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The Peace Blitz

Indian Express reports back channel contacts between India and Pakistan. The report speculates that Indian National Security Adviser A. K. Doval may have held talks directly with the Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

This backdrop enabled Director Generals of Military Operations to arrive at the February 25 joint statement for adherence to the ceasefire. They also agreed to discuss “core issues and concerns”.

The notion of back channel itself is caustic within Pakistan. First, it undermines the foreign office and secondly creates discomfort within the policy making institutions. It is an envelope laced in poison.

According to The Diplomat, a new media report substantiated a recent claim that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had midwifed the February 25 India-Pakistan ceasefire.

Having abandoned Kashmir very recently, how come UAE has become so sensitive to issues of the region? It is now part of the US, Israel, Saudi and India nexus and what beholds it to Pakistan?

Sushant Singh writing for Foreign Policy stated that the news about the cease-fire grabbed headlines. Significant, that the two countries agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have the propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence, clearly indicates the first step in a longer peace process. The announcement could not have emerged without weeks of back channel diplomatic work by the two governments, including the buy-in of the top political leaderships of both countries and of Pakistan’s powerful military leadership. In backdrop of Indo-Pakistan conflict, this sounds like a fait accompli and buy-in is difficult for anyone to digest.

On March 22, Bloomberg noted “the India-Pakistan cease-fire marked a milestone in secret talks brokered by the UAE that began months earlier, according to officials aware of the situation who asked not to be identified.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price dodged a question on what role the U.S. played in bringing the two sides besides urging Pakistan to play a constructive role in Afghanistan, Kashmir and other places.

“Obviously Pakistan has an important role to play when it comes to Afghanistan and what takes place across its other border, so clearly, we will be paying close attention”.

It is surprising that the US diplomat is asking Pakistan to play a constructive role in IOK.

Though apparently, USA is trying to convince that its plans of Asian Pivot have shifted to the Indo-Pacific Region, one needs to question its strategy of a Greater Middle East right into Central Asia.

Is it so easy to dispense with the Asian Pivot extending from Africa to Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman? To an extent, buying the US narrative of down grading CENTCOM is plausible with my oft repeated hypothesis that CENTOM is the anvil while Indo-Pacific command with India is the swinging hammer against Pakistani and Chinese interests.

In search for many questions that linger, it is clear that the new administration in USA has a pivotal role in the latest development. It is trying to reignite its template of old relationships with Pakistan.

But the balance in the region is already shifted in favour of China. What can USA now offer that China cannot? Does USA assume that cajoling Pakistan and drawing it away from China will be easy? Will Pakistan be ready to compromise on core interests of China just to appease USA for advantages that are unknown and historically abusive?

As diplomatic demarches suggest, the objective pertains to a larger durable partnership with India and diminishing Pakistani role in Afghanistan.

USA wants India to break away from the constant South Asian imbroglio and buy time for a temporary peace and settlement of the core issue of Kashmir later. Will it suit Pakistan to give time to India as part of the Indo-Pacific Quad to strengthen manifold and subsequently create a larger security situation.

To suggest that this diplomatic foray is to preserve and advance US interests in the region is not an understatement.

In a sense, the latest development is resumption of the old normal; like re-baking old cookies.

In the interim, India through legislation has also changed the status of IOK through abrogation of Article 370 rejected both by China and Pakistan and dilution of Article 35A.

Since the status of IOK in Indian Constitution is already changed (though technically still subject to Supreme Court interpretations), it would need two major amendments to proceed further. Before embarking on resolving many outstanding issues with Pakistan, India will first have to pass through its own legal and constitutional road blocks as also satisfy China on identical issues. First, changing any status needs a constitutional amendment and secondly Articles 370 and 35A have to be restored.

Linked with UN Resolutions of Kashmir, the roadmap to normalcy between India and Pakistan besides legal framework is vague.

There are reasons why India has shown this thaw. Having being humbled in Ladakh by China, regime change in USA and international pressure mounting on atrocities in IOK, India direly needed a pause to realign its policies with objectives and directions of its Indo-Pacific ally the USA.

In the past few years, the Cease Fire Agreement brokered by President Musharraf had been in place but violated.

India needed to keep the front hot to barricade IOK and follow a policy to ultimately annexing the territory which it did.

Terrorism was a hoax created over two incidents that still remain shrouded in mystery. India succeeded to exploit terrorism perceptions to its advantage and appease the West.

Diplomatically isolated, Pakistan remained at the receiving end. Having endured the rigours and wilderness, what are the new extra ordinary prospects for Pakistan?

In diplomacy, contacts between countries never cease to exist. India and Pakistan still have High Commissions besides the hotlines between DGMOs, embassy neighbourhoods abroad and in UN. Most CBMs are still operative.

Why such backdoor diplomacy, when doors on both sides were already open is a very intriguing question?

Crucial to this entire initiative is the future of Afghanistan.

Will Afghan Taliban after the recently concluded quadrilateral talks in Russia be willing to step down from their hard earned stated position. In addition what will be India’s role there and would it halt interference in Pakistan through its proxies that include pro Indian Afghans, ISIS, D’aesh and BLA elements. Then on a lighter note, is USA willing to reimburse to Pakistan whatever it owes.

In this perspective, Pakistan as a minimalist state has to tread and broker cautiously, especially when such developments could impinge on its relations with China and the new found understanding with Iran. Most, it must resist compromising the aspirations of the people of IOK.

Pakistan needs to set its own house in order.

IMF, IFI’s, Autonomy of State Bank of Pakistan, international arbitrations and unloading national assets are all strings of the same policy. These in no way help Pakistan in becoming self-reliant and self-sufficient. This poisoned umbilical cord needs to be cut for good.

Though the existing political turmoil eclipses hidden designs of this latest initiative, the consequences will be far reaching for future of Pakistan. The taste of pudding lies in eating it. I am unsure what the brew is all about?

Source: Samson Simon Sharaf

Header: Wagah, India-Pakistan border. Members of the Indian Border Security Force, forefront, at the daily flag-lowering ceremony. Their Pakistani counterparts are in the background. Credit: Rebecca Conway for The New York Times