Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj were supposed to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly this week. India called it off only one day after it was announced, following the killing of an Indian border guard in the disputed region of Kashmir. In response to the incident, the Indian forces fired at a helicopter carrying Farooq Haider Khan, the premier of the Pakistani Kashmir while the aircraft was flying over a border village. He survived, however.
The escalation in neighbors’ relations comes while Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India in late July congratulated his new Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan for election victory, hoping to start a dialogue to settle their rifts. On August 22, the Pakistani PM suggested that the two rivals, both armed with nuclear weapons, start the talks over the disputed Kashmir.
The message caused some optimism about a final solution to the dispute. Bu abruptly the hope for peace gave place to a cloud of fear and threat overshadowing the neighbors’ relations.
Alwaght has talked to Nozar Shafee, an Indian Peninsula affairs expert, asking him for comments on the causes of the new Pakistani-Indian relations’ stress.
Mr Shafee first pointed to the traditional dispute over Kashmir as the root cause of today’s tensions, saying that this crisis is subject to highs and lows under various conditions. India thinks, according to him, that Pakistan is currently under pressure from various aspects, including from the US, and that they should take advantage of this situation. Washington has two options in relation to Islamabad: First, it should choose between India and Pakistan and it already picked India. And the second option is related to Trump’s strategy in South Asia, part of which is pressure against Pakistan. This is a moving situation and the tensions are influenced by it.
He continued that another issue is the broadening polarity in Asia-Pacific region which automatically strains Pakistan-India ties.
“We are in front of Indo-pacific region’s alliance comprised of India, the US, and their Western allies. On the opposite side, there is Asia-Pacific bloc which is led by China, with a China-Pakistan alliance as its essence. Beijing and Islamabad are engaged in a joint project, dubbed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as part of China-led “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Heavily upset by this partnership, India takes negative approaches towards Pakistan. Add to this equation Iran and Afghanistan. India’s close cooperation with the two, likewise, puts strains on Pakistan. New Delhi’s presence in Afghanistan is successfuland its contract with Iran to develop Port of Chabahar marks its considerable regional activism.”
These issues collectively cause frictions like what happened at the UNGA. When India labels Pakistan as the source of cross-border terrorism, the Pakistanis normally respond both by defending their stances and by defending Kashmir.
When asked about the obstacles blocking the dialogue between the neighbors including India’s rejection of Imran Khan negotiation offer, Mr Shafee replied: ”Even if in addition to Imran Khan other Pakistani officials suggest dialogue, very likely there will be no negotiations on Kashmir. At best, they will discuss economic cooperation. This means that any talks will lead to temporary de-escalation and an ultimate solution to their row on Kashmir looks unatainable. Perhaps it was good for the Indians to positively respond to Imran Khan’s proposal for talks in any area.”
He added: “Indians will come to the negotiating table, to discuss Kashmir or any other matter, only if they make sure that the talks will not harm their interests related to Kashmir, as New Delhi considers the disputed region as an inseparable part of it. If Pakistan seeks to raise the Kashmir case as an international case— and such an effort has been underway by the Pakistanis so far at the UN—, India will certainly object. So, the Indian assessment of Imran Khan’s proposal is that it is far from being capable of fundamentally solve their problems.”
The Iranian expert also addressed the Imran Khan’s tough past position on India, maintaining that in Pakistan it is not the politicians who make decisions on the ties with India. Rather, it is the army generals, followed by the religious leaders. He continued that every politician who wants to make decisions in relation to India out of the orbit of these two decision-making centers will run into challenges.
“Certainly, Imran Khan’s suggestion was not without coordination with these two significant decision-making centers. But we should see how the Indians view the PM’s suggestion. If they believe that Imran Khan is still the one who repeatedly opposed dialogue with New Delhi or because the military leaders are the key decision-makers the PM’s stances are invalid, then they may, as a show gesture, decide to accept the talks proposal in a bid to avoid being recognized by the global public opinion as anti-negotiation party. So, their negative reaction to the offer indicates that their assessment is that there is no serious will in Islamabad to solve the rifts.”
Alwaght asked Mr Shafee to draw a picture of the future of the Indian-Pakistani relations. He was very clear, saying it is unlikely that the two see a serious settlement of their dispute under Imran Khan or any other PM in the near future. And their best moves can only de-escalate the tensions.
“At best, they can minimize the security frictions and improve the economic transactions. A view can grow both in New Delhi and Islamabad that expansion of economic partnership can bear negotiations on Kashmir. There are an array of scenarios on Kashmir. But the case’s being a territorial and border matter makes it hard to settle. Since 1947, there have been ups and downs in their ties, but they never allowed an ultimate solution to the crisis.”