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Bajwa’s change of heart on India isn’t enough. All of Pakistani military must be on board

Could the complex India-Pakistan relationship be settled during army chief Qamar Bajwa's tenure even if everyone trusted each other and there were no spoilers?

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The call by Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on India and Pakistan to “bury the past and move forward” is music to the ears of his country’s citizens who have often been described as ‘traitors’ by the establishment for saying similar things.

That General Bajwa tied normalisation of India-Pakistan relations to “the resolution of Kashmir dispute through peaceful means” and made no mention of jihadi terrorism, makes it easy for Indian officials and commentators to shrug their shoulders and say, “What else is new?” After all, negotiations must always be preceded by trust between the parties and that is in short supply between India and Pakistan.

The overall tone of General Bajwa’s speech at the first-ever Islamabad Security Dialogue represented a subtle change of priorities in Rawalpindi. The army chief made no mention of Pakistan’s ideology, recognised the role of “politically motivated bellicosity” in derailing rapprochement between India and Pakistan, and acknowledged the primacy of “demography, economy, and technology.”

By refusing to identify India as a permanent enemy or an ideological rival, General Bajwa is trying to signal that he is the all-powerful military leader some in New Delhi have been looking for, who could settle matters with India’s elected leadership without fear of backtracking.

India’s past experience with Pakistan’s military leaders has made the leadership in Delhi particularly sensitive to intransigence in General Headquarters (GHQ), Rawalpindi. Most Indian experts on Pakistan list past attempts to cut deals with Pakistani generals, as well as civilians, to suggest that it might be a futile exercise.

General Bajwa is definitely different from his predecessors but that alone might not convince sceptical Indians, given the history of the two countries’ relationship. He is not an Islamist ideologue like Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, nor does he have Pervez Musharraf’s arrogance or risk-taking instinct. The current army chief is more in the mould of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, a military man who feels that he must do something for his country, which is unlucky in terms of the quality of its political leaders. But General Bajwa seems aware of Pakistan’s limitations in a way Ayub Khan was not.

Also read: Battered economy, brewing uprising in Pakistan means India can’t rule out adventurism in 2021

Ayub and Zia, the lost years

The Cold War had given Ayub Khan overconfidence in Pakistan’s potential. He thought that the United States and Britain were behind him, that he knew how to assemble a team of Pakistan’s ablest, that he alone could unite the nation, and that he had the formula to put Pakistan on the right track.

Ayub Khan became army chief within four years of Pakistan’s creation. He influenced governments from behind the scene between 1951 and 1958, and wielded dictatorial powers from 1958 to 1969.

Ayub Khan was invited to India’s Republic Day in January 1965. He sent his agriculture minister instead because he was busy preparing for the war, which broke out a few months later. His successor General Yahya Khan was in power at the time of the 1971 war over Bangladesh.

After the Simla Accord of 1972, there was some respite in India-Pakistan tensions during the civilian rule of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. But once Bhutto was overthrown, his successor, General Zia-ul-Haq insisted that the Simla Accord had been signed under duress.

Zia regularly entertained Indian journalists and Bollywood stars, speaking of his desire for durable peace. But he planned and initiated the jihad in Kashmir after receiving US support for anti-Soviet Afghan Mujahideen.

During the decade of quasi-civilian rule after Zia, several rounds of talks yielded no settlement. Pakistani politicians took turns in blaming each other for ‘being soft on India’ and for not trying to secure Kashmir. Jihad in Kashmir intensified.

General Pervez Musharraf undermined Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s understanding with Atal Bihari Vajpayee through his 1999 misadventure in Kargil. Once he assumed total power, Musharraf pursued a two-pronged policy. He retained the jihadi groups while engaging in back-channel diplomacy. Indian Ambassador Satinder K. Lambah, who conducted the back-channel talks, believes that he had almost concluded a comprehensive India-Pakistan peace agreement with Musharraf’s negotiator, Tariq Aziz.

Musharraf’s removal from office made that agreement void well before it could be signed or made public. But the episode only added to Indian scepticism about back-channel negotiations.

Also read: Pakistan agreed to ceasefire because Gen Bajwa had a Musharraf moment

Bajwa’s desires

For his part, General Bajwa joined the army several years after Ayub Khan had gone but seems to have fond memories of that era from his childhood. Pakistan functioned relatively efficiently then, at least for its elites. Foreign leaders and tourists could be seen visiting and respecting the country. International media did not always mention Pakistan negatively. The country did not need to borrow to pay off debts.

Much has changed in Pakistan since General Bajwa’s childhood. The country lost half its territory in 1971 but has quadrupled in population since then. Jihadi extremism and Pakistan’s approach to securing advantage in Afghanistan and against India, coupled with political uncertainty and economic mismanagement, has made the country poorer and weaker.

General Bajwa’s latest public comments only reaffirm what he has been saying in private, including to Pakistan’s opposition leaders. He says he wants Pakistan to become a normal country and understands that it would involve changing many things. But he needs the cooperation and support of several internal and external actors to succeed, which may not always be easy to get.

The army chief has privately conveyed the desire for talks with India about “non-interference in each other’s affairs and revival of bilateral dialogue.” His proposal envisages a step-by-step process. The first step, a ceasefire along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, has already been taken.

If India restores statehood to Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan could declare it a confidence-building measure and discuss a 20-year or so moratorium. That would give Pakistan time to become normal and for India to continue to grow economically.

In General Bajwa’s narrative, he supported PM Sharif’s engagement with PM Narendra Modi and the opening of Kartarpur Corridor, and can be trusted to negotiate with the Modi government in good faith. He would like India and the world to look for alternative explanations for the terrorist attack in Pulwama while giving him credit for not escalating matters after India’s air strike at Balakot. But sceptics would still ask how he might succeed in ending pervasive hostility, built through decades of propaganda, where his predecessors failed.

After all, there are only 19 months remaining in General Bajwa’s extended tenure. He could always ask for another extension, which the law now allows as long as he does not reach the age of 64. That could see him in office until November 2024. Alternatively, he could ensure that his successor shares his views.

Also read: Pakistan Army is now an echo chamber — look at what it did to ex-ISI chief Asad Durrani

A cautious hope

Could the complex India-Pakistan relationship be settled in that timeframe even if everyone trusted each other and there were no spoilers? In the past, Pakistani leaders (including those who combined the positions of president and army chief) found themselves out of office before their relatively late overtures to India could reach fruition.

Moreover, only a handful of Indian commentators buy the argument that better India-Pakistan relations might wean Islamabad away from deeper alliance with China or that India should re-engage with Pakistan just to test waters because nuclear neighbours cannot afford to ignore each other.

From India’s perspective, Pakistan has not dismantled its jihadi infrastructure and has not punished groups and individuals responsible for terrorist attacks targeting India. At a time when Pakistan’s economy is a mess and the country is under international pressure on more than one count, there might be a temptation to let Pakistan’s weaknesses run their course.

Many Pakistani civilians, including this columnist, have written and spoken of the need for normalisation of ties with India and ending support to jihadism as the pre-requisites for Pakistan’s political stability and economic progress.

We have paid a price for our stance and past military leaders have rushed to call us names and accuse us of being foreign agents for deeply held convictions. It is, therefore, encouraging to see that the army chief is articulating views similar to ours for a change.

Outsiders looking for signs of whether there will be a real change in the stance of the Pakistan military, as an institution, should see if there is any diminution in the tendency to look with suspicion upon advocates of fundamental change in the country, especially normalisation of India-Pakistan relations.

Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-11. His books include ‘Pakistan Between Mosque and Military‘, ‘India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t we be Friends‘ and ‘Reimagining Pakistan‘. Views are personal. 

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  1. The author’s heart is in the right place, but his optimism misses many points:
    – Interference in internal affairs is subject to contentious interpretations.
    – Kashmir, Baloch, Afghanistan will always be an issue.
    – The Mullah-Military axis is unbreakable in Pakistan
    – There is a trust deficit between India and Pakistan and within Pakistan.
    – China, Turkey, Iran and possibly Russia will be important factors in the region.

  2. Gen. Bajwa appears to be genuinely in favour of resolving issues with India and so is Imran. They should drop the Kashmir hangover. To keep the opposition and army in good humour they tie the Kashmir bit with the peace talks offer. PPP and Nawaz Sharif are on board to resolve the issue of Kashmir as per LOC. Only hurdle is convincing the Army. Let Pak keep what it has and the the rest with India. Pakistan morally and ethically should have no claim over Kashmir. Despite dividing the country on religious basis, Indian politicians (read Gandhi and his blue eyed Nehru) foolishly blundered in keeping a big chunk of Muslims back in India. Hindus who stayed back were either forced to convert or kicked into India. Whereas foolish Indians prefering to stand on foolish high moral ground not only honoured Muslims in India but paid them special attention by resorting to SECULARISM and Iftar gimmicks. We refuse to learn …

  3. The leaders of the two countries must lead their people to peace, instead of phobias of “other” for cheap politics. Living under the constant fear of other has already told upon the psyche of One and a half billion of the two countries. The way people of the two countries including their political leadership and militaries have been made to dance on the tunes of mafias, has hollowed this great civilization to the core. The two countries must have to realise the importance and necessity of the coordial coexistence to groom their potential to the fullest. This coexistence would pave the way for a better subcontinent and the world , a wish seeded deep in the heart of humanity. Wish and prayers. God bless everyone.

  4. It is history of Scoundrels. All of them towards the end try to be good to avoid running away to US, UK or UAE post retirement.

  5. Imran Khan & Pappu talk in a similar way.
    Pak having lost 4 wars,and now realising they cannot win Kashmir by Force or by bleeding India by 1000 cuts by pumping in jihadi terrorists want to come to negotiating table.Pakis seem to have taken note of the fact China could not steamroll or bully India and have their way in the recent stand off where Indian Army grabbed the mountain tops,gained logistic advantage and forced the Chinese to back off.This factor has worked in the minds of Pak Generals as well as the Doklam stand-off with Chinese where Indian mountain battalions were well entrenched with howitzers,Chinese realizing,they could not be dislodged,were forced to eat their words and talk peace .All these military factors of India acquiring Rafale aircraft and of their Balakot terrorist training camp having got hit by precision Laser guided bombs, have made them realise they cannot win Kashmir by Force .FATF keeping them in watch list ,not getting money from outside to run the country is pushing them to realise that by terrorism or by violent means they cannot win,hence ,better to talk peace at least for some time to get acceptance of international community that Pakistan is in fact trying for peace.This is their move

  6. If only Pakistan gives its obsession with Kashmir, and stops terrosist exports to India, there is room for normalisation of relationship. Pakistan must now admit that its three decades long jihadist war for freeing Kashmir from India has not yielded even one village in Kashmir.

    The writer has ignored another party who are essential for peace process, such as Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed, and people of their ilk. There are of course fiery mullas who advocate jihad against kafir Hindostan. Can the Pakistani Government really stop them?

  7. Pakistan is not in a position to say, do or give to make relationships better with India. It can only beg the parent nation to forgive and help them with food, water, medicines, jobs,
    and all those to sustain in the world in future. And it will be done only if Indians feel pity and forgive them.

  8. The Pakistan has proved itself being a dishonest country from the history, never believe it. Keep vigilant along the borders. We need not to listen to the rogue and beggers.

  9. All pak generals are managing some or other Businesses in Pakistan esp the CPEC projects.
    Pak thought china may screw India but seen how entire world has turned against china in the despite with India. this has brought realization into Pak generals that sooner or later India will disrupt CPEC plans through pak-occupied Kashmir regions. this will end up them in soup being invested heavily their career into these projects.
    that is the cause of their anxiety rather than any change of heart. so India musthold it’s ground that they will only talk to pak if they vacate occupied Kashmir and come through elected govt rather than gun totting generals!!

  10. India must never believe in pakistan, they are planning something new to change their image. India also must plan a twoway plan one for showing the world and other for doing it. India must look interested in peace and in the background we need to work and dismantling pakistan and taking control over it in next 5 years. Out aim must be to grab pakistan out of american hands. Its better to be a hypocrite at this moment. It is a very good opportunity. Take advantage of future problems and make pakistan a headache to the chinese. We can drain chinese money by using pakistan. Our ultimate aim must be to take pakistan and convert the population to hindu or any non mulsim religion.

  11. Pakistan is in a mess, they need to focus all thei energy in reviving the economy first, before thinking of a normal relationship with it’s neighbour. They need to build trust by implemening strict laws and showing proof by arresting the Jihadis…
    Only then progress can be made

  12. Only way forward is to return Kashmir held by Pakistan to India… Then maybe we can forget the Jihadi infra they have or the terrorist they have not handed over to India

  13. Can we trust anything any Paki says ? This country has been bled regularly for the past many decades combating the armed infiltrators from the Paki side. They should show their intention through actions and India should not be naive enough to be caught napping.

  14. To put it simply…the Orthodox Mullahs can’t be trusted..Our country we need to become a powerful country both economically & militarily to keep these rouge Mullahs under check because we cannot trust a Nation that was carved out purely on Religious lines..which says there’s No God…but theirs..

  15. Pakistans COAS and army cant be trusted. They torture their own people and call their democratic leaders traitors. Bajwa is just saying this because he wants a third extension and wants America to support him. Pakistan army is a rouge army. Dont trust these mentally challenged terrorists.

  16. Owne Bennett Jones wrote the following in an article in Dawn, which thoroughly explains why Pakistan is a basket case and why it’s military may have had a change of heart:

    “FOR many decades now the military establishment in Rawalpindi has been complaining that the West has a narrative about Pakistan that is both unfair and impossible to change. This version of Pakistan, they argue, goes something like this: Pakistan is two-faced, pretending to fight militancy when in fact it supports violent jihadists. Furthermore, Pakistan is a badly governed basket case, obsessed with an unwinnable struggle for Kashmir, rendering it unnecessarily hostile to India.”

  17. Time is India’s friend, the longer the rapprochement is delayed, the more favorable the terms will be for India.

  18. indira gandhi could have solved the border dispute once and for all in the simla agreement. but basking in the glory of the victory, she frittered away all the gains.

  19. With booming population of jihadists and estimate of 40 crores by 2040 years and Europe and America closing doors new land has to be found. Bend for 10 years get soft borders and then mauja hi mauja.. infidel girls 4 marriages…

  20. As long as Pakistan will be an islamic state and not a secular one in law and practice, there’s nothing else to talk about.

    A 20 year memorandum sounds more like buying time to attack later.

    The problem with a a tribal state like Pakistan lies in the fact that there is not one clear chief for a set period of time. The Prime Minister does not control law and order over all the country and can be expelled at any time by another coup. The generals are obsessed with India but don’t pay much attention to economic development, infractructure and non-religious education.

    If Pakistan wants to talk to India, it should first sort out its internal problems and decide who is in charge, civilians or the military.

    In the meantime, India has other things to take care of completely unrelated to Pakistan.

  21. Very well articulated. I agree with the assessment. I hope Gen Bajwa also has an offer to create the trust required to forget the past and move forward. I think leaders of both countries owe it to their citizens to solve this 70 year old problem. South Asia has enormous potential to contribute to the progress of the world an its own peoples. I wish our generation witnesses a long lasting peace and cooperation between our nations.

    • India and indians will never believe Pakistan because it has seen enough from pak with 70 years of experience. The print is not mouth piece of pak army.

  22. IT really is over for India Pakistan Relations…. I do not think it will ever be revived. Pakistan has been a rogue nation and will remain one. They cannot be trusted. The only way to regain trust is Vacate Kashmir, shut down CPEC. Get out of Balochistan.

  23. A kind of parliament attack , Mumbai attacks or may be bigger one in the making. All security agencies need to be very very alert.

  24. Pakistan cannot take Kashmir by force, so the question of non peaceful means to settle J&K issue does not arise. So to say that the issue be settled peacefully means nothing. India has made fully and finally integrated the so called IOK as two UTs and hence, there is nothing to discuss about erstwhile IOK. What remains to be settled is about POK including GB. What is Bajwa’s offer on this? Unless this is understood, there is nothing to move ahead. Unlike in the old days, when such statements were made from Pakistani side, entire Indian media would erupt in thunderous applause and assume that once for all, problem is now finally over. This time around, everyone knows that such statements are timed to chime with efforts to get out of FATF or may be a smokescreen to launch attack on India. First stop terrorism, accept new status of erstwhile J&K and India is ready for talks on POK.

  25. Same old. Only words from Pakistan COAS and no action. If he wants to be taken seriously a start can be made by converting Pakistan into a normal state. Punish perpetrators of terror within ( both state and non-state), allow political freedom and elections without military interference, stop hate mongering against religious minorities in Pakistan, give up the obsession with political Islam and get out of India fixation. For all of this, talks with India is not necessary. For Pakistan to become a normal state as the COAS he needs to sort out internal issues. This has nothing to do with talks with India. This call for peace and talks with India is just a facade to try and convince the world. Pakistan first needs to find peace within. This has nothing to do with India.

  26. Sometimes I pity the 20m poor people held hostage by mullahs and the military. Mullahs do it with the soft (religion) power whilst the military fires the shots from all sides. Pursuing politics as a serious career option under the military shadow is a non-starter. So, the system never allowed a leader tall enough to take the country forward emerge. In that sense whatever Nawaz Sharif as a politician could manufacture out of the system is quite remarkable. Education largely mirrors the madrasa model, albeit with English as a language option. Whatever is left of the economy after the military budget allocation goes towards servicing the IMF loans. Sooner, the Chinese will be taking their cuts too. Meanwhile, the deep assets have had their successful run – from Afghanistan to Kashmir and are looking forward to US withdrawal for future self-employment opportunities in Afghanistan.

    With even countries like Bangladesh leaping ahead, and the Arab world minding their own (oil-less future) business, this Bajwa man has to talk peace. Turkey and Malaysia can’t be expected to underwrite all the debts after all! Uncle Sam had had enough of it though. As for Kashmir it’s no brainer; Modi ain’t gonna commit a political suicide and ink Art 370 back in to the constitution.

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