Engaging with India | By Dr Shoaib Baloch

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Engaging with India

PAKISTAN and India are at odds over a number of issues, but the most prominent problems that have created a perpetual state of animosity are an unresolved Kashmir imbroglio and terrorism challenge.

However, water dispute, Sir Creek issue, Siachen and strategic animosity—arms race, military modernization and alliances vis-à-vis counter-alliances—are also bones of contention.

The bilateral relationship has received a setback when India rescinded the autonomous status of Kashmir on 5 August 2019.

Pakistan, in response, degraded its diplomatic and commercial relations with India and started a diplomatic campaign to pressurize the letter to reverse its unilateral action.

Nevertheless, the Indian government considers its action in Kashmir a fait accompli and Pakistan’s diplomatic offensive is nothing but flogging a dead horse.

This was perhaps the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Despite India’s belligerent posture, Pakistan has offered an olive branch to resolve the bilateral issues through dialogue.

Yet, India attempts to isolate Pakistan internationally which is nothing more than wool gathering given Pakistan’s geostrategic, demographic and military importance in the world.

India alleges that the indigenous struggle for self-determination in Kashmir is of Pakistan’s making.

It shrugs off the public collective consciousness for freedom. It is an identity and symbolic movement to extricate the yoke of Indian illegal occupation of the territory without the consent of aboriginals.

India brands the indigenous freedom struggle of Kashmiris as ‘terrorism’ and alleges that it has been perpetrated by Pakistan.

On the other hand, Pakistan rebuffs this allegation and maintains that the country itself is a victim of terrorism which is fomented by India.

Recently, the TTP has stepped up its terrorist activities across the country. The National Security Committee meeting recently reiterated ‘zero tolerance’ against terrorism.

It was maintained in the NSC huddle, “Pakistan’s security is uncompromisable and full writ of the state will be maintained on every inch of Pakistan’s territory.”

For national security, nipping the terrorism challenge in the bud is essential. Yet, it can be only possible through a regional counter-terrorism mechanism.

If terrorism is an irritant that has created a wide chasm between Pakistan and India, it will also provide a common ground for engagement.

Militant outfits pose a threat to regional peace as both the countries are vulnerable to the threat of terrorism.

Recently, Pakistan has exited the FATF grey-list by completing all substantial, technical and procedural of both 2018 and 2021 action plans.

It proves that Pakistan is not supporting terror financing, so India must acknowledge the fact and end its averment against Pakistan.

As terrorism is back in the region which poses national and regional security challenges, Pakistan may offer India to jointly deal with the menace of terrorism by creating a joint regional mechanism.

It not only prepares grounds for eliminating terrorism, but also provides an avenue for engagement to resolve the bilateral issues by wiping out the contentious irritant: terrorism.

It will certainly pave the way for resolving Kashmir issue provided that India resigns from its hegemonic posture, creating conducive environment for dialogue.

For countering-terrorism, a regional counter-terrorism body is to be created. All important regional countries are to be invited to create a joint front to eliminate the menace of terrorism in the region for good.

The Regional Counter-Terrorism Mechanism (RCCM) is to be comprised Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Pakistan and the US.

It will greatly facilitate the regional countries to engage on a common ground. Pakistan and India will no longer censure each other for supporting terrorism; however, both countries respond collectively to terrorism challenge in the region.

The counter-terrorism body will operate jointly. It can include intelligence sharing, eliminating the regional network of militant groups through obstructing their sources of finance and man power and arms control.

It significantly enfeebles insurgents to carry out terrorist activities. However, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization also provides a platform to deal with regional terrorism challenge.

The Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) body of the SCO can significantly help member countries to create a united front to eliminate terrorism, extremism and separatism challenges.

The counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capacity building of member countries play a key role in curbingterrorism.

It is imperative to engage with the Afghan Taliban government. Instability in Afghanistan will aggravate regional peace.

The more Afghanistan is neglected, the greater chances of terrorism challenges as militant outfits will find Afghanistan a fertile ground to breed and operate there bereft of any impediment.

Therefore, regional countries—more significantly India and Pakistan—find Afghanistan a common ground to engage for regional stability.

In addition to this, changing regional geopolitics also offers aright set of circumstance for India and Pakistan to set about to resolve their bilateral issues.

The US President Joe Biden met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in November 2022 in Bali, Indonesia.

Even though both global powers have divergent strategic interests and consider each other geopolitical rival, the meeting of Biden and Xi has postponed the New Cold War sine die.

If China and the US appear to be not on collision course at least for now, it will provide room to India and Pakistan to patch up their differences which have been created by the virtue of great power competition in the region.

As India developed strategic partnership with the US against China, it disrupted the regional strategic balance and created security dilemma for Pakistan.

Now the US appears to be creating a balance equation between India and Pakistan, so it alleviates Pakistan’s apprehension of being strategically outweighed.

Therefore, Pakistan may cease this opportunity to avail itself of the good offices of great powers to persuade India for dialogue.

—The writer is a strategic affairs and foreign policy analyst.