After years of tensions, it appears that there may be a glimmer of hope for peace between India and Pakistan. This hope has been precipitated by reports that the UAE helped to broker the recent India-Pakistan Kashmir border ceasefire and a road map to peace between these two nuclear-armed south Asian neighbours.
The ceasefire was announced in the last week of February in a joint statement of the Director Generals of Military Operations of Pakistan and India. Immediately after that announcement, an official UAE readout was released stating that Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed visited New Delhi and talked with his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, noting they “discussed all regional and international issues of common interest and exchanged views on them.”
Shortly thereafter, Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa issued a statement asking India “to bury the past and move forward” and indicated that that the Pakistan military was ready to enter talks to resolve “all our outstanding issues.” Earlier, Prime Minister Imran Khan had asked for a resolution on Kashmir describing it as “the one issue that holds us back.”
These positive signs were reinforced by messages from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On March 20, Modi tweeted wishing Khan well after he was diagnosed with Covid-19. On March 22, he sent an official felicitation note to Imran Khan on the National Day of Pakistan, observed on March 23. Pakistani ministers welcomed Modi’s words on behalf of Prime Minister Khan.
These exchanges have been encouraging because the relationship between Pakistan and India has been quite problematic for more than seventy years. The past two years have been a particularly rough patch.
If Pakistan and India initiate meaningful peace talks, this could be beneficial to the entire region. It could shift the dynamics from a focus on defense and the military to a focus on human interest and health concerns
The most recent conflict began in early 2019 with a deadly attack on Indian soldiers – leaving 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel dead – in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir’s Palwama area. Believing that the attack was backed by Jaish-e-Mohammad, a banned outfit in Pakistan, India, on February 26, 2019, claimed that it had hit an alleged terrorists camp in the Balakot area of Pakistan with a group of Mirage 2000 Fighter jets. A day later, Pakistan conducted airstrikes over the ceasefire line in disputed Kashmir and reportedly shot down two Indian jets that responded by entering Pakistani airspace, capturing one of the two pilots who was handed over to India later.
These intensifying confrontations culminated with India ending the special status of Jammu and Kashmir by revoking Article 370 from the Indian Constitution. The Pakistan government responded by calling back its envoy and severing all forms of trade declaring India’s action was a violation of the United Nations resolution on Kashmir issues.
These actions brought the relations between India and Pakistan to a virtual standstill. That is why it is heartening to see movement toward potential peace discussions and the establishment of some form of peace between India and Pakistan going forward. What are the prospects for this and what could it mean for the future?
In this regard, it is instructive to look backward to learn from the past. A persistent peace endeavor was initiated by former Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif. It ran from 1998-2007 with bumpy ups and downs initially. The process kept going even after General Pervez Musharraf dismissed a democratic government and a limited scale war in Kargil.
The effort paid off in form of the ceasefire in 2003 and the subsequent Islamabad Joint Statement in 2004. Following Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, the peace process accelerated and resulted in a number confidence building measures, with “a draft framework agreement” on Kashmir conflict resolution as the capstone of the decade long endeavor. This evolutionary peace process basically halted after 2007.
Recently, the only significant measure has been the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor on November 9, 2019. But it has been at a standstill since the Corona-virus pandemic restrictions imposed in March, 2020.
Given all of this, what is the importance of the “roadmap to peace” brokered by the UAE? Put simply the road map is the starting line and a frame of reference. And, it is a useful one for pivoting from the most recent intractability.
The real work and negotiations for a full peace, however, must occur between the two principals involved not a third party. A third party can be a facilitator and a contributor to assist in the problem-solving process but not the decisionmaker.
That said, it does appear that there are a number of factors at play that could grease the skids and help make India and Pakistan peace talks productive. They include other opportunities in the relations between India and Pakistan and developments internationally and regionally that could contribute to the movement toward peace.
For example, on the Pak-Indo Relations front: Talks are underway to allow Pakistani cricketers to play later this year in India. Cooperation on healthcare is being discussed. Permission for religious tourists to visit Kartarpur Gurdwara has been considered and would be a relationship-strengthening gesture. In addition, permitting India to participate in anti-terrorism military exercises, on the platform of Shangai Cooperation Organization, could be a historic first in Pakistan later this year
On the international front: There is some speculation that the sudden shift in Pakistan-India and Indo-China state narratives might possibly be linked to the fact that there is a new President in the United States of America.
Bloomberg reports that “After a year of some of the worst fighting on India’s frontiers with Pakistan and China, all three countries are suddenly talking peace as they wait to see how President Joe Biden will shift policy in the region.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki has stated that Biden welcomes the India Pakistan ceasefire and that representatives of the President’s administration remains closely engaged with officials in the region.
What the role of the U.S. in this region will be under Biden’s tenure as president is to be determined. What is already obvious is that the relationship in the region along the borders with China and Afghan has been stressful for all nations concerned.
If Pakistan and India initiate meaningful peace talks, this could be beneficial to the entire region. It could shift the dynamics from a focus on defense and the military to a focus on human interest and health concerns.
In conclusion, an old saying goes the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It appears with the Kashmir ceasefire and the roadmap that the step has been taken and the peace journey India and Pakistan has begun. It should be also remembered though that the journey is one of a thousand miles and that it will take time just as it did to make some progress in the period from 1998 -2007.
There is a glimmer of hope today. Completing the peace journey successfully would convert that glimmer to glittering sunshine that would engulf and benefit all the people of Pakistan and India.