Indo-Pakistan War Heat Up 


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 President of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi signing the historic Simla agreement in July 1971
I am a proverbial optimist. My view has been the current jingoistic hullabaloo is just blowing of hot air. No doubt violations on the Line of Control (LoC) have been a seasonal affair threatening peace but this time it seems that the joke has gone too far. No doubt the current scenario is grim. India does not seem to cool down following the Uri incident and subsequent increasing violations vitiating gun-powder atmosphere.

Ever since tension is mounting, trigger happy security forces rampant in their crack down and enforcing curfew, casualties mounting every hour-are adding fuel to the fire. The popular crescendo demanding United Nations to implement Security Council Resolutions for the right of self-determination – seemed to have been given new lease of life.

Pakistan, pushed into corner by the blame game, has been trying to deflect the diplomatic offensive by its neighbour to isolate it in the international community. Its ready willingness to join probe with India to find out who the culprits were has not been successful. All the hope of speedy normalisation of relations between the two countries following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in December last year, seems to have been consigned to the archives of their Foreign Offices.

This notion that it is part of a seasonal affair has been ruled out by the increasing violation of human rights. With an ultra-rightist prime minister in power, there seems to be no let up. On both sides there is manifestation of method in the madness. Apparently policy planners in Delhi feel that it can crush the intifada and get away by imposing constitutional changes that strengthen the case of disputed territory as its integral part.

The plethora of hard hitting speeches by his ministers and Prime Minister Modi’s especially the one in which he threatened Pakistan to cut off water from source to its rivers in violation of internationally binding Indus Water Treaty. Rightly so, Pakistan’s Adviser for Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz has described this threat as amounting to declaration of war. Indian boycott of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit that was to be held in November in Islamabad and its lobbying with other members to fail it has led to its cancellation – needs no explanation that Delhi means business.

The growing tension between two nuclear countries has been cause of concern in many capitals. United States has urged upon both to cool down and resume talks to resolve disputes that keep Islamabad and Delhi at logger heads. More or less this is the view of other friendly countries too.

Pakistan’s most trust worthy friend China ‘hopes that Pakistan and India will strengthen channels for dialogue, appropriately handle any differences, improve bilateral relations and together protect the region’s peace and stability’. This was conveyed by its deputy foreign minister to Pakistan’s special envoys to Beijing for Kashmir, according to the Chinese foreign ministry website.

This statement pushed me into memory lane. I recall Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s visit to China soon after her assumption of office in early 1989. I have had the pleasure of accompanying her father martyred Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1974 to Beijing when both of its great leaders–Chairman Mao and Prime Minister Zhou en-Lai–were alive. The great warmth and unprecedented reception extended to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was a clear manifestation of the love and affection that Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had infused in consolidating Pakistan’s relations with China taking it to unsurpassable heights of friendship.

It was Benazir Bhutto’s “sentimental journey”. Obviously she was excited—she had been to Beijing with her father in 1972. She had seen closely its top political hierarchy. She knew the depth of relations that Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had achieved with the Chinese leadership painstakingly striven during his six visits. Her trip besides being nostalgic was an opportunity to pick up the pieces and revive ties with China to the same height that Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had left.

Premier Bhutto had more than two and a half hour long private meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng. They covered vast areas of bilateral relations, Pakistan’s role under Benazir’s leadership in global and regional politics. Being a senior leader, Li Peng gave her his world view of the possible future course of currents and cross currents in global politics. His advice to Benazir Bhutto served as a guiding principle for her foreign policy. She also had more than 90-minute long meeting with Supreme leader aging Deng Xiaopeng.

Benazir Bhutto was fond of unwinding herself with her close aides. I being one of those very few fortunate ones who were trusted to share what transpired between the two prime ministers. Martyred Benazir disclosed that Li Peng stressed upon her to concentrate on economic development. He was aware of Pakistan’s concerns over the unresolved Kashmir issue. He told her never to allow the situation to reach a point of no return and that she should follow China’s policy with India.

China has a border dispute with India and been to war with it in 1962. Notwithstanding the dispute and skirmishes, China has developed trade and commercial ties with Delhi growing each year more than the previous. Li Peng told Benazir not to ever allow situation to drift in a manner that would retard trade and economic relations. Finally, about Kashmir, he assured full Chinese support to Pakistan’s point of view. However, adding that “don’t talk of war” pursue negotiated settlement.

Li Peng’s advice became a guiding light for her. When she became prime minister second time, she left no stone unturned in developing economy and making sincere efforts for the resolution of Kashmir dispute with India. She stoutly opposed doing anything that would have given India an excuse to market externally the Kashmiri intifada as a movement supported from outside as had become the case during General (r) Musharraf’s tenure. Her instructions to me as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to UK were to mobilise international support for the people of Kashmir on gross violation of human rights. She believed that if any external physical support was found in aid of peaceful Kashmiri freedom struggle–it would just subvert their genuine cause.

I am happy to note that wisdom has prevailed; joint session of the Parliament will be debating the foreign policy and options available to Pakistan in the prevailing vicious atmosphere. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairperson’s Bilawal Bhutto’s categorical commitment that he and his party would stand by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and PML-N government in this hour of crisis–irrespective of the failure to submit himself and his family for transparent accountability for the alleged charges of money laundering–is a great boost for otherwise doddering government constantly under threat from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan who has boycotted the joint session for a unified action plan to counter India. He is perhaps still under the impression, that since November is around, umpire too would come out from his closet to raise his finger.

It is time Pakistan has a proactive foreign policy. Simla agreement signed by Bhutto sahib and Indira Gandhi accepted Kashmir as a disputed territory. They agreed to resolve it bilaterally without prejudice to UN Security Council’s resolutions. Both the countries need to revisit Simla now as way out from a near war like situation. Leaders in the two countries should show the same quality of statesmanship that led to Simla Agreement without outside involvement or mediation. Making jingoistic speeches and rousing hatred – would not serve the cause of peace and stability in the region. Reviving Simla spirit as a way forward is the need of the hour.

*author is former Higher Commissioner of Pakistan, former advisor Prime Minister  Benazir Bhutto and veteran journalist
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