Assessing Pak polity’s comments on talks The Excelsior 01 May 2021
Addressing a news conference in the UAE on 18th Apr, where Qureshi and Jaishankar were on a visit, SM Qureshi stated, ‘Both India and Pakistan will have to think about their bilateral ties. Pakistan is ready to talk with India if it takes back its steps of August 5. Pakistan cannot ignore the Kashmir issue.’ On third party mediation he stated, ‘We welcome third party facilitation […] But no matter what friends like the UAE say, the initiative has to be indigenous.’ There were no comments from the Indian foreign office.
A week later, in Turkey, addressing the press, Qureshi stated, ‘We are not having any peace talks at the moment and the UAE is not facilitating anything.’ This was a complete turnaround in just a week, an action the current Pak government is well known for. The UAE had officially claimed to have provided a platform for Indo-Pak backchannel talks to break the ice.
Earlier this month, facing a shortfall of sugar and cotton, the proposal of Pakistan Economic Coordination Committee to import these from India, where prices were lowest and items available, was rejected by the Pak cabinet, stating it had been ‘deferred till article 370 was restored.’ This decision was against the desires of the army chief, General Bajwa, who mentioned enhancement of trade ties as essential as also the Pak leadership which continuously mentions moving towards geo-economics. Article 370 seems to have become a buzzword within the current Pak polity.
The world is aware that Imran Khan and his government have ‘NO SAY’ in Pak’s foreign policy towards India, which is the domain of the army. They remain a puppet government, remotely controlled by the army leadership. The Pak political leadership also has no lien the professional and private activities of the army. It has no control over the army’s actions or decisions along the LoC.
Possibly, the Pak polity was even unaware of backchannel discussions having taken place. The announcement hurt their sentiments and national standing. Backchannel discussions were reported to be between the Indian NSA selected team and senior Pak army leadership or possibly their ISI head.
Having been ignored, the political leadership resorted to snide comments, hoping to push peace talks between the two nations away. It could also be supported by a breakaway group of generals, unwilling for peace. Regularly mentioning Article 370 was aimed at winning some support from the defunct Hurriyat and Valley political parties.
The truth, which the Pak leadership is aware, is that Article 370 was never part of the original Kashmir dispute. It was introduced by the Indian government in Nov 1956 and came into force on 26th Jan 1957. The Kashmir dispute, even if considered based on UNSC resolution, predates the introduction of the article. Hence, involving it into the dispute is illogical and well known to the Pak polity. Its claim of India resorting to demographic changes is equally ridiculous as residents for decades have been recognized as citizens.
The Pak army, accepting a ceasefire, without any reference to the article, only proves that it is aware of reality.
The fact that the decision to abrogate the article received global support as being India’s internal matter, hurt Pak more. Pakistan waded into the controversy, hoping to gain some recognition, but failed. Imran Khan also acted in haste, post abrogation of the article, and withdrew High Commissioners. If talks are to commence, they must be reinstated. Doing so, would be another U turn on the part of his government.
Hence, he has no choice but to continue supporting his wrong stance. In any case, backchannel discussions in progress would neither involve him nor his government. Hence, comments by Pak politicians carry no weight in Indo-Pak relations, more so with a puppet government in Islamabad.
There are reports emerging of differences cropping up between General Bajwa and his selected puppet, Imran Khan. Imran Khan had begun displaying an independent streak on some subjects. This led to the army deciding to reign in the government by demonstrating its power, compelling it to eat its own words. The launching of the recent agitation by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) was with this intention.
The TLP has been supported by the Pak army and employed at regular intervals to pressurize elected governments. The agitation by the TLP in Nov 2017 was resolved with the Pak army brokering the agreement. The then leader of TLP, Khadim Rizvi, personally thanked General Bajwa. A Pak army officer, Major General Azhar Hayat, was witnessed handing Rs 1000 to each protestor. The PML (N) government was then under fire.
The next set of TLP protests in Nov last year, also led to the current government agreeing to all their demands, which were to have been implemented by now. It was claimed that this was also pushed by the Pak army. With the death of Khadim Rizvi, the government visualised it could renege on the agreement.
As expected, the Pak government acted in haste in the current protests and launched unarmed police against a powerful and prepared adversary, banned the organization and arrested its leader. It could not involve the army to control the agitators, as Bajwa had drawn his redlines. The army was also witnessed supporting the protestors on multiple occasions, sending a strong message.
The police force was battered, suffered heavy casualties including many taken captives. Punjab was on its way to anarchy. Imran had no choice but to eat his own words, open negotiations with an organization he had proscribed as terrorist, just a day prior, and accept all their demands. This impacted police morale, but there was no other solution.
The Pak army watched the situation as it emerged from the side lines. The agreement between the TLP and the government would have the blessings of the army leadership. However, it brought the government back under army control, while displaying its helplessness in controlling fundamental religious organizations on its own soil.
Imran was forced to eat humble pie. His standing as a national leader has taken a battering. His role of being an army puppet has been confirmed. The polity will now have no role in backchannel discussions. Hence, the Pak polity crying on Article 370 is akin to shouting in a soundproof room, where nobody listens. Possibly messages of sympathy to India from Imran Khan, on account of the COVID wave, were at the behest of Bajwa.