The recent visit of US Defense Secretary to India, Pakistan’s Chief General Bajwa talking about mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, the need to bury the past and look towards living in peace, signing a cease fire agreement on Line of Control or LoC (violated almost 5000 times in last 6 year), Biden administration including India to discuss modalities of peace in Afghanistan along with China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and lastly, India offering Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to use its air space to fly to Sri Lanka are all signaling that something is brewing.
What has changed on the ground for all this to happen? It seems counterintuitive amid the Pakistanis openly trying to resurrect the Khalistan movement; drones being used to drop weapons not just in J&K but also in Punjab, tunnels to infiltrate terrorists being dug in, introducing ‘sticky bombs’ (used to devastating effect in Afghanistan in recent weeks). Clearly, the terror factory in Pakistan is continuing to devise newer ways to bleed India. The critical question then is how this agreement came to be as this is hardly conducive to any kind of move towards putting the bilateral relationship back on track.
If the sequence of events is closely examined then one may be able to read between the lines.
Examining behaviour of the US
- The US State Department has welcomed the cease fire agreement. It has also called on both countries to “continue direct negotiations” and asked Pakistan to prevent “militants from crossing the LoC to launch attacks in India”. So, cease fire implies that Pakistan is now no more sending terrorist from across the border.
- The US study group that was formulated to find ways to facilitate the return of the US troops from Afghanistan, keeping their dignity intact and restoring peace and stability in the war torn country, has recommended a mechanism. The most important element of this group’s policy suggestion is the role assigned to India. It advises setting up two mechanisms to end the war in Afghanistan. First, a regional conference under the banner of the United Nations with foreign ministers of six countries – US, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran and India – to discuss a “unified approach” on Afghanistan. Second, opening a dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Turkey.
- The US study group has worked on a premise that no other regional country other than Pakistan needs an urgent boost to its economy. So, certain assurances vis-à-vis it’s perceived or true concerns about Afghanistan, India, or the India-Afghanistan nexus may encourage the Pakistani leadership to somehow become a responsible partner in the Afghan peace process.
- The US is also trying to please Pakistan which is an old strategy – old wine in a new bottle. This implies that appeasement has to be at the cost of India.
- Lloyd Austin, the US Defense Secretary tweeted on Friday, “thrilled to be here in India. The breadth of cooperation between our two nations reflects the significance of our major defense partnership, as we work together to address the most pressing challenges facing the Indo-Pacific region”. He expressed his country’s strong desire to further deepen strategic ties with India to address, China’s aggressive behaviour in the region, India’s plan to procure around 30 multi-mission armed Predator drones, India’s plan to acquire 114 fighter jets at a cost of around USD 18 billion from American defense majors -Boeing and Lockheed–Martin.
- It is a fact that with India having no wherewithal and boots on the ground to influence the peace process in Afghanistan, it can do little to help the US in extricating itself with dignity from, and restoring peace in Afghanistan.
- Except for the infrastructure and general good will, India has nothing to offer in Afghanistan. Whereas, Pakistan, a key player, has all the nuisance power to influence the peace process. Trump, the erstwhile US President, had even mocked PM Narendra Modi over the utility of Delhi sponsoring “library” in the war-torn Afghanistan.
India can be easily lured
- On the other hand India, which has always nurtured this peculiar fondness for a leadership role and concern for its world image, can easily be lured and appeased. The Pakistanis are convinced that India just doesn’t have the staying power to maintain a hostile posture for an extended length of time and so does the US, whose military officers have good connections with their counterparts in the Pakistan army. And there are examples to prove this. Why did Nehruji agree to unilateral cease fire and referred Kashmir to the UN? Why did Shastriji sign the Tashkent agreement? Why did Indira Gandhi let go a golden opportunity to settle the Kashmir issue at Shimla in 1972, when she had 90,000 Pakistan soldiers in her grip? Why did we not test nuclear weapons and continued lecturing the world on nuclear disarmament when our own neighbor China, with whom we had already fought a bloody war in 1962, had acquired nuclear weapons in 1967 and, Pakistan carried out five tests precisely barely within a week of India’s tests (a clear vindication of our doubt that Pakistan’s supporters tacitly allowed it to acquire nuclear weapons and they kept pressuring us to sign NPT and not Pakistan)? Besides this urge, India has many issues on which it can be arm twisted: human rights violations, ‘Hindutva’, abrogation of article 370, etc.
- Thus, very soon it will not be surprising that we may find hundreds of arm chair scholars in India writing articles (like they did post Nuclear tests in 1999) – India is a land of apostles of peace, India has never conquered territories but has won the hearts, we cannot change our neighbours, India cannot behave like a big brother, and so on. And this is quite visible even now, when the venomous speeches by Imran Khan and Bajwa are being deliberately played down by the Indian media.
This is possibly being done to pressurize the Indian Government to start talks with Pakistan. But the moot point is what will talks with Pakistan achieve? For a beleaguered Pakistan it will be a big achievement. Firstly, it will help a harassed Imran Khan politically. Secondly, it might in a way remove the last hurdle for Pakistan to get off the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). This may happen as India by starting the talks would legitimize the Pakistan regime and exonerate Pakistan of all the charges of money laundering, terrorist financing, and proliferation financing. Thirdly, Kashmir once again will be back on the agenda and this will please Pakistan no end.
However, for India the talks with Pakistan in the backdrop of what is likely to happen in Afghanistan over next few months will prove to be disastrous. Talks with Pakistan will only help Pakistan getting off the hook and bring succor to Imran Khan, who has just survived a political crisis at home. Last but not the least Pakistan will use talks to put back Kashmir once again on top of the agenda.
Whether India has boots or no boots on ground in Afghanistan, it can do very little to influence the peace process and stop the inevitable from happening. A triumphant Taliban marching in Kabul will embolden the Jehadis all over including in Kashmir, creating more problems for India than for any other country in the region.
Thus, India must keep opposing return of the Taliban and continue to follow the same policy of not engaging with PAKISTAN till it gives up cultivating and sponsoring terrorism. India must stick to its views and convey to the world that Taliban is a terrorist outfit and, Pakistan which created and nurtured it is a bigger menace.
Most of all, we need to reconcile to the fact that an unstable, weak and disabled Pakistan is a better guarantee for peace in India instead of a resurgent Pakistan.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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