Restoration of Ceasefire: Have India & Pakistan been talking all along?

By: Behzad Taimur      Published: 07:19 PM, 5 Mar, 2021
Restoration of Ceasefire: Have India & Pakistan been talking all along?

A few days ago, Pakistani and Indian militaries “suddenly” announced that they had talked at the Directors General Military Operations (DGMOs) level and had agreed to restore ceasefire along the Line of Control between the two countries. In pithy sentences, the announcement indicated that the DGMOs had a “free, frank and cordial” talk and had agreed to recommit to a 2003 ceasefire arrangement that had held until 2008. Just for some context, this 2003 ceasefire was agreed upon by the governments of General (r) Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan and Atal Behari Vajpayee in India. Now, of course, the DGMOs have agreed that we are going back to it.

Just as “suddenly” as this announcement had come, media in Pakistan, India and elsewhere around the world, erupted as suddenly into a mix of jubilation, scepticism and speculation. So today, we will look at this development amidst its current context of excitement and, try to answer three questions: 1) How “sudden” was this announcement or was this “sudden” at all, with no indication that such was coming? 2) Is this announcement a significant break from past policies and does this, then, promise a great turnaround in Indo-Pak relations? 3) And, ultimately, what does all this mean and where are we heading?

Right, then. Number 1: Was this “sudden” and could we not see this coming? Not at all. There is a very consistent, patterned build-up to this. Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, had said as recently as February 02, that it was “time to extend a hand of peace in all directions”. When such was said, it had stirred some speculation that something might be coming off of this statement. Though, nothing seemed to have come at the time.

Then, just a day before the DGMO statement, the Prime Minister, Mr Imran Khan, had said from Colombo that the “only dispute” India and Pakistan had was over Kashmir and that it could be resolved through dialogue. The same day, Mr Khan’s Foreign Minister, Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi, stated that Pakistan had “shifted its geopolitical priorities into geo-economic priorities”. This is a roundabout way of saying, ‘we’re not looking for a fight; we want peace; we want peace especially because we want to focus on our economy and leverage our geography for economic growth’ (CPEC?).

With that said, please see that these are very big statements coming from very big, responsible persons at very big forums. Were these recent big statements our only clue? Also: Not at all. In fact, all these things have been said by all these people and many more at multiple times previously. We will come to that in a bit. Anyway, so these were hardly our clues.  Here are a few other clues:

On 18th February this year, there was a SAARC moot on Covid-19 in South Asia. At this moot, Indian Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, gave some ideas on how the SAARC nations could collaborate. These included establishing a new SAARC-wide visa regime for doctors, setting up a regional air ambulance service and forging a mechanism for sharing Covid-19 and health related research, experiences and technologies. Interestingly, this had found support from Pakistan. This Pakistani support to the generally-disliked Indian Prime Minister was immediately noted by international media for being “unusual”. However, it is perhaps a comment on our media and policy analysts that few here noticed.

Similarly, back in November 2020, there was a World Trade Organization (WTO) moot going on around patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines. Some countries were of the view that protectionism around vaccines would serve to the detriment of much of the world. In this context, India moved a proposal for a temporary waiver from patent protections for Covid vaccines. Interestingly, Pakistan had co-sponsored the proposal. This, too, did not receive much attention.

Then, there have been several other such instances. Prime Minister Khan offering to share Pakistan’s experiences with Ehsaas Covid-19 relief cash transfer program with India is an example even though it is generally seen in other contexts. Anyway, during the pandemic, Pakistan had waived its restrictions on Indian flights going over Pakistani airspace. In fact, in early April 2020, an Air India jet was flying to Frankfurt, Germany, to evacuate stranded Indian citizens post-lockdown. The jet was allowed to cross over Pakistani airspace. More importantly, just as the jet entered Pakistan, our air traffic control radioed in a Salaam and then, a little unusually, stated that they were “proud” of the Indian aircrew for running this operation during the pandemic.

These small events might seem innocuous but I argue that they are connected. There is a pattern here and a message. The pattern here is one of offering support, cooperation and collaboration over apparently unconnected, non-security-related matters. One should remember that Uri and Pulwama attacks and their aftermath are very much part of our current reality. The Indian Balakot strike and Pakistan Airforce’s heroic counter operations (which, actually, shot at least one Indian fighter jet out of the sky) have happened. Indian annexation of occupied Kashmir on August 5th, 2019, has happened. Tensions between the nuclear-armed nations have been soaring. To be offering cooperation to your purported ‘arch-rival’ is not without meaning.

There is a message here. By such moves, Pakistan has consistently kept diplomacy alive. Diplomacy is usually seen to mean formal, state-level negotiations and discussions over matters of mutual interest or concern. However, and most importantly, diplomacy is also the act of keeping on talking. That is to say, for so long as any two sides are talking over at least something, lines of communication are open and at least some messages are being shared between two parties – and, there is not a complete and total breakdown in all communication – diplomacy can be said to be very much alive. That is precisely what Pakistan has done. Such overtures are a testament to continuing efforts on part of Pakistan to keep talking and keep diplomacy going. So, the message is: We want to talk; Let us talk; if we can’t talk on the big things or on everything, then let’s talk over some things and keep the possibility of a wider engagement alive.

This is excellent. Diplomacy is an art. Diplomacy demanded it. Pakistan delivered. Finely done.

Now, Number 2: Is this a break from previous policy and should we expect a major turnaround in Indo-Pak relations? The answer to the first part of this question is – No, not at all. This is not new. Pakistani leadership has consistently emphasised that it believes in a peaceful, negotiated resolution to Indo-Pak disputes. The current Prime Minister, Mr Khan, said so in the comments quoted above. Pakistan’s Foreign Office has stated as much on innumerable occasions. Even Pakistan’s military has repeatedly emphasized this.

In April 2018, addressing a passing-out parade at Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul, General Bajwa had stated, “It is our sincere belief that the route to the peaceful resolution of Pak-India disputes—including the core issue of Kashmir—runs through comprehensive and meaningful dialogue”. And, General Bajwa is not alone.

In January 2015, speaking at a London think tank, General Bajwa’s predecessor, General (r) Raheel Sharif had famously stressed the need “for regional peace and better ties with India” and had urged “negotiations between both the countries on an equal level.” Further, General (r) Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, General Sharif’s predecessor, in turn, had gone to the Gayari sector in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan after an avalanche had destroyed a Pakistan Army base, martyring nearly 140 Pakistani service members posted there. Then, standing at nearby Skardu, within the vicinity of Siachen and Kargil, General Kayani had remarked, “peaceful coexistence between the two neighbours is very important so that everybody can concentrate on the well-being of the people.”

Finally, the man preceding General Kayani had been General Musharraf, the man who had originally implemented the 2003 ceasefire agreement and then led almost four years of “composite dialogue” with India.

So, the line is clear. It crosses several generations of Pakistani military (and political) leadership. Diplomacy, dialogue, negotiations, settlement, peace. The line has only become more finely tuned, clear, focused and specific. The line has now, perhaps, been capped by Prime Minister Khan with his statement that the “only” issue between the neighbours is Kashmir and that its “only” solution is a negotiated settlement.

Now then, coming back to the DGMOs announcement and its implications. Should we expect a turnaround? The answer to that is, actually, tied to our third question: What does all this mean? However, due to constraints of time and space, we will have to return to this most interesting question and its even more interesting answer, in the next part of this series. It was felt that the next part requires special focus, attention and discussion and, therefore, should deserve its own piece. Watch this space.

…….To be concluded

Categories : Opinion