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Are India-Pakistan Relations Set To Thaw Post Assembly Elections?

Back channel “contacts are open and working.”

26/02/2017 2:46 PM IST | Updated 26/02/2017 3:37 PM IST
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Could India-Pakistan relations—now in the deep freeze—get a fresh lease of life after March 11 when the results to Assembly elections are known?

While Islamabad appears to be keen and even ready for talks, New Delhi, however, appears to be waiting and watching. The results of the elections will include the crucial Uttar Pradesh elections, which will elect 75 MPs to the Parliament.

Islamabad ready for talks

Senior Pakistani journalist and close confidant of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Imtiaz Alam, told Huffington Post that Islamabad is expecting "some forward movement."

"I can assure you Pakistan has kept the back channels going and open," said Alam, who is also the Secretary-General of the South Asian Free Media Association.

Alam, who was visiting India recently, added, "from the indications we have, we feel that New Delhi will decide after the elections to the five states, especially Uttar Pradesh, is out of the way," he said and "that why I am here," he said.

On the thorny issue of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Sayeed being protected by the Pakistani establishment, Alam said, "Both JeM and LeT have a large number of armed, trained and indoctrinated cadre who pose a grave danger to the country."

Pakistan, first, has to find a way to disarm, de-mobilise and then integrate them back into society. India holds Masood Azhar responsible for the Pathankot attack in January 2016 among others, and Hafiz Sayeed as the mastermind behind the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks among other attacks in India.

According to Alam, the arrest of Hafiz Sayeed is an indication that Pakistan has started the process. Earlier on 20 February, Pakistan's Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, while addressing an international security conference in Munich, said that Sayeed poses a "serious threat" to the nation, and was thus placed under house arrest in the country's "larger interest".

Pakistan Army pre-occupied with Afghan terror

Referring to the relative quiet along the India-Pakistan border since October 2016, when General Qamar Ahmed Bajwa took over as the Chief of the Pakistan Army, Alam said it is a clear indication of what Pakistan army wants.

New Delhi, too, admits that cross-border firings and infiltration attempts have dropped since October 2016. "The Pakistan Army is heavily committed in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region," Alam said, adding that "most of the terrorism in Pakistan is now coming from the other side of the Durand Line (from Afghanistan)."

Pakistani security forces have recently launched Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad— the eleventh anti-terror operation since 2007 across the country. Radd-ul-Fassad, which roughly translates to "elimination of discord," will aim to eliminate the "residual/latent threat of terrorism, consolidating the gains made in other military operations and further ensuring the security of Pakistan's borders," a statement released by Islamabad on 22 February said. "India should watch the progress of operation," Alam said.

According to Alam, the Pakistan's diplomatic corps has also told Islamabad that it is increasingly "finding difficult to convince and get the backing of the international community when terrorism continues in Kashmir and terrorists like Hafiz Sayeed move around Pakistan freely." He added that "Pakistan's India and Kashmir policy is under review."

India's response

The Indian security establishment, however, has been more cautious in its reactions. Top sources have said that engaging Pakistan has to "benefit India."

Also, New Delhi believes "multiple factors" have led to action against Hafiz Sayeed. According to a senior official, New Delhi believes that "Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sees terrorism as threat in Punjab." The source added that three more terrorists besides Hafiz Sayeed who were "never named or wanted by India" were also arrested.

"It indicates there is pressure from within Pakistan," he said. Besides, India's persistent pressure and change in US policy have contributed to Pakistan's actions, the source said, adding that "Pakistan cannot choose when it wants peace; the talks have to benefit us [India]. We will decide when we can talk peace, each time peace talks starts there is change is stance of Pakistan".

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