General Qamar Javed Bajwa has always understood well that India is key to ending Pakistan’s international diplomatic isolation. And it appears that after years of efforts, he has attained his first breakthrough with India on the second anniversary of the Pulwama-Balakot attacks.
The potentially catastrophic events of the February 2019 twin attacks by the two nuclear armed countries had brought them to the brink of war.
While the intervention of third parties, at the frantic requests of Pakistan, averted all out war, Pakistan entered a long winter of international isolation. It was announced on Thursday, in a joint statement, that the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) of the two countries agreed to strictly “observe all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control and all other sectors with effect from midnight 24/25 2021”.
India Will be a Key Lobby in Pakistan’s ‘Rescue’ — And General Bajwa Knows it
Ever since Pakistan’s inclusion in the grey list by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in 2018, the country has not been able to make it out of the list. And General Bajwa has always been acutely aware that India will be a key lobby in its rescue. Not just that, he recognises that since before wresting control from civilian representatives in the 25 July 2018 general election, and installing his puppet Imran Khan in government, the general had been attempting to play peace footsie with India in the bid to create favourable circumstances ahead of his takeover.
The New York Times reported in September 2018 that General Bajwa had communicated with his Indian counterpart General Bipin Rawat before Pakistan’s general election. The talks went nowhere because of what a diplomat called a “system mismatch”.
In India, political decisions are taken by the political government, and as such, the proposal was above General Rawat’s pay grade, something that ought to have been known to General Bajwa.
However, after the General Heist of July 2018 and having installed Imran Khan, General Bajwa appeared to visibly and continuously try and ameliorate Prime Minister Modi. Imran Khan was made to try and contact Modi several times with no success. It became a joke in Pakistan after Imran Khan admitted in the National Assembly that he had tried several times but was getting no response from Modi: “mein miss call marta hoon wo uthata he nahi”.
Why It’s Unlikely That Pulwama Was ‘Sanctioned’ By General Bajwa
General Bajwa then unilaterally announced opening up the Kartarpur corridor in another attempt to improve India-Pakistan relations. But as I wrote in March 2019, just after the Pulwama-Balakot attacks, I did not think that Pulwama was sanctioned by General Bajwa as he had appeared very keen with his own and Imran Khan’s attempts at offering the olive branch again and again to India. Clearly, the duo had no legitimacy domestically and were therefore keen to garner international support to which India was key.
I had theorised that the Pulwama attack claimed by Jaish-e-Muhammad was most likely okayed somewhere else by hardliners within the military establishment and served to sabotage the general’s efforts.
With no war dollars pouring in, the general had his own Bajwa Doctrine on the economy and wanted to open up trade routes through Pakistan to bolster the economy for the legitimacy of his rule. It is ironic that Pakistani generals always sabotage efforts of civil representative governments to achieve peace with India and Afghanistan, as in the cases of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, and even Zulfiqar Bhutto, but when they are in power themselves, peace with these countries becomes the right thing and in the interests of Pakistan. But when Benazir attempts peace, she is labeled a security risk, and when Nawaz Sharif attends Modi’s inauguration or hosts his at his daughter’s wedding, he is labeled ‘Modi Ka Yaar’.
Have Back Channels Been Successful in Achieving a Thaw?
Two years on after Balakot however, back channels have been successful in achieving a thaw of sorts, as Thursday’s joint statement demonstrates. The Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Moeed Yusuf was crowing about the ‘win’ and hinting that India had been pressured into this position.
With domestic politics in a roil, and all opposition parties having joined hands in the shape of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) to remove the general’s ‘selected’ government, this accord certainly provides some breathing space he was desperately looking for. But with the economy in a shambles (negative GDP for the first time in fifty years), skyrocketing inflation due to IMF dictated increasing indirect taxation, rising unemployment, and an acute awareness in the public that the military’s intervention and installation of an entirely inept and corrupt gang at the helm of affairs is responsible for its plight, will this space be enough to keep him and his hybrid regime afloat is a question mark.
Moreover, whether the agreement with India will indeed lead to trade opening up, international isolation ending, and the economy improving to bolster the general’s grip on power also remains to be seen.
In the recent spate of by-elections — eight out of nine seats — some provincial and some national, have been won by opposition parties. The result of the upcoming election in the upper house, the senate, will also be an indicator of which way the wind is blowing.
(Gul Bukhari is a Pakistani journalist and rights activist. She tweets @GulBukhari. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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