Tuesday, 25 January, 2022
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Gen Bajwa wanted a ‘paradigm shift’ with India, but Pakistan military isn’t ready

India and Pakistan have begun to talk but they have not arrived at the moment when it becomes possible to imagine anchoring peace.

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On 1 April, a friend frantically called from Delhi asking me to confirm if the rumour about Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan suffering a heart attack was true, or just an April Fool’s prank. I replied saying that not only was the cricketer-turned-politician doing well but that he seems to have pulled an April Fool’s prank of his own. Imran Khan rejected a proposal made by his cabinet’s Economic Coordination Committee to import cotton and sugar from India, which the PM had himself signed as minister-in-charge of commerce and textile. This was followed by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi insisting that dialogue with India cannot be revived until India withdraws its decision to abrogate Article 370 that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

This looks like the first roadblock in the path of Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s ambition to bring about a ‘paradigm shift’, a desire he expressed during his speech at the Islamabad Security Dialogue on 18 March. It also appears to be a case of the army chief opening his mouth before engaging the traditional proponents of the security establishment. I was also reminded of a conversation I had with my good friend and journalist Nirupama Subramaniam in 2007, who was in Islamabad then as a correspondent for The Hindu, that peace was not a foregone conclusion because it did not have a strong constituency within the national security establishment. It didn’t take long for the departure of both Pervez Musharraf and the peace initiative.


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


Why trade is not so easy

A paradigm shift is strategically and tactically difficult. The biggest problem for any army commander is structural. Not allowing a political leadership to conceive of and implement a peace initiative points to the absence of a protective cushion. A general taking on the responsibility of bringing peace removes his flexibility vis-à-vis his own men. Musharraf didn’t understand this nor does Bajwa. At a tactical level, an about-turn becomes imperative. The social media-conscious security establishment in Pakistan soon realised that moving too fast would look like surrender, a term that brings back memory of 1971.

Social media is abuzz with reminders to Bajwa that his peace talk is similar to what he and his men stopped former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from achieving: use of non-status quo and non-traditional means to bring cooperative peace and stability in the region. So, was the army chief talking peace because Pakistan had no option but to talk to India? General Bajwa may have read out a speech written by de-facto National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf that talked about paradigm shift and geo-economics, but he cannot afford to become more questionable than he already is in front of his generals. It is easy to talk about a shift from geo-strategy to geo-economics, but it’s much harder to manage that shift. In any case, an army chief on extension is like a vehicle on borrowed gas.

The status-quo forces appear visibly unhappy with the domestic implications. They balked, thus forcing Khan to jettison the first step towards a trade initiative that has been in abeyance for two years, and blame the reversal on New Delhi. Senator and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Sherry Rehman accused ‘hawks in India’ for viewing the offer of paradigm shift as India’s victory or driven by Pakistan’s economic compulsions. The argument among the status quoists in the establishment is that India needs peace with Pakistan more than Pakistan does. From building its economy to bringing peace at the Line of Control (LoC), New Delhi has much to gain but must not underestimate the significance of reciprocating on issue central to Pakistan – Kashmir.

People close to the establishment explained to me that the absence of any mention of Article 370 or the UN resolutions from General Bajwa’s 18 March speech indicated that the Pakistan military was perhaps changing as an institution and now wanted territorial status quo. However, the establishment soon realised the high cost of reversing the status quo for its institutional legitimacy. Domestically, appearing as wanting peace more than India would bring into question the reason behind installing a political government that has achieved little, and de-stabilising the democratic process. Geo-politically, the military would contest the impression that India is a bigger beneficiary of peace.


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


New spin doctors

Hardly surprising, then, that by the evening of Imran Khan’s reversal of the trade decision, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) social media activists were trying to justify it as Khan’s foresight and ability to inflict pain on Narendra Modi: India needs to export to Pakistan more than Pakistan needs to buy from India. Pakistan’s parallel universe reminds one of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Not too long ago, Moeed Yusuf, the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on National Security who imagines himself to be the NSA, spoke about India’s negative growth and Pakistan being on the path of economic transformation of the kind that would soon make ‘immigration officials in other countries salute [Pakistan’s] green passport’. He is the newfound spin-doctor of Pakistan’s deep state.

Business journalist and Dawn columnist Khurram Hussain seems to suggest that the reversal of decision to import may have been an unintended consequence of Pakistan’s business and industrial lobby reading too much into General Bajwa’s speech, and thus lobbying for permission to procure from India. Hussain argues that the Pakistani military may be behind the reversal rather than PM Khan going on his own.


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


Pakistan’s struggle with self-image

The fundamental lesson for India here is the same as before — economic imperative alone will not convince Pakistan to change course. The financial burden, combined with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-driven sanctions, have made the economy suffer. But the military is still not convinced that wanting people to not ‘eat grass’ for the sake of military security or letting its national security guard down is also an option.

The national security establishment looks confident of its recent tactical gains in Afghanistan — the long-term threat from having Taliban in power is ignored — and is busy building its options in Central Asia to claim its share of power and role in West Asia. One of the themes that came up during the Islamabad Security Dialogue was about treating South Asia as two: India and the rest of the region versus Pakistan, and Afghanistan opening up to Central Asia, Russia and China. Islamabad would now want New Delhi to remember that while Bajwa spoke about transformation, he also insisted upon India offering something to Pakistan that would feel like gain. Opening trade alone doesn’t wash. Some change in the new legal-constitutional framework in Kashmir is being asked for. From the looks of it, Pakistan’s national security community still believes that reversing Article 370 decision is doable for the Modi government. This goes hand-in-hand with its limitation of not being able to pull out jihadis from its hat in the foreseeable future. It’s not just the fear of economic sanctions but the need to build a positive narrative about Pakistan that seems to be the driving factor.

Although the backchannel dialogue seems to have eased some tension, there remains a large gap between expectations of policymakers and the hard reality of policymaking. One option is for new initiatives like cross-border trade in Kashmir. There is also the fact that beyond a point, the political cost for Narendra Modi may increase if not become entirely unaffordable. Perhaps, it will help to engage in some more backchannel deliberations to further understand the exact markers regarding expectations and possibilities. India and Pakistan have begun to talk but they have not arrived at the moment when it becomes possible to imagine anchoring peace.

The author is a research associate at SOAS, London and author of Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy. She tweets @iamthedrifter. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant Dixit)

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26 COMMENTS

  1. How is the relationship between bajwa and ISI chief as hinted by Mrs.Jyothi Malhotra?

  2. Pakistan is a nation that has been founded by the whims and ego of Jinna based on the hatred to the Hindus.
    Pakistani army that hold the supreme power in Pakistan directly or indirectly, and bear the grudge of losing to the Indian army in the four wars has proven detrimental to the economic health of their own country. It is more a force that is concerned with pampering and fattening themselves at the cost of the prosperity of their own nation.
    First, they do not want normalisation of relations with India in order to keep themselves relevant and siphon off a big chunk of public exchequer to prosper themselves. They are blind to see where money will come without economic development.
    In order to uphold their agenda they control the media and the teaching institution. Media is ridiculously made to portray India as a Hindu country in which oppressions are heaped on the Muslims. Educational institutions are made to project Hindus as Kafirs and abominable.
    Even while Indian Muslims , a population bigger than the Pak population, thanks to their sound economic condition and comfortable position, thumb their nose at the vain and queer concern of the Pak media, the Pak media is coerced to show the condition of Indian Muslims as poor and tormented by Hindus in India, all in order to vindicate the Two Nation Theory . On the contrary Pakistan could not grant even a sound social status to those who migrated to Pakistan and they are still Mohajirs.
    Educational institutions are made to teach a distorted version of history to poison their mind against India in general and Hindus in particular. This is done to fuel fundamentalism borne out of this hatred and raise fundamentalists, terrorists and mercenaries to be used as cheap weapons. Foolishly, the Pak army thinks that India can be brought to its knees by these forces.
    Using media and educational institutions, the Pak army wants to continue the hatred towards India and Hindus.
    Even judiciary is not free from the dominance of the army.
    But Pakistan is being immensely harmed by the stubborn and obsessive stand.
    Where there is fundamentalism, ruling the roost, there cannot be an inflow of the foreign investment, direct or portfolio. The succour obtained from the USA was diverted to terror funding and weapon purchase. Pakistan has such a notorious image of a breeding ground of terrorism, that no foreign company will desire to do business in Pakistan. Even the Islamic countries, Pakistan once counted upon, have now refused to extend moral, strategic and financial support.
    Even if the Pak government wants to take some economically sound decision, the army forces it to withdraw the decision and revert back to its stubborn stand. The scenario and plight of an almost bankrupt country clearly shows that it was not partition but isolation of Pakistan in 1947.
    India and its economy are big enough to give a damn to conditional relationship and business with Pakistan. It is Pakistan and not India who is in need of the bilateral ties and business between the two countries.
    If Pakistan has to tide over the economic spiral down-slide, it will have to shun fundamentalism and its anti-Indian stand . It will have to be secular and economically pragmatic in its policies. And last but not the least Pak army will have to be proportionate in its role just as its Indian counterpart.

  3. Pakistan is a nation that has been founded by the whims and ego of Jinna on the basis of hatred to the Hindus.
    Pakistani army that hold the supreme power in Pakistan directly or indirectly and bear the grudge of losing to the Indian army in the four wars is now proving to be detrimental to the economic health of their own country. It is more a force that is concerned with pampering and fattening themselves at the cost of the prosperity of their own nation.
    First they do not want normalisation of relations with India in order to keep themselves relevant and siphon off a big chunk of public exchequer to prosper themselves. They are blind to see where money will come without economic development.
    In order to uphold their agenda they indirectly control the media and the teaching institution. Media is ridiculously made to portray India as a Hindu country in which oppressions are heaped on the Muslims. Educational institutions are made to project Hindus as Kafirs and abominable.
    Even while Indian Muslims , a population bigger than the Pak population, thanks to their sound economic condition and comfortable position, thumb their nose at the vain and queer concern of the Pak media, the Pak media is coerced to show the condition of Indian Muslims as poor and tormented by Hindus in India, all in order to vindicate the Two Nation Theory . On the contrary Pakistan could not grant even a sound social status to those who migrated to Pakistan and they are still Mohajirs.
    Educational institutions are made to teach a distorted version of history to poison their mind against India in general and Hindus in particular. This is done to fuel fundamentalism borne out of this hatred and raise fundamentalists, terrorists and mercenaries to be used as cheap weapons. Foolishly, the Pak army thinks that India can be brought to its knees by these forces.
    Using media and educational institutions, the Pak army wants to continue the hatred towards India and Hindus.
    Even judiciary is not free from the dominance of the army.
    But Pakistan is being immensely harmed by the stubborn and obsessive stand of the Pak army against India.
    Where there is fundamentalism, ruling the roost, there cannot be an inflow of the foreign investment, direct or portfolio. The succour obtained from the USA was diverted to terror funding and weapon purchase. Pakistan has such a notorious image of a breeding ground of terrorism, that no foreign company will desire to do business in Pakistan. Even the Islamic countries Pakistan and once counted upon have now refused to extend moral, strategic and financial support.
    Even if the Pak government wants to take some economically sound decision, the army forces it to withdraw the decision and revert back to the stubborn stand of the army. The scenario and plight of an almost bankrupt country clearly shows that it was not partition but isolation of Pakistan in 1947.
    India and its economy are big enough to give a damn to conditional relationship and business with Pakistan. It is Pakistan and not India who is in need of the bilateral ties and business between the two countries.
    If Pakistan has to tide over the economic spiral down-slide, it will have to shun fundamentalism and its anti-Indian stand . It will have to be secular and economically pragmatic in its policies. And last but not the least Pak army will have to be proportionate in its role just as its Indian counterpart.

  4. A much needed clarification/counter article to the Pakistani propaganda on double U-Turn, Geo-Politics and Geo-Economics concepts.

    It would be nice to have more to read from Ms. Siddiqa and Mr.Haqquani (Hussain) (independent strategists) rather than the establishment regurgitation (failed policies leading to Pakistan bankruptcy) from Dawn. or any other Pakistani newspaper.

  5. This is what is called Utopia.Pakistani’s think that India is more in need of peace with Pakistan than Pakistan wants with India.These fools don’t realise that no one in India even think about Pakistan.Pakistan is not even equal to many Indian states either in terrtorial dimensions or GDP . Make no mistake.No prime minister in India will be able to hold on to his position even for one minute if he makes any compromise on Kashmir. Kashmir is the soul of India where Hinduism blossomed under giants like Abhinava gupta. Somananda and Uthpaladeva from time immemorial.

  6. What do you expect from a Pakistan Bowler. Once he bowls a fast delivery, and next a wide one. This is the competence of a cricketer now turned Prime Minister . Thanks to the Army and ISI.

    Only the Almighthy can save this nation if it thinks of remaining one.

  7. Pakistan is busy digging its own grave and fast . When people are are so bent on self destruction, it’s our duty to help. What are friends for 😂

  8. We are raring to go. We would love to provide pakistan free tomattoes. In return, pakis have to reciprocatr with LOVE.
    LOTS of chhhuts can be ptovided to us in return. Thank you.

  9. Its quite confusing as to who is running pakistan n from where ? Is it Islamabad or Rawalpindi ? Or an invisible third power ?

  10. The Print is founded with BRIBE money from Augusta Westland Helicopters, They dont know meaning of Journalism, their journalism is scam.
    They write for whoever pays them.
    I DON’T SUPPORT YOUR JOURNALISM.

  11. “…India needs peace with Pakistan more than Pakistan does”

    LOL, barring few leftists and Muslims, I have never seen anybody too interested in having warm relations with Pakistan. Don’t go by sentimental comments on some YouTube videos, the allover image of Pakistan in India is terribly negative.

    We are happy that a border exists between us two. The word ‘Pakistan’ is an abuse in our part of the world.

    Saying that India needs Pakistani economy more than vice versa is laughable but then, delusions of grandeur has always been Pakistan’s problem.

    It’s India’s market that the world(Including Pakistan) is after. It’s Bollywood that every Paki celeb wants to work in, it’s IPL that every Pakistani cricketer and presenter secretly wishes to be a part of. Everybody in Pakistan wants to visit and travel to India, what does Pakistan even have as a notable tourist destination ?

    Still, Paki deep state thinks that India should compromise…lol. If Pakistan wants to have an eternal enemity, so be it, we have nothing to lose.

  12. A one sided narrative based on delusional assumption. You walk forward and then step back that the other party now has compulsive need to take a step forward to reach out is absolutely a no go in International diplomacy or any negotiation for that matter. While this political dispensation lasts in pakistan, it will serve India’s objective of a weaker pakistan and peace on Indias western border

  13. As it stands there will never be peace between India and Pakistan. The army installed IK as PM and IK owes his existence both, as PM and his mortal being to the army. The Army could just as easily depose him and even assassinate/execute him under concocted circumstances. IK is just a figurehead not even a puppet in Pakistan. The Army does not even have to pull any strings.
    The only way there could be peace is if Pakistan implodes into its constituent components- Sindh, Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan. That is not possible in the foreseeable future. It will be a war of attrition until then. It seems economically at the moment that Pakistan will be the worse for wear in this war of attrition. A worse case scenario would be if China takes over Pakistan as a vassal state then we would have China, a more formidable enemy to counter.

  14. Great article!

    Detente with India will serve the security interests of Pakistan better. But who will convince the Pakistani political leaders who believe that this will make them unpopular in their country?

  15. Clear wishful article without any substance in it. Peace with Pakistan is impossible. Its hatred towards India, can ruin it, but it will not extend olive branch. Remember it is a inalienable partner in Chaina Belt and Road project. India must not listen to all this

  16. Let people’s representatives of Gilgit- Baltistan and Azad Kashmir decide whether they want to be parts of Pakistan or join the union territories of Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir of India

  17. With Pakistan, it is always one step forward, two steps backwards. So, don’t take the live branches offered by Pakistan seriously.

    Now, we know one more truth about Pakistan. Power is neither in Islamabad nor in Rawalpindi. Where is this Deep State situated? Who runs it? Is it so powerful in Pakistan that even the almighty Gen Bajwa has to take a step back?

    There is no salvation for Pakistan in near future.

  18. It seems, you have got good sources and information network in our neighbors territory knowing that, who thinks what and who wants what,
    Please put in front of the world that,
    what we the People of India thinks and what the Indian government wants,

  19. It seems, you have got good sources and information network in our neighbors territory knowing that, who thinks what and who wants what,
    Please put in front of the world that,
    what we the People of India thinks and what the Indian government wants,
    Please, do make your sources and information network strong here in our Nation. In this edge of information and disinformation people are empowered with 4G now a days, Please Stop heavenly Editing and connect here with the ground realities and aspirations of our Nation, then you will not feel marginalized anymore.
    You are Nice thinker and you deserve the best, “But” here in our Nation.

  20. Imran Khan,as a commerce minister, approved trade between two countries. Later Imran Khan ,as a prime minister ,rejected the trade between two countries. Nothing can be more comical than this.

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