By Abdul Wasay Ajmal
Pakistan and India, in a joint statement on the 25th of February 2021, announced a ceasefire in which both countries agreed to a “strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control and all other sectors with effect from midnight 24/25 Feb 2021.” Talks that were held by the respective DGMOs of the two countries agreed to scale down the ceasefire violations on the LOC. The move aimed to reduce civilian casualties and make a more conducive environment for peace talks and negotiations. The ceasefire was largely praised by both domestic and foreign audiences and was considered a positive step in the overall South Asian security calculus. This engagement for a ceasefire across all sectors of the LOC comes with its fair share of skepticism with many seeing this as a move by the Indian state to establish its grip on Kashmir. For Pakistan, it’s a mixed bag, with the country facing economic woes and an upcoming Afghan peace deal which shall be vital for Pakistan’s regional interests. Under the new Biden Administration, Islamabad would like to present itself as a responsible player in the region.
Pakistan faces a myriad of challenges in its neighborhood. From domestic troubles to volatile borders the country has seen violence in the shape of insurgency and cross-border terrorism for a greater part of a decade. The important question which arises is “what is at stake for Pakistan here?” A realist approach to International Relations has often argued that states pursue their interests in the International system. Currently for Pakistan much is at stake. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor is considered to be a “game-changer” in the region not only having rich dividends for the country’s ailing economy but also its impact on enhancing China Pakistan cooperation and foreign ties. The port of Gawadar is considered to be a vital strategic route for sea trade. The Afghan peace process and a potential United States troop withdrawal have great ramifications for Pakistan with Islamabad being an important player in these key agreements. Keeping such viewpoints in mind; it is vital for Islamabad to prioritize its time and attention in attending to such key developments. One thing which can’t be argued upon, however, is that while the pursuit of such goals is vital for Pakistan’s interest, its principal stand on Kashmir must not be sidelined while handling these regional developments.
India on August 5, 2019 revoked Article 370 in the Indian constitution on Kashmir which guaranteed Kashmir’s autonomy and right of self-governance. This alongside the revocation of article 35 A officially allowed non-Kashmiri people to establish their businesses and own land and property in the state. This change was bought about by the right-wing BJP party who had won a landslide victory in the 2019 general elections and had promised to change the special status of Kashmir. Pakistan’s stand has not changed however and continues to provide diplomatic and moral support to the Kashmiri people. Pakistan has repeatedly stressed the need to uphold the rights of Kashmiris in deciding their future. Human rights violations throughout the valley have further deteriorated ties between the countries. This ceasefire also comes in the backdrop of the end of a major clash between Indian and Chinese troops along the LAC. The 10 month-long standoffs over contested areas of the Ladakh region had incensed ties between New Delhi and Beijing. The ceasefire with Pakistan and agreement on the withdrawal of troops with China, give New Delhi the breathing space to further its domestic policy on Kashmir and focus on issues of economic recession and farmers’ protest.
For Pakistan, this ceasefire presents an opportunity to handle its domestic issues and ensure that its regional objectives are secured. The success of CPEC and a stable Afghanistan are of vital interest for Pakistan at this point. CPEC presents an excellent opportunity for Pakistan to cash in on its economic benefits and to provide for the people of Baluchistan. For this, it shall be vital that the peace process in Afghanistan is furthered and all major stakeholders are on board in the decision-making process. The Biden administration has highlighted the importance of a stable Afghanistan and has also recognized the importance of Pakistan in this process. This ceasefire allows Islamabad to focus intently on these developments and extract the best dividends. While this is important, Islamabad must not relent on its original stance on Kashmir. It must continue to press the Indian state and the world for a solution to the Kashmir issue. While the jury is out on how long this ceasefire shall last, it’s vital that Pakistan does not lose sight of its larger policy objectives on both sides of the border.
Abdul Wasay Ajmal works at China Pakistan Study Center at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad and is a student at National Defense University Islamabad. The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of Dispatch News Desk.