Beyond the cycle of mistrust By: Ayaz Ahmed

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Beyond the cycle of mistrust By: Ayaz Ahmed

Mutual mistrust, mudslinging and divergent regional objectives have hampered India and Pakistan from improving the strained bilateral relations. Despite the potential of trade and security cooperation, both countries have continued to remain at loggerheads and are reluctant to improve relations for greater regional economic connectivity and security cooperation.

Since he came into power, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has demonstrated genuine willingness to resolve the contentious issues of Kashmir and regional terrorism with his Indian counterpart. But the supremacist Modi administration has myopically declined Pakistan’s offers and has continued to use brute force to quell the indigenous Kashmiri struggle for self-determination.

After the terrorist attacks at Pathankot and Uri, the Modi government immediately pointed a finger at Pakistan without any thorough and impartial investigation into the attacks. Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh irresponsibly termed Pakistan a ‘terrorist state’ that should be identified and isolated. The obstructive behaviour of top Indian leaders is the underlying cause for strained relations between the two South Asian nuclear powers.

Rather than collaborating with Islamabad against terrorism, Delhi has been using all regional and international forums to project Pakistan as an irresponsible state that sponsors terrorism and militancy in the region. So far, all Indian designs to label Pakistan with terrorism have miserably failed because the international community is fully aware of Pakistan’s successful counter terrorism operations against militancy.

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It is imperative to mention here that Indian blame game and Pakistan-bashing have stopped both countries from jointly working to identify and stamp out disruptive terrorist and militant groups in South Asia, which have exploited the lack of confidence-building measures and the increasing dichotomy and distrust between Pakistan and India to continue mounting attacks on both countries.

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After facing diplomatic failures to isolate Pakistan internationally, the BJP-led government has resorted to using water as a weapon against Pakistan. In this context, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened a special meeting of top Indian water experts on September 26 to ponder over the possibility of scrapping the 56-year-old Indus Waters Treaty (IWT).

India threatened to repeal the long-lived IWT with the malevolent intent to suppress Pakistan economically by drying up its faltering water resources. However, Modi came to his senses after Pakistan warned that such a short-sighted move would be considered a declaration of war. More importantly, China also jumped into the fray by blocking a tributary of the Brahmaputra River in Tibet to hinder India from stopping Pakistan’s share of water.

What should not be forgotten is that both Pakistan and India are highly water-stressed countries that desperately need each other’s earnest cooperation to utilise the available water resources. If they remain apathetic in peacefully resolving the unfolding water issues, this will presumably cause a water war in future that would bear the potential to escalate into a full-blown nuclear confrontation.

Both countries are also engrossed in a cold war in war-torn Afghanistan. Under the Doval doctrine, India has been sponsoring terrorists and insurgents who are hiding in Afghanistan. Due to India’s influence, the National Unity Government in Afghanistan accused Islamabad of backing the Afghan Taliban. In September 2016, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani threatened to block Pakistan’s trade access to the Central Asian States (CAS) if Islamabad did not permit Kabul to import Indian goods via the Wagah Border.

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Both India and Afghanistan used December’s Heart of Asia ministerial conference in Delhi to bash Pakistan. Under Indian influence, Ashraf Ghani rudely declined Pakistan’s offer of $500 million for Afghan reconstruction. On account of the increasing Indian clout, Pakistan has, by far, dragged its feet to abandon its policy of ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan against India. It is not confrontation but sincere regional cooperation that will help bring serenity and stability to Afghanistan.

The lingering Kashmir dispute has been the major bone of contention between Pakistan and India. The year 2016 turned out to be one of the worst years for the Kashmiris. After the death of Kashmiri freedom fighter Burhan Wani on July 8, a large number of disgruntled people in the valley took to the streets against the use of brute force by over 700,000 Indian forces. The BJP government responded by providing carte blanche to the Indian occupation forces to kill and maim the peaceful protesters.

When Pakistan exposed the Indian oppression in the valley, the Modi government began blaming Islamabad for supporting militants in Indian Occupied Kashmir. India should now realise that it cannot colonise Kashmir for too long.

South Asia is also reeling from an unbridled nuclear arms race which has undermined the delicate strategic stability in the region. Rather than limiting its nuclear programme, India reportedly tested nuclear-capable K-4 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) in April 2016 from its nuclear-powered INS Arihant. The Indian test was aimed at attaining second-strike capability in nuclear deterrence. This has resulted in the nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean.

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Due to the expansion of India’s nuclear programme, Pakistan’s Naval Strategic Force Command (NSFC) has expedited its efforts to develop its own version of naval nuclear capability. This uncontrolled nuclear arms race has undermined the stability–instability paradox in the region.

South Asia is already home to millions of people living in abject poverty. The arms race and confrontations between Pakistan and India will further exacerbate the tribulations of a deprived people. It is time for both countries to bury the hatchet, establish robust economic ties and make South Asia a prosperous region.

By: Ayaz Ahmed (The writer is an independent researcher)

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