again and again. Either we continue fighting or we rise together, like Europe did after World War-2, and set an excellent example for the world.

If Imran Khan Wants To Restart Back Channel Talks, India Should Make It Clear Kashmir Is Off The Table

Kanwal Sibal - Executive council member, VIF, and former foreign secretary

Pakistan is primarily responsible for fractured ties with India because of its claims over Kashmir, obsession with parity with us, use of terrorism to bleed India, threat of using nuclear weapons, attempt to counter India on the international stage and, not the least, collaboration with China to contain India.

Pakistan needs to fundamentally change its policies towards India to repair bilateral ties. A change in tactics will not do, a change in mindset will. But Pakistan is not structurally capable of revising its approach to India. It is currently under severe financial strain and needs to be in the good books of the US and the IMF. Reaching out to India serves many tactical purposes: it shows readiness to make peace and places the onus on us if we reject Pakistani overtures. It also helps Pakistan buy time at this critical juncture, get a bailout, and avoid being blacklisted by the FATF.

We have had endless rounds of dialogue with Pakistan with no positive outcome. Another back channel round will not produce any lasting result. Pakistan is only putting on a show, without acting seriously on terrorism. Finally, China will stand in the way of any genuine peace gesture because it will lose levers against India.

However, if Imran Khan wants to restart the back channel, we should lay down clear conditions and talk only on terrorism and associated matters, and firmly exclude Kashmir from the agenda.

Imran Khan Feels A Strong Hardline Indian Govt Can Engage With Pakistan Better

Salman Bashir - Former foreign secretary of Pakistan, and former high commissioner of Pakistan to India

Exit polls indicate a big win for the BJP-led NDA alliance. A key point is that under the rubric of national security, the BJP fought the elections on an anti-Pakistan plank. If exit polls turn out to be correct, it would vindicate the BJP strategy that Pakistan bashing is a vote-getter. This is somewhat sad.

Pakistan would have to factor in the deep visceral hate sentiment that apparently is now sweeping India. The central question is: What we can do to change this picture?

Prime Minister Imran Khan feels that a victory for Narendra Modi could augur well for resuming engagement with India. The assumption is that a strong hardline government may have domestic political space and could engage with Pakistan better.

Opening a back-channel is an option. In previous years, NSA-level back-channel communications were useful in getting reality checks and exploring avenues for de-escalation. However, it is not yet clear if Pakistan will take this option. Let’s not forget, media reports on Pakistan considering appointing an NSA are speculative at this point, despite all the merits in this option.

Demoting India’s Engagement With Pakistan From Pm Level To Foreign Secretary-Level Will Be A Good Start

Pranay Kotasthane-Head of research, Takshashila Institution

Pakistan is not one geopolitical entity, but two. The first is a putative state; represented by civilian governments and a civilian de-facto head of state. The competing entity is a dynamic syndicate of military, militant, radical Islamist and political-economic structures. It pursues a set of domestic and foreign policies to ensure its own survival and relative dominance: the military-jihads complex (MJC). This latter entity is an irreconcilable adversary and must be delegitimised, contained and dismantled.

Any Indian action towards Pakistan is met with a response by both these entities. For example, every Indian PM has sought to make a grand gesture that will “solve” the Pakistan problem, only to be stalled by the next terrorist attack orchestrated by the MJC. So, demoting the engagement with Pakistan from the prime ministerial level to the foreign secretary and national security adviser-levels will be a good start. This will allow India to calibrate its response towards Pakistan without having to risk huge political capital. India is better off putting a grand rapprochement on the back burner, while expending available political capital to launch economic reforms and get the country on the train to prosperity.

Unless Pakistan Changes Its Double-Game Policy, Any Future Talks With India Are Likely To Fail

Taha Siddiqui - Pakistani journalist living in exile in France

When it comes to India-Pakistan relations, most of it is déjà vu. In the previous Pakistani government led by Nawaz Sharif, a retired military general was appointed as a national security adviser but no substantial progress was made on peace dialogue.

Now we hear about a similar appointment, but people should not expect much because while Pakistan continues to claim it wants peace with India, it also continues to allow the existence of violent militant groups that target India and Kashmir on the other side.

Pakistan has repeatedly said that it is dismantling the Jihadi infrastructure, but on ground we see these groups operating under different names and only subjected to cosmetic actions.

Today, Pakistan definitely has the incentive to show that things are changing, mainly due to international pressure. But Rawalpindi (GHQ), where the security policy is decided, has no incentive to actually change anything on ground because it benefits from the low-intensity violence in the region, which helps the Pakistan army stay dominant at home and in the region.

So, unless Pakistan doesn’t change this double-game policy, for which the country’s civilian rulers need to push back the military’s expansionist designs, any future talks are likely to fail and will be just superficial and for domestic consumption in each country. Pakistan will say look we tried, and India will say Pakistan is not honest in its efforts, and things will remain the same.