Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them friends-(Ibrahim Lincoln)

India should not let its guard down and it must convey to Pakistan that it should meet rules, before clasping its hand of peace

The guns blazing across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir, since the terrorist attack on a military camp in the border town of Uri in 2016 were suddenly silenced on the intervening night of February 25. While this ceasefire is holding and it was now expected that it will graduate towards further movements, the latest U-turn by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on resumption of trade brought to the fore that a sustainable peace process was still far away.

A day after the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet announced that Pakistan would buy sugar and cotton from India, the cabinet made a U-turn and deferred the decision of the ECC. Subsequently, a meeting of a special cabinet subcommittee to discuss relations with India declared that there will be no trade with India until India reversed the constitutional reforms in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

It did put a question on the fledgling‘ peace process’ that is being carefully choreographed on the back-channel, reportedly operating directly with Pakistan’s military establishment. This announcement of ceasefire was accompanied by India’s gesture allowing Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s plane to overfly on way to Sri Lanka. On March 23, which is marked as Pakistan Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dispatched a letter to his Pakistani counterpart extending greetings to people of the country and desiring cordial relations. “At this difficult time for humanity, I would like to convey my best wishes to you and the people of Pakistan for dealing with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he wrote. He did mention that an environment of trust, devoid of terror and hostility, is imperative for carrying the relations forward.

These developments coincided with the resumption of water talks between the two countries with the arrival of Pakistan’s Indus Commissioner Syed Mehr Ali Shah to New Delhi, the first time in over two years. There was also a warm welcome to the members of Pakistan’s national tent pegging team in India, which had arrived to attend the World Cup Qualifiers of the Equestrian Tent Pegging Championship. While the sudden flight of doves across the border has come as a surprise to many, the silencing of guns has greatly relieved the Basmati rice cultivators in Ranbir Singh Pura, Kathua, Bishnah, and Hiranagar. Due to relentless incidents of shelling, that peaked at over 5,000 in 2020, farmers in these areas had either abandoned their farms or were living in bunkers.

Although the LoC had witnessed the occasional exchange of fire between Indian and Pakistani troops since 2008 in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Mumbai, their frequency jumped after February 2019, when Indian air force planes dropped bombs on the Pakistani village of Balakot.

Relief To People Living Along LoC

According to official figures, nearly 30 lakh people from Kargil in Ladak to Akhnoor in Jammu live along the most militarized line. In Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) as well nearly 21 lakh population lives in close vicinity. Therefore, the constant shelling of mortars and snipers not only keeps the lives of more than 50 lakh people on edge but also affects their livelihoods.

Looking at the ceasefire announcement and the developments that rapidly followed, it looks that there was arduous homework behind, involving both the political and military leadership of two countries. Just a day ahead of the announcement, Army Chief Gen. Manoj Mukund Naravane, speaking at a webinar organized by the Vivekananda International Foundation, expressed confidence that with continued engagement with Pakistan, there could be some sort of understanding because unsettled borders and violence on the borders benefit no one.

“We always want peace and tranquillity in our border areas, whether it be the western front or the northern front and the Line of Actual Control. Or whether it is on the Indo-Myanmar border, we are always looking for peace and tranquillity and our role is to ensure that so as the rest of the nation can develop,” he said.

Earlier, Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa is reported to have sent many peace overtures. In early February, he said Pakistan and India must resolve the Jammu and Kashmir issue in a “dignified and peaceful manner.” He added: “It is time to extend the hand of peace in all directions.” Later on, March 18, at the Islamabad Dialogue, he said it is time for India and Pakistan to forget the past and move forward. He added that peace between the two neighbouring countries will help in opening up the possibilities of development in South and Central Asia. It is believed that the opening of the historic Kartarpur corridor in November 2019 to facilitate the visa-free entry of Indian Sikh pilgrims to celebrate the 550th birthday of the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev was his brainchild.

Analysts say that the latest moves came after Pakistan realized that its propaganda against India has not cut much ice. On the other hand, post-August 5, 2019, when India dissolved the state of Jammu and Kashmir and revoked its special status, Pakistan failed to garner diplomatic support in world capitals. Pakistan had gone to the extent of expelling the Indian ambassador in Islamabad and recalled its envoy to send a stern message. While the world expressed concern at the potential of two nuclear-armed countries going to a full-fledged war, they maintained a studied silence and largely bought the Indian argument that its intention of bringing grassroots democracy and development should be given a chance.

Further, India succeeded in alarming the world that Kashmir needs to be controlled lest the arrival of global terrorist groups creates a situation like Afghanistan, Yemen, or Syria in the region.

Aimed At US Administration

Some analysts like Sushant Sareen say that Pakistan’s ‘peace and dialogue offer’ to India was aimed more at the new US administration. Imran Khan and Bajwa were trying to project themselves as reasonable people who were ready to talk peace with India, and then use this to portray India as being obdurate. The Pakistani game plan is to exploit the negative coverage of India in the Western press and public opinion in the hope of bringing US pressure on India to make some concessions to Pakistan. In return, the Pakistanis will offer some assurances to the Biden administration on Afghanistan and the Taliban.

By agreeing to the ceasefire, Pakistan is signalling it isn’t pushing terrorists into J&K and wards off any US pressure. On India’s part, the ceasefire demonstrates that she isn’t averse to reducing tensions with Pakistan. At the same time, the ceasefire punctures Pakistan’s balloon of Jammu and Kashmir becoming a nuclear flashpoint because rising tensions could easily escalate into a wider war between the two nuclear weapon neighbours. India also pre-empts any suggestion from the US to lower the tensions with Pakistan so that it can focus on the Western front where direct US interests are involved.

A serious effort to resolve conflict and bring everlasting peace had taken off in 2004 when Atal Bihar Vajpayee had travelled to Islamabad. His successor Manmohan Singh continued the initiative. But these efforts were not reciprocated by Pakistan.

This time India will also need to guard against the possibility that the entire episode could be used by the Pakistanis to impress upon India to cut them some slack that otherwise India would be reluctant to do. The Pakistan Army could wave the cabinet’s rejection of the trade opening to claim that their hands are tied. To move things along they will ask India to do something that can then be sold to the civilian government and get it back on board.

It is not the first time that the doves are seen fluttering across the borders. These ‘peace offers’ from Pakistan follows a pattern. For one, it is either made to tide over some domestic crisis, or to exploit, or at times evade, some international pressure. For another, it is never unconditional. If anything, the conditions are invariably maximalist, and therefore, a non-starter. In 2001, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf met Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in Agra. But Pakistan’s intransigence pulled down the talks. After Dr Manmohan Singh become prime minister of India in May 2004, the Punjab provincial government declared it would develop Gah, his place of birth, as a model village in his honour and name a school after him. But it never happened and Pakistan continued to provide cover-fire for the terrorists whenever they infiltrated into Indian territory from Pakistan. In 2005, Pakistan’s current Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid was alleged to running a terrorist training camp in 1990 in Pakistan.

Stick To Red Lines

What India needs is to stick to the red line, it has drawn and continuously monitor and verify Pakistan’s ‘hand of peace. What matters for India is not Pakistan’s words but its actions. In recent years, while there are few actions like decreasing terrorist levels, but they still need to be verified. Pakistan must put a stop at the language being used by Imran Khan, his cronies against the Indian Prime Minister, government and people. It is utterly vile and vituperative and will not help the peace process. At the same time, India must lay out clear metrics that Pakistan must meet before clasping its ‘hand of peace. India should not let down the guard for a moment or get taken in by the seductive words. If things move in the right direction, India will be happy to dance along; but if Pakistan reverts to form and tries to once again backstab India, it will give her yet another opportunity to expose Pakistan’s perfidy and treachery in front of the world. India can use the ceasefire to beef up its security grid, strengthen its bunkers, and fix some of the gaps in the fence-straddling of the LoC.

Box Cease-Fire History

The first cease-fire agreement between India and Pakistan came in the form of the Karachi agreement of 1949. Mediated by the UN, it delineated the Cease-fire Line (CFL), and the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was created by the Security Council to monitor the cease-fire.

But under the 1972 Suchetgarh Agreement, which followed the Shimla Agreement that ended the third war between the two countries, the CFL was renamed the LoC. Since then, India has not allowed the UN group to monitor the cease-fire violations, as New Delhi claims that the UN was not a party to the Shimla Agreement, unlike the Karachi Agreement.

Both countries also agreed to a cease-fire in 2003 after a two-and-half-year military standoff in the wake of a 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament. This cease-fire led to many initiatives like the visit of then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to attend a 2004 SAARC summit in Islamabad and later Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s decision of opening the LoC for trade and travel for the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir.

After 5th of August 2019, Indian Government stance clearly states – ‘all future discussion will now be only on PoK. Likewise, Pakistani Army’s institutional and hawkish policy has been centred on the need to wage a war with India to ‘solve the Kashmir issue’.

The fact remains use of terrorists as a part of a policy matrix by Pakistan has outlived and Kashmiri’s have always rejected it from 1947 till date. Every big step forward requires courage of conviction and imagination. rime Minister Modi has demonstrated both. Analysts say -Given these complexities, there is a high chance these negotiations- be held behind closed doors and outside the purview of media and formal diplomatic channels- that would expedite any outcome.

India and Pakistan have to move forward and can not live in hatred all the time with mutual hostility and tension. Despite honest starts and multiple attempts by India – which have been responded and followed by terror attacks by Pakistan – PM Modi is very keen to move beyond, but as diplomatic community puts it -peace looks elusive, but a peace process does not. By all aspects, it is clear the process is and has to be seen thriving to succeed in thrashing out major differences. The engagement with other nations more so with the neighbouring countries is the sine quo non of diplomatic jurisprudence of any nation state. Pakistan-India have to move forward, there is a rationale to it -that is peace, development and stability for the people of South Asia

An intent of peaceful solution does not need to decide the fate of the most complex geo-political problem of the subcontinent right away; the meaningful process has to go on and on.