WE ARE back to square one with regard to India. Since the advent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India in mid June 2014 our relations with our Eastern neighbour seemed to have entered a kind of fast paced seesaw.
It was Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who had extended a hand of friendship by attending Modi’s inauguration celebrations. But not only had the then Indian foreign secretary snootily quashed our PM’s goodwill gesture taking a haughty attitude at a press conference that she addressed to brief the media about what transpired between the two PMs during their meetings but also the proposed visit of her successor to Pakistan to resume comprehensive dialogue between the two countries was cancelled on the flimsy excuse that the Pakistani High commissioner in India had met the APHC leadership prior to the meeting of the two foreign secretaries.
Next the two PMs met in Ufa (Russia) in July 2015 and broke the ice. In a joint statement after the meeting, the Prime Ministers tasked their Foreign Secretaries with announcing a five-pronged statement of progress in their discussions, including meetings between National Security Advisers Ajit Doval and Sartaj Aziz and between military and border security force chiefs of the two nations, and “discussing ways and means” to expedite the Mumbai 26/11 investigations and “providing voice samples” as evidence.
But Aziz’ visit to New Delhi scheduled on August 24, 2015 could not take place as amid intense bickering, Pakistan decided on to cancel the planned meeting of national security advisers, citing New Delhi’s refusal to allow an expanded agenda and a meeting with Kashmiri leaders. The decision was announced after Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj virtually set a deadline for Pakistan to decide by midnight if it was ready to go ahead with the talks by agreeing not to meet the Kashmiri leaders and restricting the discussion to terrorism.
Once again we see the two countries going back to talking mode as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in late November 2014 exchanged pleasantries on the sidelines of the 21st UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. Modi approached Sharif and had a brief chat with him.
This meeting clearly was the result of efforts by interested world leaders worried over rising tensions between two nuclear states to see the two resume their dialogue for a comprehensive settlement of their outstanding disputes.
Immediately following this meeting Pakistan and Indian National Security advisors met in Bangkok, in early December the same year. Foreign secretaries of both countries also participated in this meeting. They reportedly discussed matters related to peace, security and terrorism, including Jammu and Kashmir and Line of Control situation. Both sides also agreed to continue negotiation process in constructive and positive atmosphere.
The positive developments in the relations between the two ostensibly peaked in late December when Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Lahore for a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart in a surprise visit to this country -the first visit to Pakistan by an Indian premier in more than 10 years. Modi visited Sharif’s Raiwind residence in the outskirts of Lahore and attended the marriage ceremony of Nawaz’ grand-daughter.
But on 2 January 2016, these relations once again crashed to the ground as a heavily armed group attacked the Pathankot Air Force Station, part of the Western Air Command of the Indian Air Force. The attackers, who were wearing Indian Army fatigues, were suspected to belong to Jaish-e-Mohammed, an Islamist militant group designated a terrorist organisation. The Azad Jammu and Kashmir based United Jihad Council claimed responsibility for the attack on 4 January.
Media reports suggested that the attack was an attempt to derail a fragile peace process meant to stabilise the deteriorated relations between India and Pakistan, as several pieces of evidence were found allegedly linking the attackers to Pakistan. In mid-January, Pakistan arrested several members of Jaish-e-Mohammed, suspected of involvement in the attack.
A five-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) from Pakistan, comprising intelligence and police officials, reached New Delhi in early March to carry out its own investigation into the Pathankot airbase attack. A day after its return from India, the Pakistani Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the Pathankot attack claimed that Indian authorities “failed” to provide evidence to prove that Pakistan-based terrorists had stormed the IAF base.
Compounding the already tense situation an Indian Navy officer Kul Yadav Bhushan was arrested in Pakistan on 24 March on charges of being involved in “subversive activities”. However, India’s Ministry of External Affairs dismissed the charges and said that while Bhushan is a Navy officer – who retired prematurely – “India has no interest in interfering in internal matters of any country and firmly believes a stable and peaceful Pakistan is in the interest of the region”.
Balochistan Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Bugti on 24 March claimed that Bhushan – who he claimed worked for the Research and Analysis Wing was in contact with Baloch separatists and terrorists fuelling sectarian violence in Balochistan. The minister did not reveal the location of Bhushan’s arrest. However, sources said that Bhushan was arrested from Chaman area of Balochistan, which is close to the Afghanistan border. Pakistan had accused India of fuelling violence in Balochistan and Karachi in the past but it is for the first time that it has claimed arresting a RAW officer. India has dismissed all such allegations.
And on Tuesday Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif lent further credibility to the development stating that hostile intelligence agencies especially the Indian spy agency, Research and Analysis (RAW), are trying to destabilize Pakistan ‘ India has openly challenged the initiative (CPEC).’ He stressed, however that they would not allow anyone to create impediments and disorder in any part of the country.
Perhaps, Indian hostility towards CPEC could be neutralized and its cooperation elicited for the initiative by offering our Eastern neighbour transit trade route to Afghanistan and beyond in return for equitable settlement of all our outstanding disputes including Jammu and Kashmir. China perhaps would also welcome India hitching up to the initiative as it would considerably shorten the trading route between Western China and mainland India. And perhaps this will also guarantee ever lasting peace in the region.