Pakistan After the US — Indian 2+2 Talks

08.10.2018 Author: Vladimir Terehov

The US — Indian negotiations held in New Delhi on September 6 this year with the participation of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Defence (in the so-called 2+2 format) represent one of the most significant events of late in the region of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

It can be compared to a heavy stone thrown into water. The ensuing circle waves are still spreading across the whole Indo-Pacific region affecting individual countries and the general situation in the region.

At the same time, the practical implementation of the events specified in the Joint Statement made after the meeting is hindered by the issue of its compatibility with the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) adopted in August 2017 by the US Congress.

Formally, India falls within the purview of this law if it continues to purchase hydrocarbons in Iran and makes the long-discussed deal with Russia for purchasing the S-400 air defence systems.

The author of this article believes that Pakistan has already found itself affected by the very fact of the aforementioned meeting even before this issue is resolved (for instance, by excluding India from the CAATSA by a US Congress decision). The prospects for improving the Indian – Pakistani relations were affected too.

Let us remind you that one of the election campaign slogans of the Pakistan Movement for Justice (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) that won the parliamentary elections held in Pakistan on July 25 was to improve the relations with India dramatically. Statements of the kind made by the party leader Imran Khan who became the Prime Minister were received very positively in New Delhi.

Probably probing into each other’s stances in order to find a way to combine them concerning the crucial issues (first and foremost, that of Kashmir) was planned to be carried out during the meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs (the first one over the last 3 years) during the recently opened UN General Assembly.

According to the information published by the Times of India newspaper on September 21, this opportunity emerged as a result of the positive reaction of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Imran Khan’s letter expressing the idea to hold a meeting of the Ministers of the 2 countries in the neutral territory of the UN.

On the next day already, the official Indian Ministry for Foreign Affairs spokesperson announced the country’s agreement to hold a meeting in such a format. The main reasons behind this decision included the death of an Indian border guard “in the Himalayas on the Line of Control” (the quasi-border between India and Pakistan in the former Kashmir principality), as well as the discovery of 3 Indian policemen dead in another part of the same Line of Control.

Given the explicit deficit of information on the details of both events (when they happened, what the circumstances were and who was responsible), politicians of both countries immediately and abruptly hardened their rhetoric aimed at one another. Then the exchange of harsh words began, however (which is significant) it was after India abandoned the previously arranged ministerial meeting in New York.

The Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed his disagreement with the display of ‘haughtiness’ by the Indian party that could be compared to ‘a small man in a big office who is unable to see the whole picture’ beyond the office premises. In his turn, he advised not to consider Pakistan’s readiness for establishing friendly relations with India as ‘a sign of weakness’.

In this exchange of verbal attacks (like a year ago during the conflict with China on the Doklam Plateau)), India was mostly represented by General Bipin Rawat, the Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army, who stated that Pakistan was aspiring to ‘bleed India with thousand cuts’.

Thus, by end of September, the signals of mutual readiness for improving the Pakistani – Indian relations that existed 3 months earlier have disappeared completely. And the possibility of any developments on the Hindustan Peninsula following the scenario on the Korean Peninsula appears completely ephemeral.

It is difficult to refrain from remarks concerning such (pseudo?) phenomenon as terrorism, in the opinion of the author. In most cases, the actions that this term is applied to happen surprisingly at the right moment and to the point. That is, there is always one of the perfectly legal players who profits from these occurrences.

The formal pretext for cancelling the arranged meeting of the Indian and Pakistani Ministers for Foreign Affairs was the recurrent (and, alas, almost routine) events on the Line of Control in Kashmir that are usually qualified as “terrorist attacks carried out with the assistance of Pakistan.” Let us note that there have been dozens and even hundreds of events of the kind (over several decades).

There is no preventing them outside the framework of resolving the Kashmir issue in some way or other. Just as there is no denuclearising the aforementioned Korean peninsula outside the context of the Korean issue on the whole. It seems, even Washington DC is beginning to realise that.

One can surmise that Imran Khan’s initiative to hold a ministerial meeting without laying down any preliminary (and obviously unfeasible) conditions appeared as a way of looking for a feasible approach to resolving the whole range of problems in the Indian – Pakistani relations.

However, such ultimatum-like conditions concerning Pakistan were laid down by the Joint Statement made after the US – Indian negotiations in the 2+2 format. It is difficult to find a different kind of assessment to the call on Pakistan “to ensure that the territory under its control is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries.”

First, Islamabad has always denied any involvement in the terrorist attacks on India, primarily in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Second, Pakistan has been waging a real war against the terrorist groups mentioned in the US – Indian document that threaten its territorial integrity. Third, it would be really difficult to vanquish those organisations in Pakistan that are fighting “for the rights of our brothers oppressed in Kashmir occupied by India.”

It comes as no surprise that, having read the aforementioned (and other) passages of the Joint Statement that testify to the US desire to expand the support of Pakistan’s main opponent abruptly, its new leadership resumed its activities towards a rapprochement with China.

Imran Khan and his leading ministers made several statements reiterating their commitment to carrying on with the implementation of the China – Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that is becoming the main symbol of the robust long term bilateral cooperation.

Though, during the election campaign of Imran Khan, one would hear hints that the participation in the CPEC was among the main reasons behind the current ‘catastrophic’ state of the Pakistani financial system.

The visit of the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa to China on September 21 is a very notable event as well. The Chinese leader Xi Jinping met him personally in Beijing, their negotiations once again reiterated the critical nature of implementing the CPEC and developing the defence sphere of the bilateral relations. One could hardly doubt that various aspects of the US – Indian meeting in the 2+2 format were also discussed.

In conclusion, we have to say that, unfortunately, by the sound of things, the Korean scenario (and any other one) for resolving the smouldering conflict on the Hindustan peninsula is put off.

However, a strategy for removing the sore with parallel activities aimed at resolving a more general (and original) problem that are currently underway on the Korean peninsula could be productive for the Hindustan peninsula as well.

Though, naturally, the prospects of establishing an Indian – Pakistani (con)federation almost with the same borders as in the British India of the past era (with an automatic resolution of the Kashmir issue) looks rather unfeasible today.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.