Bilateral relations between Pakistan and India might be thawing again, with both countries seemingly wanting to mend ties with each other in recent years.
A report by defence analyst Derek Grossman of the RAND corporation —an American global policy think tank, suggests that ties between the two countries are ‘warming up’, although he warns against premature celebration as anything could upset the delicate balance of sentiments.
The most recent show of support included Indian Prime Minister Modi’s tweet expressing sympathy for the floods that ravaged Pakistan, with Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ‘thanking him’ for reaching out. Grossman says that the two countries were in talks for New Delhi sending over humanitarian relief, but ultimately the ‘usual logjams’ —disputes over Jammu and Azad Kashmir— prevented that from happening.
“That two nuclear-armed sworn enemies are getting along better is incredibly significant news—yet it has received little media attention in the West,” he wrote, saying that as late as February 2019, both countries were bracing for war. However, that month, a suicide terrorist attack took place in Indian-occupied Kashmir that was condemned by Pakistan, even though Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for it.
When India carried out an airstrike in Balakot, Pakistan a few days later in retaliation, Pakistan shot down one of the fighter jets and captured the pilot. “In a gesture of goodwill, Islamabad released the pilot a few days later, and tensions eased.” Grossman says that since then, bilateral relations have been on the mend, despite the occasional challenge.
Pakistan remaining silent over Modi’s revocation of Indian Occupied Kashmir’s special autonomy status, and not taking advantage of India being held up in a eastern border skirmish with China by attacking the western border were cited as examples of Pakistan’s attempts to mend ties.
“By late February 2021, the Indian and Pakistani militaries released a rare joint statement renewing a cease-fire along their line of control separating Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistani-controlled Kashmir,” the report read, adding that the cease-fire has held up till now, except for one minor violation.
“This recent border incident aside, bilateral ties continue to show signs of durability and even progress,” Grossman said, citing Pakistan’s lack of retaliation over India’s apparently accidental missile firing this March, and then India’s subsequent firing of the three officers responsible for the incident.
One of the reasons for this is the fact that India has been ‘brimming with confidence’, as Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have done ‘quite well’ for India, raising the GDP by 7.5% this year. “And because the BJP is a Hindu nationalist party, the public overwhelmingly trusts the current government never to go soft on Pakistan—which gives Modi leeway his Indian National Congress party predecessors never had.”
On Pakistan’s side, politically, a policy shift has been taking place, especially during the regime of former prime minister Imran Khan, who had stressed on the need for an ‘independent foreign policy’. “Khan’s approach on India reflected the views of his chief ally and patron, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, according to one of my Pakistani interlocutors,” says Grossman. Even after Khan’s ouster, the desire to thaw relations with India continued in the face of Shehbaz Sharif. “One of the most pro-Indian politicians in Pakistan, Sharif began his tenure by stating, “We want peace with India.”
However, Grossman still recommends caution, saying, “While the warming trend in India-Pakistan ties is encouraging, it makes sense to keep a healthy check on expectations. Events could easily derail progress. any slight, real or perceived, could easily escalate to renewed tensions, especially if it suggests disrespect for either Hinduism or Islam.”