INDIA-PAK THAW? Not so fast

by K.S. Tomar

Contrary to expectations, while taking a ‘political decision’ not to lift a ban on the import of sugar and cotton from India despite severe economic crisis, Pakistan government has re-emphasized the notion of ‘Kashmir Phobia’ which reigns supreme in the minds of army generals and politicians in Islamabad, thereby ignoring woes of people and seriousness of economic depression which has hit this nation hard.

Pakistan government took a U-turn in importing cotton and 500,000 metric tons of sugar from India, dragging Kashmir into the imbroglio, which may bear on the UAE efforts to start a peace process between the two neighbors.

Pakistan decided to suspend bilateral trade with India in August 2019 after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A. However, one factor was also the 200% tariff imposed by India on Pakistani imports earlier while revoking Pakistan’s Most Favored Nation status after the Pulwama terrorist attack, which was abetted and supported by the army of that country.

A cursory look shows that India’s exports to Pakistan dropped nearly 60% to USD 816.62 million and its imports fell by 97% to USD 13.97 million in 2019-20. Over the years, nicknamed as “Little Sparta’’ by US generals like former Defence  Secretary Jim Mattis, UAE is without any military power but immense ambition as peace broker as witnessed during last year’s Abraham accord between Israel and Arab states.  UAE’s latest project is audacious as it pertains to  India and Pakistan’s negotiations, which led to the unexpected Feb 25 announcement by DGMOs of India and Pakistan to respect the 2003 ceasefire agreement. As per indications, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s Army Chief, has taken charge of the peace initiative with India, which seems to be meaningful as the army pulls the levers in the elected government there. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is dubbed as ‘puppet’ of the army and Bajwa’s extended term will run to November 2022. Hence he may be deemed to be India’s main interlocutor in the peace process.

It was General Bajwa who took the lead in statements emerging from Islamabad that arch rivals India and Pakistan should  “bury the past” and move towards cooperation, an overture came after the joint announcement on ceasefire. Bajwa cleverly put the burden on India to create a “conducive environment”, bringing in Washington to play an effective role in ending regional hostilities.  He mentioned intentionally that Pakistan’s powerful army has ruled the country for nearly half of its 73-year existence.

UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed’s quick visit to India after the ceasefire confirmed the peace broker’s role being played by  a country friendly with both India and Pakistan.

Analysts believe that as India and Pakistan are starting afresh after a long time, they should inject liveliness and vitality to the previous Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), which include 2005-initiated cross-LoC movement of civilians and cross-LoC trade started in 2008.

As negotiator, UAE is still expecting to facilitate an exchange of ambassadors between New Delhi and Islamabad, which may later lead to restoration of trade links between the two countries.

India and Pakistan’s current faceoff  is the world’s most dangerous as it was triggered two years ago when 40 Indian soldiers were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Kashmir, claimed by a Pakistan-based terrorist group, and actively supported by Pakistan.

Writer is a senior journalist and national columnist based in Delhi.

Image courtesy of (Illustration courtesy Catch News)

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