Has the era of Pakistan-India détente finally arrived?
There are flickers of hope that Pakistan and India can perhaps initially agree to disagree on a Kashmir compromise that will finally bring relief to the decades-old miseries of the people of Kashmir and end tension between two nuclear-armed neighbours.
Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa’s words and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s peace gestures, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two messages, hotline decision to maintain ceasefire and some progress on water sharing talks have all occurred back to back in a short span of time as backchannel diplomacy continued.
For a lasting solution of key dispute Pakistan has long been insisting that the true representatives of Kashmiri people must be included in any final settlement and now there seems to be a broad consensus that all three parties should be recognized as stakeholders if only conducive environment is to be created.
Pakistanis should also make sure that the signals coming from India and PM Modi are not just tactical and time-bar adjustments aimed at winning the confidence of Five-Eyes to emerge as a new world order’ Super Power’, securing a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, and taking a driving seat in the Quad Alliance aimed against Pakistan’s strategic ally China and particularly the CPEC.
If truly interested in a long-lasting peace in Kashmir, experts say that Pakistan and India can review an East-West German-style approach being suggested by certain observers worried about ongoing tension between Islamabad and New Delhi ever since India abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and divided the valley into three separate entities 18 months ago.
There is an understanding here that a breakthrough was possible if ‘honest mediation or facilitation’ is undertaken by countries that have friendly relations with both states and backed by new US Administration which has its own requirements in a broader campaign against China.
Recent positive gestures by the two sides confirm that leaders in Pakistan and India were now gearing to offer security and economic incentives to the hard-hit Kashmiri people.
There is a realization that continuation of confrontation would only result in self-inflicted injuries to all and added to the sufferings of Kashmiri people.
Pakistan had earlier insisted for an out-of-the box approach if not a direct solution in order to give a break to the tragic events unfolding in the IIOJK.
Now even if the two sides are not ready to fully endorse the Musharraf-Vajpayee Agra formula or Bhutto-Indira Gandhi’s Simla Accord, Islamabad and New Delhi could agree to an East-West Berlin-style agreement and give peace a chance.
Such an accord would bring immediate relief to Kashmiris with the release of all political prisoners, lifting of restrictions in India-held areas and allow the Kashmiris from both sides to be free from any restrictions on family, social and economic interactions.
Diplomatic facilitation, if not open mediations whether by the UAE or Bahrain with Saudi Arabia’s blessings would always be welcomed by at least two stakeholders (Pakistan and Kashmiris) if it could genuinely address the fundamental issues.
Meanwhile, the US Secretary of Defense Austin Lloyd’s recent meetings with India’s top leadership with possible delivery of a message by President Biden could also make the difference in softening New Delhi’s stance.
Experts believe that a 15-year bilateral détente between East and West Germany before the peaceful unification could be the road that Pakistan and India are considering to take.
According to the German formula, rival sides could maintain differing standpoints while a mutual desire for goodwill prevailed in the greater interest of ending the conflict and human sufferings.
In September 1987, the then Federal German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the then East Germany’s Erich Honecker did maintain their contradictory positions during the first step to peace but agreed to a continued détente for the prosperity of the then divided region.
Similarly, once political and security tensions are relaxed, as next stage of a rapprochement between two Kashmir regions, the Border Security Force can be directed to stop killing or detaining locals who attempt to cross Line of Control (LoC) for family reunion, social visit or trading.
A peaceful environment in the region can surely open the way for a broader move to win the hearts of Kashmiris who still dream to live free from all restrictions and horror even 74 years after Pakistan and India became independent countries.
Once the will of the people and peace is allowed to prevail, Pakistani and Indian leaders can cooperate to reduce the risks of dangerous calamities like COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and poverty.
PM Imran Khan’s goal to end poverty, fight climate and move towards economic revival would see little progress without stability in the region.
The time has come to give peace and Kashmiris a chance to live peacefully without anymore fears and tears.
The new era of tranquility, harmony and prosperity is knocking on the door of the region if only Pakistan and India answer the peace call.
— The writer is senior Pakistani journalist with more than three decades of professional experience and is specialised on regional and international affairs.