April 22, 2018

Interpreting Bajwa’s Call For Dialogue With India


Interpreting Bajwa’s Call For Dialogue With India

April 21, 2018 Commentaries

If you are the Chief of Army Staff in a country like Pakistan, then you are heard too seriously. Your words are subject to all kinds of interpretations and over-interpretations. This is what has happened in the wake of the present Pakistani army chief’s address on the occasion of the passing out parade of 137th Pakistan Military Academy’s ‘Long Course’.

His mention of ‘dialogue’ with India has led some commentators to conclude that he was backing the process of peace and reconciliation and it should be taken as a positive signal by policy makers in India. That is not the case. In close scrutiny, Gen. Bajwa’s overtures on India may not be as assuring.

This is not the first time that Gen. Bajwa has talked about ‘talks’ with India ever since he assumed office as Chief of the Pakistan army in November 2016; only months after India’s surgical strike across the LoC. It was widely reported that on one occasion, during his visit to a Pakistan army post along the LoC, he had snubbed a commander venting out his spleen against India and expressed his scepticism about advocating a policy of confrontation with India. This was interpreted by many as an instance of Gen. Bajwa’s inclination for dialogue with India.

Some Pakistani observers even said that he shuffled corps commanders and top army posts to ensure that hawks appointed by his predecessor would not obstruct any opening for dialogue with India. In September 2017, he was quoted as saying: “Welfare of millions of people of these two countries is linked with permanent peace” and Pakistan wanted to address the Kashmir issue through dialogue.

In December 2017, in his briefing to the ‘Senate Committee of the Whole House’ on national security, he reportedly signalled to the Pakistani parliament that the army would not oppose dialogue with India. He said that the army “had nothing to do with the retired army officials who appear on TV in the capacity of defence analysts” and the army would abide by the policies formulated by the parliament on all issues including “defence and foreign affairs”!

In March 2018, in his informal interaction with select journalists he talked about having trade relationship with India along the US-Canada model, which was touted as yet another indication of his wish to pursue peace with India. And now in April, he has stated that “the route to peaceful resolution of Pak-India disputes – including the core issue of Kashmir – runs through comprehensive and meaningful dialogue” and “Pakistan remains committed to such a dialogue”. On the face of it, these statements, when quoted selectively, look pretty much like overtures to India for dialogue. However, upon closer reading, the unquoted portions of the statements would reveal that there is hardly any change in the army’s thinking about India.

On all these occasions, the Pakistan army Chief has spoken against Indian forces targeting “innocent and unarmed people on the LoC”; he had also supported the terrorists targeting innocent Indian citizens in Jammu and Kashmir. He has talked about the need for India to seek out “a political and diplomatic process instead of abusing Pakistan and expressed his hope that India would, within years feel compelled to talk to Pakistan! He has emphasized all along that Kashmir remains “the core issue” which India has to resolve. There is thus no appetite in him to go back to the Musharraf formula or restarting the 2004-2007 dialogue that many in India and Pakistan continue to romanticize about.

It must be noted that the growing hold of the deep state over Pakistani society and politics does not augur well for that country. With an obliging judiciary acting in consort to remove strong backers of effective dialogue with India from the domain of democratic politics, Pakistan’s India policy is not at all defined. The army’s perception of India as an implacable enemy remains frozen in time. It continues to shape the limits of engagement with India and would not allow the political leadership to build bridges with India at the cost of what the army perceives “the core national security interests” of Pakistan.

Notwithstanding this however, peace always deserves to be given a chance and it has been the consistent policy of India that dialogue for peace is always welcome, in a conducive environment. For the present,p onus remains on Pakistan to take initiatives towards ensuring such an atmosphere.

Script: Dr. Ashok Behuria, Senior Fellow IDSA

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