Is Pakistan sincere this time?
The Pakistani military establishment has once again asserted a desire for peace but its sincerity is something that remains to be seen
On March 22, on the occasion of the National Day of Pakistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote a letter to his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan extending his greetings to the people of Pakistan. PM Modi in his letter said, "As a neighbouring country, India desires cordial ties with the people of Pakistan. For this, an environment of trust, devoid of terror and hostility, is imperative.”
Pakistan ceased cross-border terrorist infiltration and stopped firing along the Line of Control from February 25, for which the Director Generals of the Military Operations (DGMOs) of the two neighbouring armies made an eye-catching joint statement. This was welcomed not only in the Indian-Pakistani strategic community, but the world over, with positive comments which included the reactions from the US and Europe, besides the United Nations.
People living near the Line of Control (LoC) and the International Border (IB) along divided Jammu and Kashmir, heaved a sigh of relief after the implementation of the ceasefire.But they are wondering how long this ceasefire will last, in view of the past record of the Pakistani security establishment.
After implementing a ceasefire with India on the Line of Control and International Border dividing Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir from February 25, the Pakistani political and military leaders are repeatedly asserting their sincere desire to resolve all disputes through peaceful dialogue.
Though the Indian political and security establishment does not seem to be too enthusiastic about Pakistan’s sincerity in walking the talk, Indian strategic observers are keeping the fingers crossed.
They are not sure whether the on-off-on ceasefire will hold for long, because of terrorist elements controlled and operated by the hard line anti-India faction of the Pakistani security establishment, who have a vested interest in living with perpetual enmity with India.
On March 18, Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Jawed Bajwa said, “We feel it is time to bury the past and move forward.” He said so while addressing a gathering of scholars and experts discussing national security issues at a seminar in Islamabad.
The kind of pleasant noises emanating from General Bajwa reminds Indians of similar rhetoric from President (General) Pervez Musharraf in the opening decade of this century, which promised everlasting peace and good neighbourly, friendly and cooperative relations with India.
During General Musharraf’s regime, Pakistan agreed for a historic ceasefire in 2003 which lasted till 2008. However, when General Musharraf had to relinquish power, and General Pervez Kayani took over, the LoC and th IB dividing Jammu and Kashmir once again reverberated with the sounds of guns as terrorists were once again encouraged to sneak inside Indian territory with supporting fire by Pakistani army.
The intensity of this firing kept increasing along with bellicose statements from Pakistani military and political leaders. Since the Indian Army was given a free hand and told to respond to Pakistani fire with equal ferocity, the heat on the borders kept increasing along with terrorist attacks on various security establishments, which resulted in surgical strike in September, 2016 and Balakot aerial strike on February 26, 2019.
These two major cross border punishments by the Indian armed forces resulted in deterioration of bilateral relations, which also led to orders to High Commissioners to leave Islamabad and New Delhi. The two High Commissions also had to shed their staff by half.
When General Musharraf, considered the architect of the 1999 Kargil invasion, made a U-turn in his India policy, every observer of India-Pakistan relations took it with a pinch of salt, but his consistent forward looking statements impressed Indian political establishment, which gave a green light for resumption of multiple rounds of dialogues.
During Musharraf’s regime, relations moved in positive directions and lot of bonhomie was generated between two nations not only at the people to people level but among political establishments also, but his newly appointed army chief General Pervez Kayani poured cold water on all good moves okayed by General turned President Musharraf.
Since then, India-Pakistan relations continued to slide and the two countries almost went to war after the Balakot aerial surgical strike, when India warned Pakistan to hand over captured Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan.
Now General Bajwa, who is managing the Pakistani government from behind the scenes, has come out with a statement asking his fellow countrymen to forget the past. He said that Pakistan is ready to improve relations by resolving all our outstanding issues through dialogue in a dignified and peaceful manner.
He has indirectly accepted that Pakistan’s image was sullied by saying that Pakistan has to recast its image as a peace loving nation and as a useful nation in the international community.
He further said that the Pakistani leadership has a vision to transform the past. Pakistan learnt lessons from the past and is willing to move ahead towards a new future.
However, the question remains: Will Pakistan rein in the elements let loose by Pakistani Inter Service Intelligence?
(The author is a senior journalist with expertise in diplomatic and strategic affairs; views expressed are his personal)