LoC Ceasefire Gives Positive Vibes. Could It Be ‘Modi-Khan Re-Engagement’?
The recent announcement of a ceasefire along the Line of Control in Kashmir between India and Pakistan is a welcome news. While the de-escalation was initiated by the respective militaries, it is an opportunity for a broader thaw in relations. The restoration of frozen diplomatic engagements and people-to-people contacts can be logical next steps.
It would be naive to think that the peace process will be easy, given the tragic history of the region. The hot-button issues of Kashmir and cross-border terrorism continue to bedevil mutual ties. But recognizing the futility of conflict between nuclear-armed neighbors is a good start. The specter of mutually assured destruction is a strong wake-up call for long-time adversaries.
Cutting military losses and civilian deaths helps in calming public opinion. But it will take a lot of confidence-building to speed up peace efforts. As in the past, hardliners on both sides with a vested interest in continued conflict could play a disruptive role. We should expect setbacks, mishaps, and, probably, occasional skirmishes going forward.
Both countries have drifted far away from the good neighborly relations desired by earlier leaders. Mahatma Gandhi said “both India and Pakistan are my country” days before his assassination by a Hindu extremist. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, wanted India and Pakistan to have “an association similar to that between the US and Canada.”
The hope and momentum for peace from the 2003 ceasefire quashed by the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, blamed on elements based in Pakistan. In turn, Pakistan accused India of dragging its feet on resolving the Kashmir issue. But neither country should forego the opening created by the current stoppage of hostilities, despite expected stumbling blocks.
The 1972 Shimla Agreement, mutually agreed to by India and Pakistan, can serve as a blueprint to rebuild mutual relations. Its guiding principles emphasise respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; respect for each other’s unity, political independence; sovereign equality; and renouncing hostile propaganda.
Conditions on the ground do favor India. Prime Minister Modi goes from strength to strength. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has expanded its electoral footprint across the country. Modi has shrug-off well-founded criticism that his Hindu majoritarian nationalism is eroding Indian secular and democratic traditions. The Indian economy appears to be handling the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic reasonably well. A re-occurrence of India’s recent serious border incidents with a much stronger China seems to be the only major threat on the horizon.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Imran Khan recently won a narrow vote of confidence from the lower house of Parliament. The Pakistan economy is a basket case, overburdened by loans and teetering on default. Khan doesn’t have the strong performance record and immense political capital to match Modi. For now, Khan can count on the support of his powerful military benefactors. In any case, the push for peace with India will need the blessing of the all-powerful Pakistan military that has veto power on national security decisions.
The United States and China can play a key role in reducing tensions between India and Pakistan. The US’s interest is that India remains focused on developing its economic and military might to serve as a counterweight to China. Similarly, China is keen to assist Pakistan’s military modernization aimed at containing India. But it doesn’t want to risk the billions it has invested in the struggling Pakistan economy in case of an India-Pakistan conflict.
To advance the peace process, the leadership of both countries must think outside the box and act decisively. While there is a potential for strong domestic backlash, Pakistan should recognise the Line of Control as a permanent border. It must end assistance for the lingering insurgency in Indian Kashmir through the infiltration of militant fighters. India must cease the widespread human rights violations against its Kashmiri citizens.
It is time to find the political will to end the perpetual animosity and bloodshed. This means giving up hubris and triumphalism and reviving the bonds of shared culture, religion, race, and language. The unfortunate practice of feeding delusionary nationalisms must halt.
India and Pakistan should focus on the common challenges of poverty, unemployment, and climate change. They must strive for open borders, thriving trade, and strengthening regional connectivity. Achieving honorable and sustainable peace, however difficult, is the only way forward.