Economy and security are intrinsically linked. So the economic observers, too, were taken by a positive surprise when India and Pakistan made an abrupt announcement last week that their armies would strictly observe ceasefire along the line of control dividing Kashmir. The cross-frontier firing has been a source of tension for many years now, with escalating potential in the wake of India’s actions in Kashmir.
There is a lot of speculation about how and why this development took place. There is also some concern here that Pakistan did India a favor by cooling down the LoC when the latter was overwhelmed by its border issues with China. And what did Pakistan get in return? One leaves such debates to diplomatic experts to search for clues and find a coherent narrative that sticks.
What is not in dispute is the favorable implications, however fragile, for the South Asia region. Already reeling under the effects of Covid-19, regional majors India and Pakistan could surely use one less deadly distraction while they try to focus on containing the virus and helping with economic recovery. Through the SAARC platform, the two countries can also share what they have learnt from their mitigation efforts.
If played smartly, the LoC agreement can also relieve the Khan government from an unenviable position of fighting for “Kashmir cause” without much to show for it. Over the past one and a half years, Pakistan’s diplomacy has been consumed by incessant reactions to India’s August 2019 annexation of Kashmir. As some close friends slowly turned their back on this issue, realism may dictate that it is now beyond time to change tactics and try bilateral dialogue. The public might not be against mending fences.
There is also the prospect of positive spillover on the stalled peace process in Afghanistan. Team Biden is reviewing US-Taliban deal, indicating that there is more work for Pakistan. With less than two months left in troop withdrawal, Biden administration has an incentive to ensure that India and Pakistan are not at cross purposes in Afghanistan. Pakistan and India both will have a little less to worry about Afghanistan if they reach an understanding on mutual apprehensions. However, getting there will need a lot more work.
One remains cautious that a single joint statement should not kindle the kind of optimism where core issues will suddenly be up for negotiation. It may well be that both sides are buying time, for cooling off the borders can help them better sort out their internal political challenges. Be that as it may, the LoC ceasefire is a good start, one that can make way for other confidence-building measures, such as a meeting between the two foreign ministers, restoration of cricket ties, gradual normalization of trade, etc.