EDITORIAL: Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa very rightly said, while congratulating graduating cadets at the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Academy, that “it is time to extend the hand of peace in all directions.” That has been Pakistan’s stated policy for quite a while. And this particular administration has been walking the talk right since the beginning of its innings. It has played a pivotal role in winding up the war in Afghanistan, tried to help make peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and gone out of its way to comply with even those Financial Action Task Force (FATF) demands that it considered a little unfair; all to show that Islamabad means what it says about peaceful coexistence.
In this regard, it may be recalled that Prime Minister Imran Khan reached out to India even before he took oath of office, promising that Pakistan would take two steps for each one that India took towards peace. Indeed this was also foremost on the army chief’s mind as he stressed, once again, that the conflict of Kashmir should be resolved in a “dignified and peaceful” manner according to the wishes of the people of the valley. Clearly, the thinking in Pakistan is in favour of settling all outstanding disputes so the two countries can turn to economic cooperation in particular. And since the road to settling all outstanding disputes will have to pass through Kashmir, Islamabad is right in putting it on the table first.
The problem is, as General Bajwa was forced to note yet again, that the Indians are taking this desire for peace as a sign of weakness. So far this has played very nicely into Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s larger scheme of things. On the back foot on the economic front and facing profound social fissures in society, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has fallen back on the old trick of dragging Pakistan into the news cycle and rallying its hardline Hindutva support base to improve its own ratings. But now that the international community has started leaning towards Pakistan’s side of the argument, that the two countries will have to talk out their issues, New Delhi will not be able to keep the door shut on Kashmir forever.
Kashmir is, after all, the single biggest sticking point in any Pak-India peace talks, and the paralysis in this relationship has held South Asia itself hostage for decades, so solving this dispute is fast becoming a concern far beyond the two principal parties to it. India’s present approach, which rules out foreign mediation since it is a bilateral issue yet also does not consider bilateral negotiations at all, is a non-starter clearly meant to rule out any chance of a thaw. When one party is going out on a limb to settle the problem, including calling for international legal arbitration, and the other is doing what it can to stop any manner of sincere progress, it shouldn’t be too hard for the international community to put two and two together.
The question now is what path India will opt for since the ball is, for all intents and purposes, in its court. It doesn’t inspire much confidence that the Indian national security advisor has built something of a following on social media just by outlining the many ways in which he intends to bring harm to Pakistan. Or that the BJP government seems quite happy for the time being with the way the country’s popular media is whipping up anti-Pakistan sentiment. Surely, any intelligence agency worth its salt would understand quite well the level of preparedness of the Pakistani military. And since India’s premier spy agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), is so obsessed with Pakistan it would, or at least should, have relayed to its masters that any military misadventure would only get New Delhi another red nose, pretty much like in early 2019.
It’s best if India accepts Pakistan’s offer and helps put a very bloody conflict, rooted way in the past, forever behind us all. A very big part of the population in both countries is very young, and neither understands nor cares for the problems that have left the two countries at daggers drawn since forever. They must be allowed to carve a more enterprising and prosperous future for themselves and their children than what they will get if all that is left for them is a legacy of hatred and mistrust. A peaceful resolution of the Kashmir conflict is where the path to that better future will begin, just as General Bajwa said at the PAF Academy.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021