Intro: With no thaw in the frosty bilateral relations, the year saw periodic war of words over the issue of Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism.
New Delhi/Islamabad: The relations between Pakistan and India plumbed new depths in 2020, a year marred by periodic verbal duels, summoning of diplomats and rhetorics by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is facing mounting pressure from the Opposition to step down in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic that has battered the country”s fragile economy.
With no thaw in the frosty bilateral relations, the year 2020 saw periodic war of words over the issue of Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism. In June, India asked Pakistan to reduce the staff in its mission in New Delhi by half and announced a reciprocal trimming of staff strength in its high commission in Islamabad.
India said its decision to downgrade the diplomatic ties was based on instances of involvement of Pakistani officials in “acts of espionage” and “dealings with terrorist organisations”.
Over the past 12 months, Pakistan made several futile attempts to raise the Kashmir issue at the international forums and drum up support against India. New Delhi has categorically told the international community that the scrapping of Article 370 was its internal matter. It also advised Pakistan to accept the reality and stop all anti-India propaganda.
Pakistan, however, adopted escalatory measures by intensifying ceasefire violations along the Line of Control, where the armies of the two sides regularly targeted each other, resulting in casualties.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office tried to keep up pressure on India by regularly summoning its diplomats in Islamabad and issuing press statements about the alleged ceasefire violations by the Indian Army.
Islamabad also accused New Delhi of “politicising” the deliberations at the meetings of the Paris-based Financial Action task Force, a global money-laundering watchdog. The FATF decided to retain Pakistan on its ”grey list” till February 2021 as it failed to fulfill six key obligations, including failure to take action against two of India”s most wanted terrorists – Jamaat ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed and JeM head Masood Azhar.
In 2020, Saeed was sentenced for a collective imprisonment of 21 years on terror financing charges in four cases, a move experts described as an attempt by Pakistan to improve its global standing and to wriggle out of the FATF’s grey list.
During the year, both sides also failed to agree how Kulbhushan Jadhav, on death row in Pakistan, should be represented in his review appeal in the Islamabad High Court against his conviction by a Pakistani military court for alleged spying. India says that Pakistan has failed to respond on core issues pertaining to the case.
The chances for any change for broader cooperation between the two sides are slim in 2021.
On the domestic front, Prime Minister Khan faces a serious challenge as the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – an alliance of 11 Opposition parties – set a January 31 deadline for him to step down or face a “Long March” to Islamabad.
The PDM held massive rallies in major cities to seek Khan’s ouster and press the powerful military to stop interfering in politics. The Pakistan Army has denied meddling in politics. Khan also denies that the Army helped him win the election in 2018.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz supremo Nawaz Sharif has repeatedly blamed Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed for Pakistan’s current situation.