India-Pakistan Relations Remained Frozen Through The Year. Will Things Change in 2023?

One of the core principles of Pakistan’s foreign policy is to pursue peaceful relations with its neighbors. Factually, however, Pakistan had conflictual ties with its eastern as well as western neighbors, namely, India and Afghanistan in 1947. Afghanistan opposed Pakistan’s entry into the United Nations, while questioning the territorial composition of Pakistan with reference to the Durand Line ─ which Pakistan accepts as the international border between the two countries.

With India, Pakistan fought its first war over Jammu and Kashmir in 1947-48. Though the then political leadership of India and Pakistan relatively normalized relations in the post-war period, partition-oriented mistrust affected political narratives and bureaucratic structures in both the countries, thus, leading to more wars in 1965, 1971 and then again in 1999. In addition, there have been scores of cases of cross-border firing and skirmishes at the Line of Control (LoC) and the Working Boundary.

With the exception of the 1971 war that was essentially fought in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, all other wars and skirmishes were Kashmir-centered. In other words, Pakistan and India have kept the armed conflict confined to Jammu and Kashmir, which has factored into their foreign, and defense policy discourses. Little wonder that India does not want to lose Jammu and Kashmir for it would set a precedent for secession for other states and regions in India, while Pakistan feels an ontological insecurity if Jammu and Kashmir is lost or abandoned.

Unlike Pakistan, India seems to have extra-regional aims such as being recognized as a major power. To this end, it is lobbying for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). However, to effectively become one, India has to counterbalance not only Pakistan but also China ─ which is larger and more resourceful than India in area, population, economic strength and military capabilities. Both China and Pakistan are India’s neighbors with a history of territorial disputes, armed clashes and wars. Though China and India ties took a positive turn in the post-Cold War period, mutual misgivings persist. Moreover, in Modi-led India, antagonism, jingoism and populism have trumped rational thinking. It is no surprise then that the Indian military has clashed twice with China in the last five years. Though violence and casualties have remained low-scale, it could affect bilateral economic cooperation.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, the Modi Sarkar attempted to set new military thresholds by crossing into Pakistan’s territory in February 2019. Reactively, Pakistan shot down a couple of Indian jets and captured a pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, who was later handed over to India as a goodwill gesture.

Five months later, India launched another attack, though non-military in character. It unilaterally revoked Article 370 and 35A of its constitution that accorded a special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan-India relations have further deteriorated since then. Though Pakistan did not prefer military means due to constraints such as the FATF, it has projected India as a terrorist state for its gross human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, Pakistan has called on the international community and organizations such as the United Nations to help resolve the conflict as per the UN’s resolutions. However, India has been adamant so far, not budging an inch from its new position adopted in 2019. The prospects of a Modi-led India reversing Article 370 and 35A looks grim in 2023, too.

Besides Jammu and Kashmir, another area of tussle between Pakistan and India pertains to Taliban-led Afghanistan. India, as the world knows, developed close ties, first with the Karzai government and, later, the Ghani-Abdullah set-up. However, it seems clueless on how to deal with the current power dynamics in Afghanistan, where Pakistan and China have played an important role in terms of economic assistance and have maintained de facto diplomatic relations in 2022.

To distract Pakistan from consolidating ties with Kabul and to divert focus to Kashmir, India has been assisting anti-Pakistan actors such as the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The latter has, only recently, carried out suicide terrorist attacks in KP and Islamabad. It has also declared its partnership with a Baloch terrorist organization, which has attacked the state apparatus in Balochistan in recent years. Pakistan’s foreign minister, Mr. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, reactively exposed India’s role in harboring terrorism in Pakistan at a recently held UN session.

Importantly, the newly appointed chief of Pakistan Army, General Asim Munir, visited the Kashmir sector. While addressing the soldiers he said “let me make it categorically clear, Pakistan’s armed forces are ever ready, not only to defend every inch of our motherland, but to take the fight back to the enemy [India] if ever war is imposed on us.”

Last but not least, Pakistan and India continued to observe the ceasefire on LoC and Working Boundary. This is a healthy sign insofar as regional peace and security are concerned. Similarly, a hotline needs to be established to prevent accidental or unintentional launch of a tactical weapon, such as a ballistic missile. An Indian missile crossed the border and landed in Pakistan’s Punjab in March 2022. Luckily, there was no damage done to person and property; however, such weapons are potentially dangerous. Finally, Pakistan and India, as per past trends, observed extremely low-scale trade in 2022. Same was the case with the so-called track-II diplomacy.

What can be summarized in view of the foregoing is that Pakistan-India relations remained non-cordial in 2022. The two sides still seem to be preoccupied with the lingering conflict of Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, the two countries continue to engage in a confrontational discourse on Afghanistan. Each accused the other of sponsoring terrorism against each other. However, Pakistan marked a clarity in its diplomatic approach to project India as a state sponsoring regional terrorism.

Though the two sides observed the ceasefire at the Line of Control, yet Jammu and Kashmir remains the bone of contention. In addition, bilateral trade remained low-scale. If 2022 is an empirical reference, it is hard to predict any major breakthrough in India-Pakistan relations in 2023. Jammu and Kashmir will continue to influence state behavior and government policy as far as bilateralism is concerned. Pakistan will continue to diplomatically highlight the Kashmiri plight globally.

However, Pakistan is not expected to use military means in seeking a solution to the Kashmir conflict. Indo-Pak war is not likely to break out in 2023 due to the presence of nuclear weapons, whose strategic significance is discursively reflected in bilateral conviction to observe peace at the international boarder, LoC and the Working Boundary. A non-hot LoC is a prerequitse to keep the conflict in Kashmir under control.

Pakistan suffered the most economically in 2022. In order to feed its growing population, Pakistan must devise a strategy to reap economic dividends through regional trade. This is the domain that Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, China and the US ought to ponder over in 2023 and beyond. Without trade and economic cooperation, Pakistan will suffer the most, since India is expanding its market connectivity and trade linkages with key stakeholders, including China.

December 31, 2022


By admin

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