India & Pakistan's impasse - Détente ahead
Peace & Prosperity for all
It’s been 74 years (more than a generation) that ties between Pakistan & India have swung to both extremes. Pakistan was carved out as a territory as a separate homeland for Muslims. Many have hoped that countries with so much in common; culture, tastes, buying pattern, geography & growth potential, would resort to peace. And why not?
Since Pakistan & India engaged into a jet-fight after an unfortunate Pulwana incident, ties have only gone South. Since then, Mr Modi has won another election, Covid-19 has upended global cycle, US elections have seen changing geo-political strategy & China & India have locked horns. However, ties are changing now. Are they?
Pakistan has previously put condition of lifting legal changes as India revoked Kashmir special status in Article 370. Similarly, fears of change in demography of diluting Muslims perturbed Pakistani policy makers hoping that UN would conduct a plebiscite to ensure Kashmiris right for self determination.
Recent change of hearts:
3rd Feb 2021, General Bajwa initiates peace talks by saying it’s time to extend hand of peace in all direction (including India).
5th Feb 2021, Imran Khan mentions that if Kashmiris vote for Pakistan, Pakistan would again offer them right to independence. Such a move has to be calculated to win Kashmiris support to choose Pakistan in a remote case of UN brokered plebiscite.
26th Feb 2021, Pakistan & India agree on a border ceasefire. This was the first thaw in the relationships & a broader hint of deceleration in the aggressive postures.
18th March 2021, Imran Khan mentions we’re trying to normalize ties and offers access to Central Asia (huge incentive for 3rd largest economy in the world) but India has to take the first step.
19th March 2021, In a more direct message to India, General Bajwa categorically states that defence expenditure has come at the cost of human development of sub continent (India vs Pakistan & India vs China) and let’s bury the past. However, India must create conducive environment (ending lockdown in Kashmir?)
25th March 2021, Premier Narendra Modi extends wishes on National Day of Pakistan and wished “cordial relations. However, it is imperative to establish environment without hostility (expecting soften language from Pakistani leaders) & terror.
Pakistan does have many friends:
Pakistan has generally pitched its narrative relatively strongly over last few years. Whether it’s support from Turkey, saying Kashmir as important to Turkey as it is to Pakistan. Malaysia, bearing the brunt of their support to Kashmir causing India to stop palm imports. Even Iran had used a stern language against India in recent path. Pakistan has gathered strong support from Sri Lanka as well giving common BRI’s receipts. Central Asian countries, such as Azerbaijan back Kashmir cause while Pakistan is making overtures to Uzbekistan for regional connectivity through Gwadar.
This strategy seems to be working perfectly as Pakistan does offer a significant corridor of connectivity to nearby countries. China is exceptionally well connected through One-belt One-road and India is missing the boat. No wonder, General Bajwa’s pitch had “unlock the untapped potential of South and Central Asia by ensuring connectivity between East and West Asia” on the menu. This is worth tens of billions of dollars worth of Exports for India every year. Ain’t no joke.
Pakistan has been eyeing to exit FATF presumed “grey-list” for enhanced monitoring for more than 2 years now. In the process, several laws have been changed for documentation & money laundering. And cases have been lodged against key individuals under UN radar. Nonetheless, India’s support - or lack of resistance - would pave for white listing for sure. Global foreign investors wouldn’t want to pour billions of dollars otherwise in Pakistan risking FATF’s black list. Pakistan sees that too.
US & China - Quad, bipolar world order & Oil-linked friendship
India’s pivot too has it’s strategic reasons. Prospects of two front war with China & Pakistan are scary for chess players or policy makers. India & China were involved in major standoff that was amicably rescinded. Sanity prevailed. Difference of opinion still exits over Ladakh & Line of Actual Control (LAC). Similarly, “Quad” is posturing aggressively under Biden’s administration already creating a bi-polarised world order.
US & China are still starting on a rough note. In it’s first round of direct talks, exchange of words were more than direct. US’s comments on “Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, economic coercion of our allies" were tough calls only to be countered by China’s version “It (US) abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and incite some countries to attack China. President’s Biden comments of “position of strength” were noticed by Chinese as well.
Under Biden’s administration, US is reducing it’s focus on Middle Eastern region giving Israel a de-facto go-to-guy role for geo-politics. US’s energy security has drastically reduced political, economic & strategic dependency on oil rich Arab nations. No wonder why Aramco is looking towards China for 50 year supply & India plans on buying US’s oil. Allies are allies. And they keep changing.
Economic Growth: Kashmir, connectivity & prosperity
In this background, Pakistan has actually enhanced its geo political standing. If Pakistan’s economy stabilizes, gets off FATF enhanced monitoring, gets big ticket projects (Refinery?) from China/Saudi Arab/UAE & enhances connectivity with Central Asian states then Pakistan would have done a great job in terms of foreign policy. Path to lasting peace lies with solution of Kashmir. This would require global stakeholders to sit down as well. Here’s to another ray of hope. InshaAllah.