On 25 February, the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) India and Pakistan issued a joint statement which read: ‘The two sides are looking at the situation along the Line of Control and all other sectors, in a free, honest and friendly atmosphere. In order to achieve a mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the border, the two DGMOs agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns, which tend to disrupt peace and lead to violence. The two sides agree to strictly adhere to all treaties, understandings and ceasefires along the Line of Control and all other sectors, which take effect from midnight 24/25 February 2021 ‘.
Peace and security have become the main concerns of the two countries. The joint declaration was issued on 6 July 2004, during PM Vajpayee’s visit to Islamabad for the SAARC Summit. The declaration, issued after Vajpayee’s meeting with then President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, noted: ‘President Musharraf assured PM Vajpayee that he would not allow any territory under Pakistani control to be used to support terrorism in any way. The two leaders agreed to restart the Joint Dialogue, in the hope that it will lead to a peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides. ‘
PM Manmohan Singh, afterwards, alluded to India’s view of J&K to resolve differences with Pakistan, in a speech in Amritsar on March 24, 2006. He stressed that although ‘borders cannot be redrawn’, they can be made ‘irrelevant’. He added that a situation is imaginable, where people on both sides of the LoC ‘can freely trade and travel’. Musharraf, in turn, spoke of ‘demilitarization’ and ‘self-government’ at J&K. After prolonged ‘back track’ negotiations, in an environment free from terrorism, the two sides are said to have reached an agreement on a framework for dealing with and resolving J&C issues. The special envoys holding the secret talks were Satinder Lambah, India’s former envoy to Pakistan, and Tariq Aziz, Musharraf’s close aide.
Pakistan withdrew from negotiations when Musharraf came under pressure from his own comrades, including his successor as army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to cancel the deal reached with India. Manmohan Singh is also busy getting Indo-US nuclear approval in Parliament. Attempts to move forward with ‘back track’ negotiations were on hold. It is evident that Americans ‘keep abreast of’ these developments, as the contours of what happened were published in an article in the New Yorker on March 2, 2009.
While Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and the humble yet intelligent Foreign Minister Harsh Vardhan Shringla are thinking about future policies, they will undoubtedly trace what happened in the past. However, there is no guarantee that Pakistan will now agree to what happened before. Modi’s government, in turn, will move cautiously in these developments, given the complexities involved. But ‘back channel’ talks can provide a useful framework for future discussions.
It is clear that the Biden administration is aware of this development. The US realizes that India is essential for the development of a stable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region. New Delhi must remember that China’s policy remains one of India’s ‘low cost detentions’. It’s no surprise that the Biden administration is reconsidering President Trump’s policy of leaving Afghanistan hastily. Contrary to Pakistani expectations, the Biden administration is going tougher than expected in imposing trade and other sanctions, and challenging China geopolitically. China and Pakistan naturally expect that they will have privileged access to Afghanistan’s enormous natural resources once they install a Taliban-led government in Kabul. The Biden administration has poured cold water on a possible early American withdrawal. The main reason appears to be that Western powers will not like the prospect of handing over Afghanistan’s abundant mineral resources to the greedy Chinese. Resource-rich Russians think the same way.
Pakistan is struggling to repay Chinese loans extended under the Belt and Road Initiative, amid indications that Islamabad will soon seek to reschedule electricity sector credit payments. Most of the $ 60 billion pledged for CPEC is used for power generation projects. There are reports of a high-level Pakistani delegation visiting Beijing to request debt rescheduling. Following past Chinese practice, Pakistan must provide facilities for Chinese organizations to take over the mineral resources, mines and ports in Pakistan to repay loans. Most of the mineral-rich Gilgit-Baltistan region is now controlled by China, apart from increasing control over the strategic Gwadar Harbor. China can also control two new ports in Sindh province.
It is meaningless to talk about normalizing relations without ambassadors in their respective capitals. Before we rush into dialogue, we need to have the right diplomatic representation in Islamabad. This must be accompanied by normal trade and economic relations. Vajpayee has ordered that bus and rail routes to and from Pakistan must remain open during the Kargil conflict. There is also an agreement on group tours, which was signed when Vajpayee visited Pakistan. Should we not see the application of this covenant? PM Imran Khan is mostly a puppet. Pakistan’s military controls relations with countries such as the US, Saudi Arabia, India, Turkey, Iran and China. Hence, it made sense to have a ‘back channel’ to General Bajwa, rather than wasting too much time arguing over trifles with Imran Khan. General Bajwa kept his domestic channels of communication open, including with the Bhutto family. Young Bilawal Bhutto seemed unconcerned about fraternity with the organization his grandfather was hanged on!
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