Who else should we approach in the coming year?
2015 has been a topsy-turvy year for Pakistan’s relationships with its neighbours, namely Afghanistan, India and China.
While we struggled to progress with the first two, for the most part of the year, we did set new highs with the third. But the end of the year is quite hopeful; it does seem we might get somewhere, with most of them.
The year, like many before, started off on the wrong foot, with clashes along the Line of Control (LoC) and the Working Boundary happening on an alarming level. Even after agreements against cross-border firing, the conflict continued raising suspicions on India’s and Pakistan’s motivation for peace.
This year has been a tug of power between the two nuclear powers, from arresting Pakistani spy pigeons to provocative remarks on both ends. Indian Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, said that India would use terrorism to crush terrorism. This was promptly snapped on by our Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, who said this constituted Indian admission of involvement in terror acts in Pakistan.
Case in point, when Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz has to cancel his flight to New Delhi because Pakistan was given a 12 hour ultimatum by India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who insisted on a one-point terrorism agenda after Nawaz Sharif’s 5-point agenda were presented in the UNGA address.
But in November the temperature did lower when Swaraj finally came to Pakistan and issued a joint statement which was to pave the way for resuming bilateral talks, terming it as ‘comprehensive bilateral dialogue’, dismissing the previous ‘composite dialogue’ notion.
And secret meetings between the two prime ministers, Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi, in Paris and both countries’ security advisors in Bangkok, raised questions as well as hopes for better talks in the future.
Will these secret meetings and peace talks improve anything?
Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani geostrategist and former bureaucrat, explained the relationship while talking to DNA. “With India, we are going to make it a manageable relationship but we won’t achieve something substantial. It won’t be big peace or big war”, she said.
In November the temperature did lower when Swaraj finally came to Pakistan and issued a joint statement which was to pave the way for resuming bilateral talks
Zafar Hilaly, a political analyst and former ambassador, does not seem very hopeful either.
“I am not very hopeful, ever since Modi has come to power the relationship has worsened, there is no trust, it seems to be a government of extremists”
But the question still remains, to what end are we conducting these talks?
Zafar Hilaly is the view that “Modi may be pretending to have turned a new leaf, and a lot of pressure has been put on him to talk to Pakistan by the USA and other countries. The faith test would be when he signs the pending agreements.”
Ayesha Siddiqa, on the other hand, feels that “Our military continues to see India as a threat, improvement of relations means expectations of a peace dividend, which the army doesn’t consider beneficial, as the army wants to be a more credible institution, hence it needs the Indian threat for image building and since our political dispensation is very weak a credible challenge won’t be posed to the military’s narrative.”
What will 2016 hold for Indo-Pak?
“We defiantly need to resolve our issues with India. Indo-Pak has the potential for economic and strategic depth, the Indo-Pak joint business council exists and consistency in maintaining it and making is work is needed, people to people contact is also important. We shouldn’t rush but continue the process”, Ayesha added.
The series of explosions in Afghanistan’s capital in August rocked both the city and Pakistan’s relationship with it.
The explosion killed about 50 Afghans and more than 300 innocent citizens were left injured. Pakistan was instantly blamed for being disloyal to Afghanistan by senior Afghan officials, in particular, because of the alleged alliance with the Haqqani Network.
The MOU’s to be signed were cancelled instantly and National Directorate of Security (NDS) of Afghanistan caught the ISI hiding the death of Mullah Omar for more than two years.
Ayesha Siddiqa still thinks that “Afghanistan does want to be good friends but since we have so much vested in one form of the Taliban or the other, this relationship may deteriorate.”
There have been increasing cross-border firing incidents between the Afghan National Forces and the Pakistani military. In October, Seven soldiers from the Afghan side of the border were killed by fire.
Yet there has been a tussle for talks, even foreign powers including the USA, have pressured Pakistan to talk to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s president and chief sectary seem to have independent policies on Pakistan and seem to be much divided; even Pakistan’s stance needs to be clear-cut for 2016.
“The government in Kabul is weak and divided, that is unfortunate for Pakistan, but they are talking so that’s much needed. Pakistan shouldn’t take sides, we don’t want Afghan Taliban to operate from Pakistan’s land for sure, and we can’t join the Afghan government to do activities against the Afghan Taliban, which seems to be what the Afghan government wants. That would be a very risky thing to do for Pakistan because the Pakistani Taliban may unite against us. This year will be very decisive in Pak-Afghan relationship”, Zafar Hilaly explained.
Sino- Pak relationship
The pak-chain relationship has definitely been groundbreaking in the year 2015; from the CPEC to many new investments all over the country, the relationship is stronger than ever.
Zafar feels very enthusiastically about the relationship, as it comes when no other country is freely willing to invest in Pakistan.
“We have to be grateful that China is interested in us at a time when the Americans are going to India and the Europeans want to maintain bare minimum contact with us. China is full of money, wanting to have a good relationship with Pakistan. Our ties are not only political but strategic too and will grow for the better”, he added.
There have been increasing cross-border firing incidents between the Afghan National Forces and the Pakistani military
Along with the exceptional CPEC, the Thar coal-based project worth $1.8 billion, 1 gigawatt solar power park and various other renewable energy projects are being done with China’s collaboration in Pakistan, not to forget the Disney theme park in Lahore and the Orange Line.
“With China, we have a thriving governmental relationship; it’s a new patron which might replace the USA in certain areas”, Ayesha said.
China has also assured Pakistan of its support for Pakistan’s bid to become a member of the 48-nation multinational body Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
Yet Ayesha Siddiqa also feels that “it’s a very unquestionable relationship, we are going to sacrifice our rights for China, and I fear we won’t realise it until it’s very late.”
What else does Pakistan need to do in 2016?
Ayesha is of the view that Pakistan should build relations with Iran
“It would definitely be helpful if we project ourselves as part of South Asia”, she said.
Zafar Hilaly, on the other hand, contradicted the view, saying that “the problem with Iran and KSA is that we can have a relationship with one or the other. So that’s a position we don’t want to be in.”
But another super power seems to be interested in us after almost 20 years of indifference.
For this Zafar Hilaly is enthusiastic and feels in 2016 we need to concentrate more here.
“Russia is showing interest for investments in Pakistan and growing trade and economic cooperation with us. We need a normal relationship with a nearby superpower”, he pointed out.
With the current government refusing to be transparent about its future plans to the people, 2016 holds more questions for us than ever. Getting into big projects means big interest rates, which would bring big problems for the common man. Also, not being in good relations along the border may prove risky. The dodge ball begins as 2015 comes to a confusing end.