Pakistan-India: Prospects of talks or tactical messaging

Pakistan-India: Prospects of talks or tactical messaging

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Pakistan-India relations touched a new low in 2019. In February, India attempted a military riposte using airpower against Pakistan at Balakot following a suicide attack by an indigenous Kashmiri, Adil Dar, on an Indian army convoy in Pulwama.

Later, India faced huge embarrassment as it lost two fighter aircrafts and a military helicopter and ended with a captured India Air Force pilot in Pakistani hands.

The Balakot attack and its aftermath were hugely consequential.

The ‘muscleman’ winning image that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had assiduously cultivated gained him a second term with a roaring majority. The BJP had used Indian military for domestic political purposes; violated crisis stability requirements by attacking mainland Pakistan with attendant risks of vertical escalation; and demonstrated recklessness in pursuing its expansionist ideological ambitions.

Since his reelection, Modi’s India has undergone twin processes. One is its internal transformation as a majoritarian and authoritarian radical Hindu state. Witness, jettisoning of the Gandhi and Nehruvian legacy of secular democracy and idolizing of Gandhi’s assassins. Witness also, the illegal annexation of Jammu and Kashmir preceded by laying a military siege; a new domicile law to change the state’s demography; and the Citizens Act to disadvantage minorities particularly the Muslims. The raiders of the Babri Mosque have been rewarded and the foundation stone of a temple laid at the site.

The key value of Dr. Yusuf’s remarks is that Pakistan is desirous of peace and talks for which India must create an ‘enabling environment’ including reversing its illegal actions in Kashmir, lifting its military siege and repression of Kashmiris and demonstrating its intent to settle the Jammu and Kashmir issue peacefully with Pakistan and the Kashmiris through ‘trilateral’ talks.

Salman Bashir

These rash acts have caused political polarization and social convulsions. COVID-19 has added to India’s internal woes. The economy is in sharp decline. Indian growth rate has dipped into negative, perhaps in double digits. The BJP answer to these woes is to double the dose of its divisive politics to stir Hindu nationalism and use expansionist and hegemonic slogans by seducing Indians to a delusional mythical vision of greater India extending from Central Asia to Myanmar.

Two, this expansionist streak has caused ripples of concern in the region. South Asia is awash in anti-India sentiment. China has reacted strongly in Ladakh in response to August 5 decisions and Indian claims to the Chinese territory of Aksai Chin.

Popular resentment against India in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and even Maldives is gaining momentum. Bhutan is struggling to liberate itself from India’s stranglehold. India’s smaller neighbors, despite asymmetry in size and strength, are actively looking for external balancing to preserve their independence.

In the region, India stands isolated today, even as it tries to make a great show of its big power pretensions. The BJP forgets that respect and greatness is earned and cannot be grabbed. An essential ingredient of a great power mix is the value compass. It is the moral authority that sustains a great power-- not just military or economic might. India has looked past South Asia to the Pacific and the South China Sea, in its quest to proving itself as an Asian co-equivalent to China. The mismatch could not be starker.

It is in the aforementioned context that Pakistan’s National Security Advisor, Dr Moeed Yusuf in his interview with The Wire mentioned that there were indications from India of a desire for conversation with Pakistan. The so called ‘messages’ were not from any front or back channel as there is none. Presumably, they were indirect messages via a third country or using Indian business expats living abroad. This is totally speculative as Dr Yusuf did not indicate a source.

The key value of Dr. Yusuf’s remarks is that Pakistan is desirous of peace and talks for which India must create an ‘enabling environment’ including reversing its illegal actions in Kashmir, lifting its military siege and repression of Kashmiris and demonstrating its intent to settle the Jammu and Kashmir issue peacefully with Pakistan and the Kashmiris through ‘trilateral’ talks. Tactical conversations at this point are only meant to relieve pressure both internal and from within the broader region (read China).

Credible and consistent assurances by India backed by verifiable actions that it will undo its mistakes in Jammu and Kashmir can get India off the hook.

The costs of India’s irresponsible and reckless conduct cannot be mitigated by tactical conversations with Pakistan that are only meant to provide India an escape route to relieve international pressure and mislead the Kashmiris. The world is waking up to the new reality of India-transfigured in the BJP mode. It is a tragedy.

Can Pakistan save India? This is not just a rhetorical question.

- Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and as High Commissioner of Pakistan to India.
Twitter: @Salman_B_PK

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