Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan army chief is back to old tricks; dancing to Beijing’s tune as China sings peace without disengaging from Depsang, Gogra and Hot Springs in Eastern Ladakh. Addressing the Islamabad Security Dialogue on March 18, 2021, Bajwa spoke of Pakistan’s vision and how best to tackle Pakistan’s security challenges. He commended the National Security Division for identifying the need for Pakistan to have its own security dialogue. Bajwa said the outer layer of national security is the exogenous factors of global and regional environment and inner layers the endogenous factors of internal peace, stability and development orientation. He further said that security of any nation is intimately linked to global and regional dynamics like human security, extremism, human rights, environmental hazards, economic security or pandemics.
Bajwa praised multilateral rule-based platforms and said Pakistan had the choice to stay in acrimony of the past, continue promoting conflict and get into another vicious cycle of war, disease and destruction, or to move ahead exploiting technology and science to usher in peace and prosperity. He cited unsettled disputes like the Kashmir issue in South Asia as the cause for not being integrated in terms of trade, infrastructure, water and energy cooperation. He said Pakistan is not in an arms race and has reduced defence expenditure despite rising security challenges. He then went on to say that Pakistan does not interfere in internal issues of any country and is ready to resolve all outstanding issues with neighbours without any pressure, but that this depended on reciprocity.
Bajwa spoke of the geostrategic location of Pakistan, which it will leverage for own, regional and global benefit (as if Pakistan has not been doing so), Pakistan’s contribution to the US-Pakistan peace deal and measures taken to enhance trade connectivity with Afghanistan. He said the CPEC is central to Pakistan’s vision and economic transformation, which Pakistan wants to make inclusive, transparent and attractive for all global and regional players but this remains incomplete without a stable and peaceful South Asia. He talked of the need for global players to enable South Asia economically interconnected, particularly America under the Joe Biden administration.
Closer examination of Bajwa’s speech reveals there is nothing new from the old rhetoric save for the following: for once Bajwa admitted Pakistan has been promoting conflict; Kashmir and the CPEC have been linked to India’s access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, and; sitting in China’s lap, Pakistan wants the Joe Biden administration to pressurize India to resolve Kashmir – where the only issue is about Pakistan vacating its illegal occupation of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK). The carrot for India to be given land connectivity to Afghanistan and Central Asia too is unmistakable – on Beijing’s behest.
This is not the first time that Bajwa has spoken of dialogue and peace, as has Prime Minister Imran Khan, the army’s lackey. But as India has been saying, the onus to establish an environment for dialogue rests on Pakistan; not on India as Bajwa has said in his address. There is speculation that India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi may meet on sidelines of the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference scheduled in Dushanbe, Tajikistan on March 30, 2021. But there is little chance of Pakistan changing its policy on terrorism and proxy war on India. One solid proof of this is that even after Imran and Bajwa extended the olive branch in recent times, the influx of weapons and narcotics into Punjab increased exponentially once the farmer agitation got going in India.
Pakistan’s above efforts to destabilize Punjab, also in concert Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), led Amarinder Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab to personally meet the Union Home Minister and apprise him of the rising threat. Reacting to Bajwa’s speech of March 18, Amarinder Singh said, “Infiltration into India from across the border is still happening, Indian soldiers are being killed at the borders every day. They (Pakistan) are dropping arms and heroin into Punjab via drones every other day. Efforts to create trouble in my state continue to take place. All this should stop first, only then we can talk peace.”
One reason why Pakistan is talking peace is because of the economic mess it finds itself in despite the fact that both China and the US will not let Pakistan collapse. Pakistan’s total external debt and liabilities rose to $113.8 billion in fiscal year 2020 from $106.3 billion in the fiscal year 2019. Pakistan’s finance minister Hafeez Sheikh told Parliament in February 2021 that Pakistan’s total debt is Rs 36.5 trillion with Rs 11.5 trillion borrowed during the past two years – Rs 600 billion for debt servicing, Rs 3 trillion for the rupee-dollar parity correction and 1.5 trillion rupees for subsidies, to meet the tax shortfall due to COVID-19 outbreak.
The mention of extremism, human rights and human security by Bajwa are laughable considering Pakistan’s continuing terror industry and the ongoing genocide especially against the population of Balochistan. Bajwa’s emphasis for the Joe Biden administration to help South Asia economically interconnect and resolve Kashmir is to capitalize on the American dependency on Pakistan to resolve the mess in Afghanistan, exacerbated by the US-Taliban pseudo peace deal, and to let the US troops withdraw without bloodshed. It will be interesting to see after the 2,500 US troops withdraw from Afghanistan, which may well happen by May 1 or later, will Pakistan’s leverage over Washington increase or decrease and vice versa.
As of now, Bajwa’s olive branch is nothing more than an exercise in semantics. Ever since it came into being, Pakistan has not given land connectivity to India for Afghanistan and Central Asia. Moreover, despite leverages global powers have not pressured Pakistan to open the route for the South-South Corridor. Pakistan has stabbed India at every opportunity including after every time dialogue was reopened. Pakistan has integrated Turkey into the China-Pakistan anti-India nexus that is waging asymmetric war on India. Pakistan is not only flooding India with weapons using drones, tunnels and over ground land routes but also fake currency. Over 100 youth who went to Pakistan in last two years on short visits have gone missing after returning to India. There is focused effort to subvert the population of Kashmir Valley against India. The terrorist launch pads across the border anyway remain full.
The first steps that Pakistan must take is to stop all terror activities, accept its terror attacks on India and prosecute and punish those responsible for attacking India. Pakistan perhaps hopes that short-term tactical halts like its recent commitment to ceasefire would convince India that Pakistan is earnest this time. But these will unlikely work. After years of deceit even if Pakistan takes the first steps enumerated here, which must be beyond superficial measures, Pakistan will need to do much more to prove its sincerity. It is commonly said that the zebra cannot change its stripes; can Pakistan prove that saying wrong?