To begin with, since early 2013, the two countries’ armed forces have indulged in cross-firing at the Line of Control (LoC) followed by the discontinuation of high-level diplomacy by India in the context of Pakistan’s high commissioner’s meeting with the Indian held Kashmir-based Hurriat leadership in 2014. Owing to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) ultra-nationalist vision of Jammu and Kashmir, bilateral relations were further strained in terms of expansion and intensification of skirmishes at the LoC and Working Boundary. Consequently, scores of army and civilian casualties were registered, more on the Pakistani side since India initiated this low-intensity conflict.
However, despite the above-mentioned, the two countries’ leadership acted rationally by not waging another high-scale war. Importantly, diplomatic services continued and the Delhi-Lahore Bus Service along with low-scale bilateral trade via Wahga-Attari continued. Moreover, in early 2015, Indian PM Narendra Modi, called his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, and invoked ‘cricket diplomacy’ that culminated in the visit of the Indian foreign secretary to Pakistan in March 2015. This visit was conducted under the regional framework of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
However, as per the oscillatory nature of India-Pakistan relations, the Indian PM, after a couple of months, came down hard on the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and termed it “unacceptable” for India which, quite ironically, has maintained strong trade linkages with China despite the fact the two countries had dissimilar claims over Tibet and related territory. Importantly, Modi’s visit to China, in May 2015, has ensured the economic basis of a bilateral relationship with Beijing. In addition, based on the author’s visit to China to attend a CPEC symposium held at Peking University on May 22, 2015, it can be safely concluded that China views its economic and defence relations with Pakistan as being quite separate from those with Delhi. Hence, Delhi needs to reconcile contradictions in its foreign policy as far as the CPEC is concerned. Besides, to add insult to injury, during his visit to Bangladesh in June 2015, PM Modi once again attempted to invoke anti-Pakistani sentiment in terms of the eulogisation of the Indian role in Pakistan’s dismemberment in December 1971. Such recourse to the bitter past would certainly add to existing mistrust and animosity. However, in so doing, Modi wanted, in my view, to cash in on the rhetoric of anti-Pakistan feelings inside Bangladesh to, on the one hand, appease the Bangladeshi government and pubic and, on the other, divert Indian attention away from hardcore socio-economic issues that the bulk of the latter, especially the youth, is constantly facing.
Nonetheless, the Modi-led BJP government seems to be aware of its domestic shortcomings along with the fact that Delhi cannot keep its people tied to the anti-Pakistani mantra. To treat Pakistan at par with Myanmar in terms of surprise surgical strikes inside Pakistan will not only be feasible but also costly, regionally and extra-regionally. Probably having realised the hollowness of his government’s foreign policy towards Pakistan, Narendra Modi once again swung his mood and deemed it rational to phone his counterpart, PM Nawaz Sharif, on June 17, 2015. The former extended Ramzan greetings, thus apparently pleasing millions of Muslims in India, if not Pakistan. Also, the Indian PM urged the Pakistani side to release Indian fishermen, thus giving another possible chance to diplomacy.
Keeping the domestic and international socio-economic and strategic context in mind, the Indian and Pakistani states preferred to shake hands rather than to pass hostile statements with the potential of putting not only India-Pakistan relations into the plunge but also endangering any possibility of South Asian security and prosperity. Though it is noticeable that the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir was not uttered by the Pakistani PM, we need not forget the regional framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) under which India and Pakistan talked briefly about bilateralism. Since regional actors, including China, are more concerned with economic integration and challenges such as terrorism, Pakistan and India could not ignore it. Pakistan should stay satisfied since it was able to highlight and include terrorism among issues to be settled with India in the days to come. Moreover, the non-inclusion of Kashmir in the diplomatic read-out can be understood as part of diplomacy whereby at times the core is not highlighted to focus on the periphery. This does not mean the periphery can be operational without the core. Perhaps this point can be well understood by looking to contemporary China-India relations: the two countries fought a war in 1962 along with dissimilar claims over Tibet but are able to trade in billions of dollars. Besides, the Indian and Pakistani top leadership should draw lessons from regional cooperative frameworks such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) and the expanded Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Modi, Nawaz Sharif and the future leaderships of South Asia should realise the fact that the emerging world order is grounded in economic regionalism whereby strategic bilateralism needs to gradually replace its antagonistic mode with peaceful gestures. Thus, the state that refrains from reconciling with the emerging reality will suffer from regional isolationism.
In view of the foregoing, what can be concluded is that India and Pakistan have a lot to share and learn from regional experiences of economic cooperation and integration. For example, the two states can enhance the bilateral trade regime. Moreover, if viewed positively, India can also reap benefits from the CPEC However, in order to realise the true benefits of bilateral and regional trade and commerce, Delhi and Islamabad need to meet, talk and negotiate the terms of peace and stability. If it can be achieved at a low cost, then rationality should be given a chance. In a nutshell, peace between Indian and Pakistan is possible if the two states prefer peace to war.
The writer is an independent political scientist and the author of Military Agency, Politics and the State in Pakistan. He tweets @ejazbhatty
Is Peace Possible ? | Dr Ejaz Hussain