Recent Developments in India-Pakistan Relations By Shaheryar Javed Khan

India Pakistan relations in the year 2021 are not bilateral anymore—and evaluating them without considering the influence of the world’s two major powers, the United States of America and China will be a miscalculation.

The recent developments that have “re-kindled” the hope of improvement in relations are also considered by many as based “on a nudge” by the Americans, which is a good sign because the state of stalemate between both nuclear countries since February 2019 is not helping either or the region, and is a hindrance in the progress of the strategic agenda of President Biden and his administration. Therefore, a nudge by the US was long overdue. Similarly, with Pakistan as an important partner in CPEC, China also has high stakes in the region; therefore Pak-India relations are also strongly influenced by Chinese interests.

Recent developments can be considered as a step towards re-establishment of working relations and it does not matter if it was on an outside advice or a bilateral initiative; these are definitely positive developments but slightly sudden for the general public of both countries who have seen this cycle played out before. No matter how or who structures engagements between the government bodies, prospects of better sustained relations on a long-term basis are not bright from a Pakistani perspective, unless India relieves its pressure on Indian Occupied Kashmir by first lifting the lockdown of Kashmiri people that has crossed 600 days. Any tangible steps towards better relations are only possible after that.

Pakistan’s role and importance to China in relation to CPEC and India’s progress towards becoming a frontline partner of the US—especially to counter China through joining the “Quad” alliance in the Asia-Pacific—are major risks to future relations between both these countries. India and Pakistan cannot be frontline vassals of the two global powers who are locked in the expansion and checker’s game. Their importance in the greater scheme of things cannot allow them to be at daggers drawn all the time, however, it will also not give them enough space to have friendly bilateral relations. Therefore, the best they can hope for is a working relationship under direct scrutiny of the US and China, which will still remain at risk of being dependent on the US-China tug for economic supremacy.

There are many players in the region that can, or might, play a role in bringing the two governments to the negotiation table, however, most are mere tools for the US and China, considering the geopolitical and geoeconomic importance of both Pakistan and India for the two powers.

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International Islamic scholars in Pakistan’s context, corporate investors in India’s, sports figures, international celebrities in the context of both are some non-state actors that have the potential to bridge the hate gap between the two nations. It has taken a long time to sow and will take some effort before we can actually start thinking of a peace process between Pakistan and India.

Hate for each other is a popular theme, so popular that it has the potential to dislodge any government, if taken up by the opposition political parties or other actors. Therefore, domestically, political leaders, civil society organisations, media and social media influencers—all have to be on one platform. Sports, especially cricket, has and can play a significant role in bringing the people together.

The unresolved Kashmir issue between Pakistan and India was at one time the ‘core’ issue between the two countries; some might still consider it as such, however we must understand that this issue has been used to breed hate between the two nations since the 1947 partition, leading to two major and bloody wars.

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Political parties on both sides have used hateful rhetoric, especially in every election but also otherwise; information media houses have flourished through propagating negative propaganda and hate; social media influencers gain thriving followings through the negative portrayal of events across the border.

“Hate thy neighbour” has been drilled into minds so much for the past decades and has become such a popular slogan that it is the bigger problem now, bigger than Kashmir—therefore no government or leadership can take the risk of going for a serious effort without the involvement of the people of both countries.

The most important thing to understand is that the eyeball-to-eyeball situation in 2019 was triggered by an event in Kashmir, and the relations went back to the post-Kargil-era in a matter of days; this has happened many times since the 1990s and is evidence of the fragility of bilateral relations, if Kashmir is not addressed comprehensively.

Right now, Kashmir is the balance on which the development of relations depends upon; events related to Kashmir can make or break bilateral relations despite the US’ or China’s interests.


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