[Burning Issue] India-Pakistan Peace Talks

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The winds of a tentative peace are once again blowing from Pakistan. India and Pakistan surprised the world last month with a rare joint commitment to respect a 2003 cease-fire agreement.


  • Pakistan has been aggressively pushing for ‘peace’ talks with India.
  • The selected PM Imran Khan says peace with Pakistan will give India direct access to Central Asia.
  • His master General Bajwa wants India to ‘bury the past’.
  • Much earlier, Pakistan, in a change, stuck to the topic of the Covid-19 pandemic in a virtual SAARC meeting called by PM Modi.
  • Pakistan did not make the usual rhetorical reference to the Kashmir issue at the meet.

The 2003 Ceasefire

  • Currently, what stops India and Pakistan from opening fire at each other is a 2003 ‘ceasefire offer’ made by the then PM of Pakistan, Zafarullah Jamali, on 23 November 2003 on the eve of the Eid-al-Fitr holiday.
  • The agreement remains a milestone as it brought peace along the LoC until 2006.
  • Between 2003 and 2006, not a single bullet was fired by the jawans of India and Pakistan.
  • It is this ceasefire agreement that is referred to as having been violated whenever Pakistan fires at Indian posts along the LoC. Not the one made during Kargil War.

To borrow and twist any phrase from the disclaimers in mutual fund advertisements, if the past is the only guide to future performance, there is no point talking about Pakistan. Just buy more sniper rifles and sit on the LoC. So, how do we break the deadlock?

Reason behind Pakistani soft-tone

Pakistan’s call for cooperation has some undeniable and immediate reasons:

(1) FATF sword

  • There are very low chances of Pakistan exiting the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list.
  • A research paper by an Islamabad-based think tank has revealed that Pakistan sustained a total of $38 billion in economic losses due to FATF’s decision to thrice place the country on its grey list.  
  • Pakistan has been on the FATF’s grey list since June 2018 and the government was given a final warning in February 2020 to complete the 27 action points by June in the same year. 

(2) Pariah at OIC

  • The OIC statements of 2020 had made no specific mention of Kashmir in the agenda announced in Riyadh.
  • Pakistani rhetoric over Kashmir these days is backed only by Turkey as part of Ankara’s strategy to oppose Saudi-UAE dominance in the OIC.
  • The Gulf in turns has alienated Pakistan and are recalling their loans.

(3) US resentment over Daniel Pearl case

  • US President Joe Biden had said he was “outraged” after Pakistan’s top court upheld the acquittal and ordered the release of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh.
  • This terrorist was convicted of masterminding the 2002 beheading of US journalist Daniel Pearl which was filmed and streamed across the world.
  • In 2018, the Pentagon cancelled $300 million in aid to Pakistan because of Islamabad’s inaction against terror groups.

(4) Sovereign insolvency 

  • The World Bank has approved a USD 300 million loan to help cash-strapped Pakistan address issues of climate change, health emergency and manage solid waste.
  • Pakistan received $500 million from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank each in June this year to prop up its struggling economy.
  • Pakistan’s total public debt, domestic and external, was recorded at Rs36.3 trillion in the financial year 2019-20, up 154 per cent (or Rs22 trillion) since FY13, when it was recorded at Rs 14.3 trillion.

(5) Sinking economy

Pakistan’s economy is in the doldrums, plunging to new lows every day with inflation at an all-time high.

  • In January, Pakistan had witnessed 12-year high inflation at 14.6 per cent which is among the highest in the world.
  • The East Asia forum calls 2020 a forgettable year for Pakistan’s economy as its GDP fell to -0.4 per cent.
  • According to the World Economic Forum, the youth unemployment rate in Pakistan stands at 8.5 per cent in a country where 64 per cent of the population is below the age of 30.

Like anything, Pakistani political elites (preferably the Pak Army and ISI) had to make a call. Either to make peace with India, or continue fighting it and become a military protectorate and economic colony of China; Peace with India is the only way ahead.

How should India react?

The first reaction among informed Indians to Pakistan would be a big yawn.

Wait! India seems resilient …

We saw coordinated statements by the director-general of military operations (DGMOs) on both sides that they had solemnly agreed to once again abide by the 2003 agreement all of sudden. Something has gone on between the two sides for several weeks, if not months, behind the scenes.

  • What that means is a stop to those madcap, aimless spells of firing heavy ordnance at each other’s posts and villages. It achieved nothing, except take out some frustration.
  • Besides, it made great pictures and TV for commando comic channels on either side, which could then, with the help of angry grey moustaches, declare victory for their respective armies.
  • But the armies know the truth. As do their governments. At some point, they knew they needed to move on.

Bombing isn’t the answer and was never

We know that after Kargil, Op Parakram and Pulwama/Balakot.

  • In the 20 years since, the US has bombed large parts of Afghanistan to the Stone Age several times over. But it is the Americans who are retreating in defeat.
  • Militarily, diplomatically, politically or economically, achieving anything by force is out of the question.
  • Former Army chief General V.P. Malik has outrightly said that it isn’t possible today to achieve any of our territorial objectives, PoK or Aksai Chin, by military force.
  • Besides the capability question, any such adventure would immediately run into global disapproval and force a ceasefire earlier than you can advance a few miles.
  • Especially when we live in a neighbourhood with strong, competing nationalism and robust, nuclear-armed militaries.

We need to think creatively

  • In negotiations to end the Cold War, Ronald Reagan had famously used a line with Mikhail Gorbachev: ‘Trust, but verify’.
  • While dealing with Pakistan, we could turn it inside out: ‘Distrust, but verify’.
  • What that means is, while you view every new move coming from Rawalpindi (preferring this over Islamabad is deliberate) with the highest degree of suspicion, you check it out nevertheless.

That’s why, while we hold our deep scepticism close to our hearts, we apply our CS aspirants minds to read between the lines of Pakistan.

Two things stand out in that written speech-

  1. First, a commitment to non-interference in the internal affairs of any country in the neighbourhood or the region
  2. Second, they did not leave out the mention of Kashmir. But there was nuance. They said progress in relations of course depends on India creating a ‘conducive environment’ on its side of Kashmir.

What should India consider?

We have enough evidence by now to know that this is not a dispensation that looks forward to any conflict.

In seven years, and across eight budgets, the allocation for defence has remained the same or marginally declined. They are not preparing for war.  Similarly, Pathankot, Uri, Pulwama, Galwan all tell us they are also not about to be knee-jerked into a conflict.


  • India and Pakistan signed a ceasefire agreement in 2003, but it had hardly been followed in letter and spirit over the past several years with more violations than observance of the pact.
  • Ties between India and Pakistan nose-dived after a terror attack on the Pathankot Air Force base in 2016 by terror groups based in the neighbouring country.
  • Subsequent attacks, including one on the Indian Army camp in Uri, further deteriorated the relationship.
  • The ties dipped further after India’s warplanes pounded a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp deep inside Pakistan on Feb 26, 2019 in response to the Pulwama terror attack in which 40 CRPF jawans were killed.

History tells us that India-Pak peace is littered with many false dawns and this report explores why there is not any guarantee of any amity anytime soon.  This is not the first time India and Pakistan are trying to make peace.  So there is a reason to be skeptical.

What has changed in the last six years is India’s response.

Recent backstabs

  • In 2014, the oath taking ceremony of Indian PM had attendance from dignitaries of all SAARC nations, including the then PM of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif.
  • This was the first time that a Pakistani leader was attending the oath-taking of an Indian prime minister-designate. There was optimism in the air.
  • In 2015, New Delhi returned the courtesy, and in a surprise visit, Modi stopped over in Lahore shortly after his visit to Afghanistan.
  • But Pakistan’s army generals were miffed with the growing camaraderie and exactly a year later, the weather changed dramatically.  On January 2, 2016, there was a terror attack in Pathankot.

No reasons to trust

  • There’s no guarantee that it would sustain because nothing much has changed materially on the ground.
  • On the diplomatic front, the rhetoric hasn’t been toned down either.  Islamabad in collusion with other nations has kept the rhetorical fire on Kashmir alive on global platforms.
  • On the security front, Pakistan is openly trying to resurrect the Khalistan movement.
  • Pakistan Army’s drones have been seized in Punjab and new terror groups have emerged in Kashmir with more secular names like “The Resistance Front”. 

There is neither any evidence of a fundamental shift in its policy on terror nor on the main bone of contention between the two countries: Kashmir. 

Lessons to India from the Ladakh

  • In 2019, the official rhetoric was promising India to retake PoK and putting more military pressure on Pakistan.
  • In contrast, the discourse on foreign policy since the Chinese pressure on the LAC has been one of marked sobriety scaling back all expectations of flippant militarism.
  • The standoff with China has brought home some stark realities. We can speculate on Chinese motives.
  • The LAC standoff considerably released the pressure on Pakistan.
  • We were reminded that the LAC and LoC can be linked; that the zone around Kashmir was a trilateral and not a bilateral contest, and that India will need significant resources to deal with China.

Way forward

Nevertheless, India and Pakistan have no other option but to negotiate their disputes sooner or later.

Formalizing the ceasefire agreement

The leadership in both countries must understand that the first point in their agenda during their next meeting must be the formalization of the 2003 ceasefire as it will keep jeopardizing the future of the peace process if left unresolved.

  • A durable, guaranteed formal ceasefire must be the first step on the pyramid of peace with Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) being the second and terrorism the final step for peace between the two.
  • There is no doubt that Pakistan should ever be given any locus standi on the Indian state of Kashmir.

We cannot change our neighbours

  • New Delhi can build on a no-war policy because it is strong enough to do so and Pakistan has no courage to initiate.
  • A weaker government would’ve been under much greater pressure in east Ladakh, and earlier with Pakistan, to do something more adventurous.
  • Many taunted Indian leadership for not going to war with China, unlike Nehru who “at least fought, even if he lost”.


India should seize the moment and build on the permanent de-escalation at LOC. The pandemic offers an opportunity for greater economic cooperation.

The onus is on Pakistan

  • Both countries should go beyond diplomatic spates and media warfare.
  • Hence, if the 2003 ceasefire is formalized with clear rules and regulations, demilitarized zones, neutral observers and joint commissions, it should reduce the chances of future ceasefire violations.
  • But the success of ceasefires in most of the conflict situations depends heavily on political will much heavily leaning on the other side of LOC.




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