What is the reason for a possible downturn in relations? Elections — scheduled in both countries — in the later part of this year and early 2024, respectively

by Sant Kumar Sharma

These days, conciliatory write-ups have been appearing in Pakistani press regarding India-Pakistan relations. Different newspapers and TV channels have carried reports and commentaries by experts extolling the virtues of improved relations between the two neighbours. Former diplomats, top military officials and senior journalists are among those who have penned these words.

Among these peaceniks are former Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, former High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit, Pakistani diplomat Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, former Pakistan’s Representative to the United Nations Maleeha Lodhi and a host of others. Ironically, in their heyday, they were leading their country’s dog-whistling campaign against India and always adopted a strident posture. They seem to have realised that without friendly relations with India, Pakistan is unlikely to emerge as a stable nation, let alone a prosperous one.

All this is happening at a time when we can see a significant downturn in relations in the days ahead. What is/are the reason/s for a possible downturn in the days, weeks, months and years ahead? Elections. Elections are scheduled in both countries in the later part of this year and early 2024, respectively.

Elections in Pakistan can happen six months from now, once the current National Assembly (Pakistan Parliament) completes its tenure. In India, it will be a further six months away. But who can talk of Pakistan with any degree of certainty? It is never far away from another dose of military rule, and it is always with the “best of intentions” that past military dictators imposed themselves on Pakistan.

Will Pakistan be able to keep its head above the waters of dire economic straits and negotiate a lifeline? Or will it sink further into chaos, of all types, economic turmoil, civil unrest, political instability and military hegemony?

Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry wrote in Dawn, “One major reason for instability in South Asia is the continuous cultivation of mistrust between the two countries. Some attempts were made to build mutual confidence, but they were never enough to help the countries establish a normal, good-neighbourly relationship.”

The most important phrase in the paragraph above appears to be “continuous cultivation of mistrust between two countries.” What is the reason for this mistrust? Well, our official position is that terrorism fostered by Pakistan in Jammu & Kashmir, as also elsewhere in India, is the primary reason for distrust. On the other hand, Pakistan claims repeatedly that the “unresolved Kashmir dispute” is an impediment to better India-Pakistan relations.

Given these distinctly different stances, reconciliation between the two doesn’t even seem to be on the horizon, leave aside short-term months or years, the foreseeable future. Incidentally, a new bipolarity is emerging in global geopolitics, with China as a second pole to the world’s largest military and economic power, the US. Here too, India and Pakistan are being sucked into these opposite camps, with the former getting closer to the US and the latter always singing paeans for China!

Who started the 1947 war between the two nations? Well, it started after Pakistan tried to capture Jammu and Kashmir in October 1947. Who started the 1965 India-Pakistan war? It cannot be even remotely blamed on India as Pakistan started it. Who started the 1971 war between India and Pakistan? Well, Pakistan again. It was on December 3, 1971, that 11 of India’s airfields were attacked by Pakistan. Gathering itself back, India launched a counter-attack and by December 16, East Pakistan was no more. It had cut itself loose from its Western wing and Bangladesh, a new nation, was born. India had ably played the midwife in this birth, if you please.

Who started the 1999 Kargil war? It was Pakistan again, and the whole plan had been made by General Pervez Musharraf. Ironically, the architect of Kargil was the one person who made the most noise about the need for improved India-Pakistan relations. Ironical it may seem, again, that the Musharraf era, as his years at the helm in Pakistan are often described, was perhaps the best period in Indo-Pak relations.

Going back to the 1965 war, one needs to remember that J&K was the prime target of Operation Gibraltar back then. Pakistan had calculated that capturing geographical areas where the upper stems of Western rivers ran was something it could easily do. These Western rivers, the Chenab (in the Jammu region), the Jhelum (flowing in Kashmir valley) and the Indus (flowing through Ladakh) are once again poised to be a huge thorn between the two nations.

This is what the notice from India to Pakistan on opening discussions to renegotiate Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), issued on January 25 this year, portends. The notice is akin to the short official trailer of a full-length feature film released before the movie hits the theatres. Described in another way, it can be said that the notice is just the barely visible thin edge of the wedge that India wants to drive in.

Ever since Pakistan was born, hostile propaganda, terrorist proxies and open wars have been Pakistan’s methods to get the better of India. All these attempts have failed and there is no reason to believe that these will succeed now.

Suppose two persons are asked to draw lines and someone is made a judge. In this contest, there are two ways to win. One is to rub off the rival’s line partially so that your own line appears longer. Another way is to draw a much longer line instead. By now, India is firmly on the path of drawing its line longer and brooks no comparison with Pakistan.

On March 3, India’s foreign currency reserves stood at close to $563 billion and Pakistan’s barely $3 billion around that time. At present, Pakistan is trying to get funds from International Monetary Fund (IMF), for the 22nd time since its inception. On the other hand, India had taken IMF’s help seven times, the last being in 1991. These figures just help us understand how different their journeys have been.