Though relations between New Delhi and Islamabad have been quite tense for the last five years, the 14 February suicide attack in Kashmir’s Pulwama region claimed by JeM dropped them a notch further with the IAF launching airstrikes against alleged training camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK) as well as Balakot in Pakistan. It was followed by an aerial engagement in which both sides claimed to have downed a fighter aircraft.
The importance of cooperation in the sphere of connectivity dawned on this regional bloc with Pakistan shutting down its airspace that had an adverse effect on the aviation industry. Islamabad responded positively to New Delhi’s request to permit Prime Minister of India to use Pakistani airspace while proceeding to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). However, Narendra Modi decided against the special concession by Pakistan of opening its airspace, sending a clear signal to the international community that India is in not in a reconciliatory mood and continues to maintain its stand that “terror and talks can’t go together.”
Modi played his diplomatic cards very well during the SCO meet at Bishkek. Without taking any name but in a stern message directed at Pakistan, PM Modi said that countries will have to come out of their narrow purview to unite against terrorism to fight it and nations sponsoring, aiding and supporting terrorism must be held accountable. By recalling the recent Easter terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka and terming state-sponsored terrorism as the biggest threat to the world Modi managed to drew international attention to the fact that a large number of internationally banned groups fighting groups were based in Pakistan.
Pakistan PM Imran Khan tried to counter Modi’s assault by making a reference to Kashmir without naming it when he spoke about how Pakistan condemns terrorism in all forms including state terrorism. However, his did not succeed in getting any support for his condemnation of “terrorism against people under illegal occupation” as this issue finds no mention in the SCO joint declaration. On the other hand, Islamabad’s stand that the struggle in Kashmir cannot be equated with terrorism has suffered a severe blow as the Bishkek Declaration has stressed that acts of terrorism and extremism cannot be justified.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan's Imran Khan may have exchanged pleasantries on Day 2 of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation or SCO summit in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek but there is no scope of any thaw in Indo-Pak relations. Khan did talk about the need for India and Pakistan to resume the dialogue process to normalise relations but Modi is adamant that there can be no talks unless militant activities in Kashmir end. Here Modi seems to have a definite advantage as Pakistan is under severe pressure for allowing militants groups that are attacking neighboring countries to have their safe-sanctuaries on its soil.
Pakistan is in deep trouble. Washington has cut down its aid because Islamabad isn’t “doing enough” in its war against terror and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has put Pakistan on its “Grey List” for not taking appropriate action to stop financial dealing of internationally designated groups. Pakistan is still to recover from the shock of Beijing removing its “technical hold” on the proposal to designate JeM chief Masood Azhar a “Global Terrorist.” However, sooner the Islamabad realises that no ally will ever be willing to provide indefinite support Islamabad on terrorism related issues the better it would be for Pakistan. It needs to take prompt action to avoid getting inextricably stuck in the quicksand of terrorism!
The whole world sees militant attacks such as the ones on Pathankot air base, in Uri camp and suicide car bomb attack in Pulwama as acts of militancy and this is spoiling the image of the Kashmir struggle. New Delhi won’t talk unless such attacks end and though Khan may keep requesting for dialogue, but it’s unlikely that Modi will relent and neither will he accept any offer of mediation by the superpowers or influential nations. In comparative terms, India’s financial condition is far better than Pakistan, which is now surviving on generous aid from Gulf States and loans from China and IMF. Diplomatically too, New Delhi wields much more authority and influence than Islamabad and therefore, while New Delhi has luxury to add sophisticated military hardware to its arsenal, Islamabad can’t afford to get into an arms race.
PM Khan has rightly understood that instead of wasting huge sums of money on defence purchases, this money can be better utilised to improve living conditions and alleviating poverty and providing healthcare. Therefore, dismantling the existing militant infrastructure in Pakistan is a wise step and a win-win situation for all. It will help in improving Indo-Pak relations, which in turn will open the doors for dialogue and this will facilitate normalising relations. Once this happens, the two countries can work amicably towards resolving the Kashmir issue.