The announcement of cessation of ceasefire violations by the two belligerent neighbours wef 24/25 February midnight has drawn varied reactions as expected. Though the decision is welcome since Bharat has always desired peace with its neighbours, the sincerity of Pakistan remains a big question mark. Going by the past experience there is a justified need for the two countries to sign a formal bilateral ceasefire agreement
An unexpected and sudden announcement merely 24 hours prior to the eve of the second anniversary of the Balakot airstrike that had brought two nuclear neighbours to the brink of war has brought cheers on both sides of the Line of Control (LOC). The announcement pertains to the cessation of ceasefire violations which had peaked beyond 5000 in the preceding year resulting in loss of valuable lives, both military and civilian and damage to infrastructure and military assets. The move was welcome justifiably by the border dwellers on both sides but at the same time, Kashmiri political leadership lost no time in politicising the same by claiming it as a vindication of their oft-repeated demand for Indo-Pak talks. Is it really so or they have jumped the gun, as they are used to, needs to be watched. The telephonic consensus reached between the two DGMOs is being wrongly reported as a Ceasefire Agreement. It is, in fact, nowhere near an agreement as per international protocols.
The announcement comes in the wake of the statement made by the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa while addressing the passing out cadets of the Pakistan Airforce Academy on February 3. He had said, “It is time to extend a hand of peace in all directions.” Pakistan’s foreign office hailed his statement as reflective of the country’s desire for peace and security in the region. Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson further said, “Pakistan always believed in peaceful settlement of all issues, including J&K’s core issue. The Army chief’s statement is a manifestation of Pakistan’s firm commitment to the ideals of mutual respect and peaceful co-existence”. The statement surprised many because it came at a time when the diplomatic ties between the two countries were at their lowest and Pakistan’s Prime Minister had recently announced that there would be no negotiations with India till it restored Article 370 in J&K.
In International relations, there are no permanent friends or foes; only permanent are national interests. Peace in the sub-continent is in the national interest of both countries. Pakistan has to accept that non-zero sum game approach with India is in its best interest while India will have to mould itself to play the vital role of an elder brother
Military Calls the Shots
Thus, the offer of honouring ceasefire and cessation of ceasefire violations from the DGMO of Pakistan Army has confirmed one thing yet again that the peace on LOC and foreign policy of Pakistan are decided not in Islamabad (seat of political power) but Rawalpindi (seat of military power). It has also established that among 3M troika of Mullah, Militants and Military that rules Pakistan, Military yields the maximum power and say.
What is perplexing and confusing is the reason for a sudden U-turn by the Pakistan military that survives at home based on an anti-India bogey created through the notion that India is an existential threat and the Pak Army is the sole saviour from that threat.
Reason for Pak Smoking Peace People
Many possibilities come to mind but it would be premature to be judgemental. Has Pakistan lost the battle in J&K and realised the futility of its meddling in its affairs? Was Pakistan under any obligation to China to keep the LOC active in support of Eastern Ladakh’s stand-off and now that the disengagement between the PLA and Indian Army has taken place in the most volatile Pangong Tso lake sector, Pakistan has also been asked by China to go easy? Has Pakistan Army exhausted its ammunition, including the reserves and it’s down to the bottom economic condition is having a telling effect? Or is it the improving relations between Israel and the Arab world and recently held Indo-Saudi Arabia joint Army exercise? Is the American decision under Joe Biden not to abandon Afghanistan in a hurry upsetting the Pakistani calculations? Another factor could be the damages suffered by the Pakistani Army to its military assets along the LOC proving the dictum, “Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches”, because the Indian Army in its punitive retaliation, had hit hard at the Pakistani defences and its military assets. There have been earlier indications of the Pak Army, with the help of PLA, increasing the survivability of its troops and assets through tunnelling at vulnerable areas.
The strong international support garnered by India through its subtle diplomacy resulting in a bitter experience for Pakistan where even the majority of Muslim nations refused to side with it on the issue of Kashmir
One immediate trigger which comes to mind is the valiant response of the Indian Army to the Chinese belligerence in Eastern Ladakh. The professionalism and mettle displayed by the Indian Army has not only surprised the PLA and the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership but its all-time ally Pakistan as well. Pakistan has realised the futility of competing with India and challenging the Indian military might. Coupled with this is the strong international support garnered by India through its subtle diplomacy resulting in a bitter experience for Pakistan where even majority of Muslim nations refused to side with it on the issue of Kashmir.
Breathing Space to Improve Defence
The latest move could also be a ruse to have the much-needed breather to improve its defences. The sudden change in the mindset of the Pakistan Army is very difficult to digest. There appears to be no other visible indicator on the Indian side other than the desire to have peaceful relations with its neighbours. The present Indian Government has been consistent in its stand of Pakistan divorcing itself from cross-border terror and dismantling all terror-related infrastructure before a meaningful dialogue. No such indicators have emanated from Pakistan. The contrary, launch pads are full, infiltration attempts continue, jihadi training camps within PoJK are being re-established under a new organisation called Tehreek-e-Lebek. Cosmetic actions undertaken by Pakistan against established terror leadership to dodge FATF are not very significant. Even FATF has decided to continue Pakistan in the grey list till June, giving it another four months to take action against designated terrorists and terror funding and financing. Pakistan still continues with terrorism as an instrument of state policy and has not taken any serious measures to divorce itself from terrorism that could please India.
The statement of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s adviser on security affairs, Moeed Yusuf, coming close on the heels of Gen Bajwa’s statement did give a slight indication of what was brewing in Pakistan. He said, “If you want peace, we have to move forward. If we want to move forward, everybody has to be rational and not ideological.” But his statement immediately after the ceasefire announcement claiming it as a “win-win” situation for Pakistan defies all logic and puts a question mark on its intent.
Absence of Structured Protocol
Will the current consensus be different from similar exercises in the past after Pakistan had violated brief lull with impunity? The 2003 ceasefire, which was also not an agreement, lasted the longest. The ceasefire was announced unilaterally by the then Pakistan PM on the eve of Eid-al-Fitr and was responded positively by the Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a great votary of peace between the two neighbours. But unfortunately, the agreement was not formalised and it could also last only till 2006 because it was backed by the PMs of both the nations and had the approval of the Pakistan Army because of the humiliating defeat it suffered at Kargil and shifting the focus towards Afghanistan through Taliban insurgency. Such attempts have always remained fragile because of the absence of a structured protocol to ensure their enforcement.
An almost identical statement was made by the two DGMOs in May 2018 as well. But it lasted only for a few months and the LOC became very volatile once again after the Pulwama terror attack and the subsequent Balakot Airstrike by India. Efforts made by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 2015 did not find favourable response from India on two counts. Firstly, Pak wanted a ceasefire to be monitored by UNMOGIP, which was not acceptable to India since it violated the Shimla Agreement's spirit. Secondly, India insisted on Pak proving its sincerity by dismantling all terror infrastructure to which Pak showed no inclination.
Bharat Exposes Pak as Fountain Head of Terror
But times have changed now. India has successfully exposed Pakistan as the fountainhead of terror and Pakistan is a globally recognised hub of terror. Pakistan’s global isolation has compelled it to act against terror on its soil. FATF’s role to compel Pakistan to abandon terror is also critical. The downward spiral in Pakistan’s economy and its realisation of peaceful co-existence with India are drivers of mindset change in the Pakistani establishment. India should now sign a formal ceasefire agreement with strict protocols to check infiltration, cross-border terrorism, narco-terrorism, ceasefire violations including drone dropping or tunnelling, attack on civilian areas and maintenance of peace and tranquillity.
This agreement, if proved successful, could become the stepping stone for a lasting peace between the two neighbours. In international relations, there are no permanent friends or foes; only permanent are national interests. Peace in the sub-continent is in the national interest of both countries. Pakistan has to accept that non-zero sum game approach with India is in its best interest while India will have to mould itself to play the vital role of an elder brother.
(The writer is a Jammu-based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst. The views expressed are entirely personal)