According to the Financial Times, Pakistan’s economy is at risk of coming apart. Already there are rolling blackouts and a severe foreign currency shortage that prevents businesses from functioning. In the meantime, the government’s attempts at reviving an IMF bailout are deadlocked over Pakistan’s insistence that it is impractical to put in place drastic austerity measures when the country is still recovering from the deadly floods of last year. Islamabad’s foreign reserves have dropped to under $5 billion, which can provide for less than a full month of imports.
Meanwhile, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has stepped up its activities in recent months after calling off its most recent ceasefire with Islamabad. In some ways, the TTP’s resurgence is a perverse payoff for Pakistan’s policy of supporting the Afghan Taliban. The victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan has actually rejuvenated the TTP and the Afghans have refused to play mediator between Islamabad and the TTP.
Time is also running out for Pakistan on issues that have nothing to do with politics. One of these is water stress, which is related closely to Kashmir. Not politically, but from the point of view of climate change which has brought a cycle of floods and drought in the country. Effective management of river waters of Kashmir could mitigate the situation. Climate change in the form of rapid glacier melt is making river flows into the Indus system more unpredictable. India has long honoured the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, but Pakistani intransigence has finally compelled New Delhi to give a notice that it will seek a review and modification of its provisions.
Earlier this month, Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said the wars that his country had fought with India had brought nothing but misery. But soon, his office announced that no dialogue would be possible until India restored Kashmir’s special constitutional status.
India, too, has its conditions, foremost being the one that Pakistan must shift away from supporting armed proxies to attack India. There is no way in which we could normalise ties as long as the jihad factory remains open.
For the past two years or so, there have been signs that both India and Pakistan want to normalise ties. There are reports emanating from Pakistan about back-channel dialogue and outreach.
At the very first round of talks held between former ISI deputy chief Maj Gen Sahibzada Ifsandiyar Pataudi and Kumaran, an Indian intelligence officer, in 2017, Pataudi told his Indian interlocutor that the then army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa wanted peace with India, but for that New Delhi needed to give some concessions on Kashmir.
Articles in the Pakistani media by noted journalists like Hamid Mir and Javed Chaudhry have recently disclosed that as part of this dialogue, Modi would have visited Pakistan in April 2021 and participated in a pilgrimage to the Hinglaj Mata Mandir at Las Bela (Sind); and there was talk of another corridor between Barmer and Hinglaj Mata Mandir for pilgrims. The then ISI chief, Faiz Hameed, met Indian NSA Ajit Doval in a Gulf country and there was talk of a resumption of trade and cricketing links. Both sides would have frozen the Kashmir issue for 20 years. But there was little movement as Imran Khan felt that any softening towards India would damage him politically. Then, early last year, Khan was ousted, an event that has had powerful after-shocks since, deeply dividing the Pakistani elite as well as the army.
Prime Minister Modi is not averse to expending political capital on good relations with Pakistan. Recall how he descended on Lahore on Christmas in 2015 to wish Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the occasion of his birthday. But when a week later the deep state in Pakistan responded with the Pathankot attack, Modi promptly altered course.
For six years, New Delhi has maintained its tough posture towards Pakistan, but carried on a back-channel dialogue.
After the Chinese actions in eastern Ladakh, New Delhi realised that a continuing posture of hostility towards Pakistan was not a good idea. The reorientation of some forces away from Pakistan towards China was a signal that Pakistan was now being viewed as less of a threat. The back-channel dialogue yielded quick returns in the form of a ceasefire along the Line of Control since February 2021.
But the deep rift in the Pakistani elite prevents further movement. Perhaps issues will become clearer after the elections to be held later this year. This is a rift that could affect the army’s role as the final arbiter in Pakistan’s politics. Imran remains hugely popular, but his erratic ways call for a degree of caution. For the present, the army is staying away from controversy, but if the past is any guide, it will not be neutral.
Like it or not, India must deal with Pakistan. Modi should display the staying power and intellectual vision of a Vajpayee who did not let Pakistan’s Kargil military misadventure deter him from his outreach towards Islamabad. India’s security challenges have changed and are now irrevocably linked to China. We need to pick up the threads from the January 2004 SAARC Summit in Islamabad when we sought to locate our relations with Pakistan within a South Asian paradigm.
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