The hotline conversation between the Director Generals of Military Operations of India and Pakistan and their agreement “to undertake sincere measures to improve the existing situation ensuring peace and avoidance of hardships to the citizens”, and to “fully implement the ceasefire understanding of 2003 in letter and spirit forthwith” is a long-awaited development. The wording of the near-identical statements issued by India and Pakistan is the most promising heard from the bilateral front in the last two years, especially the recommitment to the 2003 ceasefire. It was the ceasefire that paved the way for the Vajpayee-Musharraf statement of 2004 and a dialogue that lasted until the Mumbai attacks. What Tuesday’s agreement may lead to is still uncertain. It is sufficient that the two sides have unequivocally said they will respect the ceasefire. Scores of civilians living along the LoC have perished in these incidents, which spiked after the 2016 attack on the Uri garrison and the subsequent strike by India inside PoK. In the same period, India has lost more soldiers in ceasefire violations than at any other period of peace time. On the same day as the DGMOs spoke, the Kashmiri separatist leadership, responding to Union Minister Rajnath Singh’s offer of talks, indicated it was open to dialogue with the Centre, without any mention of its usual preconditions.
If all this does not square with the Pakistan Army-created kerfuffle over a book length conversation between two long retired spy bosses of India and Pakistan in which neither says anything that is not already in the public realm, it is because in India-Pakistan relations, trying to reconcile everything is near impossible. The Pakistan Army’s decision to pull in its former DG ISI and put him on the “exit control list” for shooting the breeze with his friend, a former head of RAW, on Kargil among other things, should be seen as of a piece with the power struggle in Pakistan.
A general election is due to be held in Pakistan in a couple of months, and a former chief justice has been appointed to head the caretaker government. The disqualified-for-life Nawaz Sharif has been addressing rallies and public meetings, alleging the Army was behind his removal, and indeed, behind all Pakistan’s problems. His remarks that “non-state actors” had been allowed to cross Pakistan’s borders and kill “common people” in Mumbai have not gone down well with the Army. The former DG ISI, not particularly known as a friend of Pakistan’s civilian governments, broadly vindicates Sharif’s position in the book co-authored with his Indian friend. His former institution had to act quickly, before the carefully built up narrative against the “anti-national” Sharif started disintegrating. For the Pakistan Army, though, the real message is that narratives cannot be controlled beyond a point. That the entire drama unfolded at a time when India and Pakistan have taken steps to reduce hostilities only makes the self-serving nature of nationalist narratives more obvious.