Hindustan Times (West UP)

The difficult path to Indo-Pak peace

Pakistan’s army is on board with the ceasefire. But unless it revises its position on terror and Kashmir, talks will hit a barrier

- Vivek Katju is a retired diplomat who has extensivel­y dealt with Pakistan The views expressed are personal

The careful formulatio­ns in the joint statement of the India-Pakistan directorge­neral of military operations (DGMO) are clearly the product of “diplomatic” negotiatio­ns which would have involved the government­s and not the two armies alone. Its purpose is, therefore, much more than the maintenanc­e of peace and tranquilli­ty along the Line of Control (LoC) and the internatio­nal border (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K); it is to renew the bilateral engagement after a hiatus of almost five bitter years.

The exact mode adopted by India and Pakistan to conclude the joint statement matters little. In the grand scheme of inter-State relations, officials and even ministers are merely instrument­s of the final arbiters of a bilateral relationsh­ip — in India, an allpowerfu­l prime minister (PM) while, in Pakistan, the army chief along with other senior generals. The fact that this renewal process has begun with a military-to-military statement establishe­s that the Pakistan army is on board with this process.

This is significan­t as PM Narendra Modi’s first foray at peace-making with Pakistan had been directed at its civilian leadership. That completely miffed the generals. As a retired senior Pakistani general sneered during a track-two interactio­n, “Modi’s Lahore visit led to a meeting of two kings. It had nothing to do with the two states.” Obviously, he signalled that what mattered, at least for India, was the Pakistani army. And, the army responded to the Lahore initiative with the Pathankot, Uri and the Pulwama terrorist attacks. It should also not be forgotten that 16 years prior to Modi’s Lahore foray, the Pakistan army had responded to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Lahore peacemakin­g effort with its Kargil misadventu­re.

While the army is a part of this engagement effort and PM Imran Khan, on the ropes politicall­y, will join in, the crucial question is to what extent the Pakistani establishm­ent is willing to turn its back on terror. Despite some judicial action against India-oriented terrorist groups, to get off the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) hook, there is no evidence, as yet, of a fundamenta­l shift in Pakistani thinking on excluding terror from its strategic doctrine.

Instead, Pakistan has strenuousl­y sought to paint India as the sponsor of State terrorism, especially since the constituti­onal changes in J&K of August 2019. Along with this, it has used every forum to paint the Sangh parivar in Nazi colours. It has also called for the restoratio­n of the special status of the erstwhile state and a cessation of India’s so-called genocide. Hence, the paramount questions are: What are the concession­s that Pakistan will want on J&K to calm jihadist sentiment both in the groups and the Pakistani public and how far can Modi go? This is particular­ly challengin­g, especially after his muscular approach since the surgical strikes and more so after the enunciatio­n of the pre-emption doctrine post the Balakot aerial attack.

Modi and the Pakistani army would have given at least some thought to these basic issues. Both would have in mind a set of minimum requiremen­ts of the other side as well as how steps will be sequenced and rhetoric controlled. How much of this has already been discussed between the interlocut­ors is not known. What is clear though is that if there was a decision to tone down propaganda, Pakistan has not adhered to it, as is evident from its strident tones in its response to the second anniversar­y of the Balakot strike and in Imran Khan’s tweets. India marked the anniversar­y with restraint.

In the coming weeks and months, both countries will have to ensure that peace is maintained along the Line Of Control and the IB in J&K. That should not be difficult unless elements in Pakistan cannot resist some measure of infiltrati­on as the snow melts. Should that take place, the Indian Army will have to act to prevent it, even if this has the danger of creating holes in the DGMO’s agreement. As electionee­ring intensifie­s for the assembly elections, and if firing incidents occur, Modi may be forced to publicly declare that the army will have a free hand to act. That will not be conducive to this incipient engagement process.

Worse will be a major terrorist attack from Pakistan during the next couple of months and even thereafter. Modi will not be able to keep the initiative alive, as he attempted after the Pathankot strike. This will be so even if the Pakistani establishm­ent seeks to assure him that it was a rogue operation and moves to take some kind of action against Pakistani elements. New Delhi may then be compelled to deny that any engagement process was even contemplat­ed and that the DGMO’s agreement was nothing more than military-to-military.

There is precious little that Modi can give Pakistan on its “core” issue. He cannot restore J&K’s special status but can restore a truncated statehood. Will this be sufficient for Pakistan to claim victory? As on terror, so on J&K, the onus is on Pakistan to move ahead and also consider anew its own destiny. The generals have shown no capacity for such bold thinking which demands jettisonin­g “Nazaria-e-Pakistan” rooted in the two-nation theory.

The history of India-Pakistan ties is littered with false dawns. Will this be one more?

 ?? PIB ?? PM Modi’s first foray at peace-making with Pakistan had been directed at its civilian leadership. That completely miffed the generals. The situation is different this time, with a military-to-military statement
PIB PM Modi’s first foray at peace-making with Pakistan had been directed at its civilian leadership. That completely miffed the generals. The situation is different this time, with a military-to-military statement
 ??  ?? Vivek Katju
Vivek Katju

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