By Sant Kumar Sharma
A ceasefire came into effect on the Line of Control (LoC) and elsewhere between India and Pakistan on February 24/25 this year. The two sides harked back to the spirit of November 23, 2003, ceasefire which had come on the eve of Eid. Back then, it was the culmination of successful parleys between governments of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf. The ceasefire held and led to some more confidence-building measures (CBMs) being initiated. The start of bus services on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot routes followed the ceasefire.
The bus services are no longer there and nobody on the Indian or Pakistani side is talking about starting them any time soon. Cross-LoC trade was another CBM which led to some thaw in the relations between two neighbours perpetually hostile to one another. What are the chances of any positive developments, if any, between the two sides in the year 2022?
Well, in the official press note issued on February 24, 2021, the talks between Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of two sides, Maj Gen Nauman Zakaria (of Pakistan) and his counterpart Lt Gen Paramjit San¬gha were described as “free” and “frank” and held in a “cordial atmosphere”. The two sides also agreed to make fuller use of existing mechanisms, meaning hotlines and flag meetings, to thrash out any flash points.
Beyond that, there has been zero progress in any other sphere between India and Pakistan since then. In August 2021, there was some talk of trade ties being revived partially, with Pakistan importing sugar from India. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan nixed the proposal linking any normalisation with reversal of August 5, 2019, actions taken by India on Jammu and Kashmir.
The Indian government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in not willing to discuss the abrogation of Article 35-A and 370. He has mandate to run the Indian government till mid-2024 and it can be safely assumed that no policy reversal of J&K is possible till then. Where does that leave India and Pakistan regarding any parleys to improve the relations and reduce, if not end, hostilities?
The chances of any positive developments look as bleak as the winter we are passing through in the last week of December recording some of the coldest days of the year. Looking back, we can say that the triumphant march of the Taliban to Kabul on August 15, 2021, had instilled a sense of déjà vu among the Pakistani government. Over four months later, the Imran Khan government is much more sedate in its applause of the Taliban. In August, it was rather effusive in its praise of the victors but much more circumspect now.
In 2022, Afghanistan will continue to remain a battleground for India and Pakistan to exercise more control over policies and programmes. Before August, Pakistan wielded little leverage in Kabul officially with US-backed Ashraf Ghani government distinctly pro-India. Several top leaders among the Taliban are those propped up by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), particularly the Haqqanis. Their hostility, anti-India stance and actions in the past are too well known but in the days ahead, they may not be in a position to kowtow to ISI.
On October 7, India pledged to give 50,000 tons of wheat as humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and the Taliban are warming up to it. India gaining foothold in Afghanistan is anathema to Pakistan but it can perhaps do little to thwart that. The cat and mouse games that India and Pakistan can play on the diplomatic chessboard is something that will influence their relationship deeply. No chances here that either will give up trying to increase its influence with the Taliban, and in Afghanistan.
On Afghanistan, India and Pakistan have held more than one meeting with some neighbouring nations excluding one another. Pakistan National Security Advisor (NSA) Moed Yusuf boycotted the meeting organised in Delhi by Indian National Security Advisor Ajeet Doval in November. Recently, Pakistan hosted an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and did not invite India. On March 1, 2019, Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj was a guest of honour at Abu Dhabi meeting of the OIC.
After the rise of the Taliban, it was said that the Pakistan ISI may send some Afghan fighters to intensify the proxy war it is waging in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly the Valley. Though there was some spurt in violence after the Taliban takeover in Kashmir, briefly, the officials have not recorded the presence of any Afghan fighters yet. In the last stint of the Taliban over 20 years ago, the presence and killing of Afghan mujahideen in J&K, was a regular occurrence.
One more reason for India and Pakistan not warming up to one another may be their domestic compulsions. In India, there will be assembly elections in some states during the next few months and Pakistan-bashing is a part of the established election rhetoric here. In Pakistan, India-bashing, particularly with reference to Kashmir, is equally well established. That being the ground realities on two sides, it would not be realistic to expect either side to tone down its vituperative rhetoric.
We need to remember here that general elections are due in Pakistan in the year 2023 and anti-India rhetoric will become more pronounced, sooner rather than later, there. With his back to the wall, Imran Khan can be expected to use Kashmir as a rallying point for all Pakistanis. This has so far been a fail-safe tried and tested tactic on the political landscape of Pakistan. Trying to raise bogey of Kashmir, and Islam in danger, are safety valves Pakistani politicians have always used to divert the attention of the masses from internal policy failures.
It is not something that Pakistan may like but the Taliban have said repeatedly that they do not want Afghanistan to be a source of terrorism in any country. Over two decades, the US may have spent around $2.3 trillion in Afghanistan, according to Brown University researchers, and yet failed to achieve its objectives. But its freezing of around $9.5 billion of Afghan reserves has brought Kabul to the brink of collapse.