2016 in Retrospect: After a high in 2015, a new low in India-Pakistan ties

By Aroonim Bhuyan

New Delhi– As 2015 drew to a close, there were fresh expectations on India-Pakistan ties with the two sides deciding to resume their comprehensive bilateral dialogue during External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad and Prime Minister Narendra Modi making a surprise visit to Lahore on Christmas Day on his counterpart Nawaz Sharif’s birthday and his granddaughter’s wedding. That euphoria now seems a distant dream.

And for good reason.

Even as the Foreign Secretaries of the nations were scheduled to meet to formulate the dialogue process, terrorists of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) attacked the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot on January 2 this year resulting in the deaths of seven Indian security personnel and all five attackers. The entire peace initiative was thrown off the rails.

India Pakistan flags (Photo courtesy: India .com)

India demanded that Pakistan bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice and gave what it termed irrefutable proof of the JeM’s involvement in the attack. Pakistan lodged an FIR against unknown persons in February.

In March, India allowed a Pakistani investigation team to visit Pathankot as part of the probe into the attack.

In the same month, Pakistan arrested an Indian national, Kulbhushan Jadhav who had inadvertently crossed over from Iran and charged him with spying. India said that Jadhav is a former Indian Navy officer. Jadhav has since been denied consular access despite repeated requests from New Delhi.

In April, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar held talks with his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry during the latter’s visit to New Delhi for a meet on Afghanistan, but the government has since dismissed this as “not to be taken as a bilateral dialogue”.

In June, Pakistan reportedly said that it would consider allowing an Indian investigation team to visit its territory as part of the Pathankot probe attack but with no palpable action being seen taken by Islamabad, hopes of a dialogue continued to recede though the National Security Advisors of the two countries reportedly continued to remain in contact.

Things took a drastic turn for the worse with the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, the poster-boy of Kashmiri terrorism. Bilateral relations dipped to a new low with Pakistan describing Wani as “a martyr” and accusing India of human rights violations in Kashmir.

The violence sparked off in the Kashmir Valley by the killing of Wani claimed the lives of nearly 100 people, with India blaming Pakistan for inciting the violence. Sushma Swaraj, in a statement, categorically ruled out talks with Pakistan, saying that “talks and terror cannot go hand-in-hand”.

Pakistan suffered further embarrassment when Bahadur Ali, a terrorist who had infiltrated from its territory was caught by Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit was issued a demarche which stated: “Bahadur Ali has confessed to our authorities that after training in Lashkar-e-Toiba camps, he was infiltrated into India.”

At an all-party meeting in New Delhi in the backdrop of Kashmir, Prime Minister Modi red-flagged Pakistan’s continued abuse of human rights in Balochistan province and mentioned this in his Independence Day speech as well.

Then came September 18. Terrorists, allegedly belonging to the JeM, carried out a cross-border attack on an Indian Army base at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir in which 19 Indian soldiers lost their lives.

This time, as the whole country clamoured for revenge, India retaliated with aggression by going on the diplomatic offensive of isolating Pakistan in the international community.

Then came the surgical strikes on terrorist launch pads across the Line of Control on September 29.

Just ahead of this, warning the world that “we do not know who this Frankenstein’s monster will devour next”, Sushma Swaraj in her speech at the UN General Assembly, said in Hindi: “If we want to defeat terrorism, there is only one way — that we unite across our differences, add steel to our resolve and inject urgency in our response… And if any nation refuses to join this global strategy, then we must isolate it.”

Modi cancelled his visit to Islamabad to attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) Summit that was scheduled in November in protest against Pakistan’s state sponsorship of terrorism. Other Saarc nations like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan too followed suit, citing the same reason.

India also said that it would revisit the World Bank-brokered 1960 Indus Waters Treaty that has withstood three wars — drawing nervous reactions from Islamabad.

But the final diplomatic humiliation for Pakistan happened at the sixth ministerial ‘Heart of Asia conference – Istanbul Process’ conference on security and development of Afghanistan.

This time, it was not India but Afghanistan that named and shamed Pakistan for state sponsorship of terrorism.

Directly addressing Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistani Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, while turning down a donation of $500 million from Islamabad for development work in his country, said: “This fund, Mr. Aziz, could very well be used for containing extremism because without peace any amount of assistance will not meet the needs of our people.”

As of now, the prognosis for 2017 doesn’t seem too good. (IANS)

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