In the US scheme, India and Pakistan would naturally be part of the “muscle of democratic alliances”

by Avinash Mohananey

In a significant development having far-reaching ramifications in respect of strategic alignments in South Asia, both India and Pakistan have agreed to “mutually beneficial and sustainable peace” along the borders from the midnight of February 24/25, 2021. The Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) of India and Pakistan, in a joint statement released on February 24, 2021, have agreed to a ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC) and other sectors (international border in Jammu region) to address “each other’s core issues and concerns which have the propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence”.

The ceasefire comes after the LoC and international border in Jammu witnessed the bloodiest year in terms of number of violations (incidents) by both sides in 2020. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, there were 5,133 incidents of ceasefire violations by Pakistan in 2020, up from 3,479 in 2019 and 2,140 in 2018. In these incidents in 2020, India lost 24 security force personnel and 22 civilians.

The picture is no different on Pakistan’s side. Major general Babar Iftekhar, director general Inter Services Public Relations, at a press briefing on January 11, 2021, informed that 3,097 ceasefire violations by India took place in 2020 causing 28 civilian deaths. No information was given on deaths of Pak security personnel, but it would be around the same figure.

The crucial question is why this sudden bonhomie between the two countries? The answer can be found in the first foreign policy statement of Joe Biden, the US president, at the headquarters of the state department on February 4, 2021. Countering the “growing ambitions of China to rival the United States” and “determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy” were listed by him as the two major challenges that the diplomats of the country will have to face. He informed that he had spoken with the leaders of “closest friends” to restore the habits of cooperation and rebuilding the muscle of democratic alliances that have “atrophied”.

This would mean that the US and China would try to divide the world into two competing camps vying for proxy countries to ensure economic domination of the globe for the benefit of their corporates — a new cold war. The US foreign policy makers seem to have acknowledged that the days of unipolar world dominated by the US, after disintegration of the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, are over. The military and economic might of the US is now being challenged and questioned by a rampaging China.

In the US scheme, India and Pakistan would naturally be part of the “muscle of democratic alliances”. While India remains firmly in the US fold, Pakistan, an old trusted ally, needs to be brought back. Pakistan had gradually drifted into the arms of China after Imran Khan received a cold and indifferent response from the Trump administration on the changes made by India in Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019. But now, in the joint statement, India has agreed to address “each other’s core issues”. This would satisfy Pakistan that Kashmir would be on the table whenever talks resume at whatever level.

Earlier, soon after initial briefings of Biden, Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa stressed the need for a “dignified and respectable” solution of Kashmir to bring this “human tragedy to its logical end” and restore peace. It was followed by PM Imran Khan, who, in a tweet on February 5, reiterated that Pakistan was ready to take two steps forward for peace, if India took one.

The unfortunate part is that both sides suffered so many avoidable losses of human lives when a similar formulation was agreed in November 2003 between Indian PM Vajpayee and Pak president Musharraf. Nevertheless, this is a welcome development and must be carried forward. At the same time, it must be realised that joining either side in this new cold war is fraught with serious consequences for both the countries. That can only happen when both are at peace with each other without outsiders having any role to play.

The writer is a former Intelligence Bureau officer, who served in Pakistan