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Diplomacy: A New Low

After Foreign Minister of Pakistan Bilawal Bhutto Zardari launched a personal attack on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the UN podium on December 15, 2022, the swift response of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs was: “Uncivilised, new low even for Pakistan.” In a statement, the Indian Ministry said that Bilawal’s remarks seems to be a result of Pakistan’s increasing inability to use terrorists and their proxies. “Make in Pakistan terror has to stop, as no country can boast of having 126 UN-designated terrorists and 27 UN-designated terror entities,” it added.

Bilawal’s comments were a continuation of a heated exchange that began at a UN Security Council (UNSC) briefing on counter-terrorism in New York on December 15, where Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar described Pakistan as the “epicentre of terrorism”. In his response, the Pakistani minister stressed: “Osama bin Laden is dead. But the ‘butcher of Gujarat’ lives and he is the Prime Minister of India.”

Watch: Dr Jaishankar’s witty reply to a Pakistani journalist

Senior officials of the External Affairs Ministry believe that Bilawal did not make those comments all of a sudden, as his views reflect the current context and dynamics of relationships between the two South Asian neighbours. There is a decrease in incidents of Pakistani, as well as Chinese, intrusions in winter. Still, the Indian Forces have been kept vigilant at border regions. At a time when the Indian and the Chinese Forces are engaged in conflict in various sectors along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the provocative comments of the Foreign Minister of Pakistan are a matter of concern for New Delhi.

Indian Foreign Policy experts are of the opinion that Bilawal wanted to play the card of Human Rights by inciting Godhra incident (or the 2002 Gujarat riots, also known as the 2002 Gujarat violence, a three-day period of inter-communal violence in the western Indian Province of Gujarat). At the same time, he tried to reach out to the minority community (the followers of Islam) of India. It may be noted that numerous review reports of various US-based Human Rights organisations and the Human Rights Committee appointed by the US Congress have expressed serious concern over growing intolerance and Human Rights violations in India during Modi’s tenure as the Prime Minister (since 2014).

Relations between India and Pakistan became more sensitive after New Delhi changed the status of northern Indian Province of Jammu and Kashmir by abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution of India on August 5, 2019. With this, the Modi Administration converted the status of Jammu and Kashmir as an Indian Province to two separate Union Territories, namely Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and Union Territory of Ladakh. According to diplomatic sources, the Shehbaz Sharif Government in Islamabad is trying its best to restore Pakistan’s ties with the US. During the tenure of Donald Trump as President, the bilateral ties touched a new low. Hence, Bilawal has recalled that Narendra Modi did not get a US visa after the Godhra incident (when he used to serve as the Chief Minister of Gujarat).

By being so aggressive and raising the issue of Kashmir, Bilawal (and his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)) are trying to re-establish themselves in Pakistan’s National Politics. His comments have hinted that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is planning to use the Kashmir Issue as a weapon in order to counter the recent hyperactivity of former Prime Minister Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi, ahead of next polls. Asad Majeed Khan, the newly-appointed Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, is known for his staunch anti-India stance. Some sources believe that it is Khan, who scripted the statement of Bilawal. India repeatedly cornered Pakistan by convening Global Conferences on Counter-Terrorism in October and November (2022), and also during the UNSC meeting in December. During these events, India aired eyewitness’ accounts of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks (26/11).

Watch: ‘Snake in the backyard’

Meanwhile, the Pakistani experts have opined that the biggest obstacle in Indo-Pak relations is the lack of any proper official channel or mechanism. The two neighbouring countries were on the brink of a war after the Pulwama attack. The Pulwama attack had taken place on February 14, 2019, when a convoy of vehicles, carrying Indian security personnel on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber at Lethapora in the Pulwama District of the erstwhile Indian Province of Jammu and Kashmir. The attack killed 40 Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, as well as the perpetrator, Adil Ahmad Dar, who was a local Kashmiri youth from Pulwama. Later, Pakistan-based Islamist terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack. India blamed neighbouring Pakistan for the attack, while the latter condemned the attack and denied having any connections to it. However, back channel dialogues were going on continuously between New Delhi and Islamabad at that period of time. As a result, it was possible to restore the 2003 ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir in 2021, and to reduce conflict.

It seems that the back channel discussions between India and Pakistan would continue in the coming months, but in a very limited way. Right now, the stability of entire South Asia is in jeopardy.

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