The neighborhood factor in the J&K talks

It is ironic that the dominant political leadership of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir, which was most heavily ridiculed and incarcerated by the dispensation from power following the August 5, 2019 constitutional changes, was invited by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to launch the political process on the territory of the Union – the talks took place on Thursday. This development relates only to Indian politics, just as constitutional changes fell within the national jurisdiction of India. However, J&K has an external dimension from India’s point of view due to Pakistan’s illegal and forced control over Indian territory. Pakistan regards J&K as contested and has done everything irrationally to build international opinion against constitutional developments, but with virtually no success. At the same time, there was a concern, albeit a muted one, in some world circles about the administrative procedures that accompanied the constitutional changes.

In summary, then, Modi’s approach to speaking to key political players in J&K will attract favorable attention in the West and be welcomed by the Biden administration. More importantly, the point to consider is whether this is part of the low-key and out of sight contacts between India and Pakistan that resulted in the February ceasefire along the Line of Control and the United States. international border at J&K. The ceasefire has held up and it appears that infiltration levels are dropping. Additionally, while both countries have reiterated their known positions on long-standing issues as well as current issues, both governments are careful to moderate the rhetoric. It is particularly important that Prime Pakistan
Minister Imran Khan avoids comments on the ideology of the Sangh Parivar.

While there has been no indication in the Indian media on the substance of the current Indo-Pakistani contacts, there have been reports based on leaks in the Pakistani press. Some of them indicate that pro-contact elements of the Pakistani army, including the chief of the army, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and Imran Khan want India to take action in J&K to show their critics – and there is concern in parts of the military as well as politicians – that their efforts with India are bearing fruit. At a minimum, they want the restoration of statehood to J&K and an indication that India has no intention of changing the demographics of the Kashmir Valley. The question is whether that would be enough for them to override critics’ objections and undo some of the measures they have taken as a result of the constitutional changes. Obviously, the pro-contact elements would be aware that there can be no return to the status quo-ante.

The preferred option of the Modi government is for Pakistan to turn its back on terrorism. Unless Pakistan does, it is impossible to establish a peaceful and stable relationship. The current ceasefire along the LOC and the border at J&K is important because it has brought relief to those living in the border areas and has also resulted in lower levels of infiltration. But as the army chief, General MM Naravane, recently said, there is no indication that Pakistan is liquidating the infrastructure of terror. It does not appear that this will prevent the Modi government from accepting a return to the Indo-Pakistan bilateral situation that existed before August 5, 2019.

What could therefore take place in the coming months, if not sooner, is a return of the High Commissioners and the restoration of certain elements of bilateral trade. There could also be movement on reinstating visits to the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara and easing in some areas of visa restrictions. Re-establishing sports contacts may be more difficult, as they arouse passions that both governments may wish to avoid. Of course, it would be extremely difficult for Modi to contemplate resuming a structured dialogue as long as Pakistan clings to the instrument of terror. For Bajwa and Imran Khan, the failure to reverse all measures taken on August 5, 2019 will invite the accusation of a complete sell-off to India, which neither can afford.

While bilateral issues are under discussion in low-key conversations between the two sides, it is unclear whether they also focus on the situation in Afghanistan. Traditionally, Pakistan has been opposed to talking about Afghan developments with India. He wants India’s role to be limited to the economic sphere alone. This point was recently reiterated by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. It is also reported that he has advised the Taliban against meaningful contact with India at a time when Delhi is showing interest in speaking to them. It is another matter that Indian diplomacy really took a firm footing on open talks with the Taliban, even as the group gained global legitimacy. It is also known that he was signaling his interest in contact with India but at this stage Delhi was rigidly glued to President Ashraf Ghani. A cruel price must always be paid for diplomatic obstinacy.

Pakistan is currently surfing Afghanistan. He is a crucial player in the development of the Afghan situation and he clearly wants the Taliban to be in charge in Kabul. He certainly does not want a return to the situation of the 90s as this could destabilize the arrangements he made in the former Federally Administered Territories (FATA), which were merged with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province as well as Balochistan. , which is restless as it is. It would be prudent for Pakistan to take a fresh look at Afghanistan, especially if, as Bajwa said, it prioritizes geo-economy. If so, he should seek to reach out to India over Afghanistan and recognize that this country has major security and economic interests there. We must not forget that all Afghans want their country to have good relations with India. That said, there is no indication that there is any new thinking in Rawalpindi on India’s role in Afghanistan.

Some movement on Indo-Pakistani relations is on the anvil but not a change in its basic assumptions.

The writer is a former diplomat

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