Refusing Backdoor Talks: A Necessary Evil
According to the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan Dr. Muhammad Faisal's last media briefing (September 12, 2019) and multiple media reports over the past few days, Pakistan has out rightly refused to engage in any backdoor talks or dialogue with India. The decision was made after India's mercurial demarche to abrogate the special status of the Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IOJK) through the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on August 05, 2019.
The art of diplomacy demands that regardless of the prevailing circumstances, communication between different states, entities or parties need to be maintained officially or unofficially in order to prevent conflicts, resolve disputes, increase cooperation, improve relations and compromise on sensitive matters to achieve national interests of different kinds. It insists that parties try their level best to make things work and avoid anything that might lead to severe conflict of interest or confrontation. Given this premise, Pakistan's refusal to engage India in any sort of backdoor diplomacy might seem erratic, bizarre and unconventional to an observer. But this is not the case.
Pakistan's decision, although unusual and different from its previous stance of full-fledged dialogue and engagement with India on all matters of concern primarily Jammu & Kashmir dispute and even terrorism, is neither arbitrary nor abrupt. This decision was made after due deliberation by the policy makers of Pakistan subsequent to the exhaustion of all options and attempts to engage India in a meaningful and constructive dialogue and negotiation processes in order to resolve pending issues, ease tensions and to return comparative normalcy to bilateral relations.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, ever since assuming power in August 2018 have been making friendly overtures towards India in a bid to rid the region from a historical conflict between two of the largest countries in South Asia which has taken an even dangerous form after the introduction of nuclear weapons in the region in 1998. From his inaugural speech after being elected as the PM of Pakistan, up till his address to the nation on February 27, 2019, Mr. Imran Khan has been regularly extending messages of peace and reconciliation towards India but to no avail.
Furthermore, after the Pulwama attack in February 2019, Pakistan was subjected to an unforgiving blame-game by India for allegedly propagating terrorism inside India in general and IOK in particular, despite Pakistan's condemnation of the attack and multiple offers to India to conduct investigation into the matter and share intelligence in this regard. In return, Pakistan's offers for peace and cooperation were blatantly rejected by India and the latter instead of engaging in dialogue subjected to the use of military force against Pakistan (case and point, Balakot misadventure by India in February 2019).
Despite India's blatant aggression and negative policy orientation, Pakistan maintained fortitude and as a goodwill gesture released the captured downed Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman to de-escalate the situation on March 01, 2019. During all this time, PM Imran Khan consistently made offers of negotiations and dialogue to his Indian counterpart in order to ease tensions and warn him about the consequences of embarking on the dangerous war-path that he has embarked India upon vis-a-vis Pakistan. But the Indian leadership decided to remain arrogant and stubborn to date.
While Pakistan adhered to international norms and made repeated calls for peace, the Indian civilian and military leadership along with its bigoted media kept on beating war drums and hurled threats towards Pakistan. From the onset of Modi's government in India in 2014, the main focus of his government has been to isolate Pakistan diplomatically and choke the country economically. In fact, an aggressive anti-Pakistan agenda was one of the main principles of BJP political manifesto.
Pakistan's pursuance of policy of peace and reconciliatory approach was deliberately perceived as a weakness and policy of appeasement by India. Rather than reciprocating Pakistan's overtures for peace, India responded with aggression. India discerned Pakistan to be weak and a country unable to respond to its diplomatic and strategic misbehaving. India's policy makers felt that now they are in a position to establish a 'new normal' with Pakistan under the nuclear umbrella where they are able to trespass, violate and encroach into Pakistan any way it wants without any consequences.
The development of such a complex situation compelled Pakistan to close all kinds of backdoor diplomatic channels with India. Because the art of diplomacy that necessitates all parties to keep all or any communication channels open to avoid conflict also permit countries to look out for their national interests with decisiveness and perseverance if other countries, parties or entities are not seeking peace and reconciliation. And this is exactly the path India has commenced upon, of conflict and warmongering.
The Indian civilian and military leadership has been very clear in stating that they do not want to engage Pakistan in any dialogue on Jammu & Kashmir dispute and is adamant to paint Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism. The Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh even went to the extent of affirming that India is seriously considering to modify its policy no 'no first use' for nuclear weapons. Additionally, after the revocation of Article 370, the Indian state has unleashed a new wave of violence and tyranny against the people of Kashmir in form of curfew, total communication and internet blackout, extra-judicial killings, nocturnal abductions, torture, incarcerations, use of unnecessary force and brutal crackdowns.
In response to all these infractions, offenses and a display to sheer unwillingness by India to engage, Pakistan finally decided to close all backdoor diplomatic channels which were proving to be a time-buying tactic and a fruitless activity.
According to media reports, as soon as Pakistan made its intentions public about dropping all backdoor diplomatic channels, several powerful countries, including a few Muslim states urged Pakistan to re-commence backdoor talks with India in order to de-escalated the increasing tensions with India over the Jammu & Kashmir dispute. The recent visits of the Deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia and Foreign Minister of UAE on September 03, 2019 were a part of the diplomatic effort to convince Pakistan to reengage India. It has also been reported that PM Imran Khan has been requested to tone down his verbal attacks on Indian PM Modi which includes PM Khan equating Modi with Nazi leader Adolph Hitler. This was something that PM Modi complained to US President Trump about during one of their telephonic conversations.
However, Pakistan turned down all such requests and has clearly stated that any engagement with India will be made through quiet or conventional diplomacy only after the latter is made to agree to certain conditions which allegedly involves the lifting of the brutal curfew in IOK and restrictions levied after August 05. It was made clear to the international interlocutors that Pakistan will neither engage India nor stop targeting Modi until India adheres to these demands.
Pakistan was totally within its rights to finally put its foot down in the face of Indian arrogance and hostility. It was a necessary evil that Pakistan had to subject to in order to make India realize the gravity of the situation and give their over confident leadership a reality check. It was a clear message to the Indian policy makers not to underestimate Pakistan. For the last decade and a half India had developed a national ego and began to punch way above its weight, owing to its economic progress and improved international political clout.
India's bonhomie with the US made its leadership think that it was above international law and began treating smaller states as children of lesser god. India should be cognizant that in this age of nuclear weapons, no country however big and strong is untouchable, especially Pakistan which is fully capable of responding to any and all conventional, non-conventional and nuclear threats. A capability Pakistan has already displayed against India time and again.
After the revocation of Article 370, there is a high chance militancy sprouting from within IOK once again as the state remains smouldering under the illegal Indian occupation. Engagement with Pakistan and adhering to the UNSC resolution on Kashmir are the only way now to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute peacefully through political means. The international community, rather than convincing Pakistan to compromise should persuade India to change its policy orientation towards Kashmir and Pakistan and resolve the dispute amicably via negotiations and dialogue because diplomacy is a two-way street and Pakistan has walked more than the distance that it was supposed to cover.