The recent thaw in India-Pakistan relationship is guided by trade and economics rather than Kashmir and terrorism, sources quoted Pakistan’s Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa saying to a group of some 20 top journalists at an official ‘iftar’ party on April 23.
Though the conversation between General Bajwa and the Pakistani journalists was off the record, details have now started to emerge. General Bajwa is supposed to have confirmed that India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval and Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt. Gen Faiz Hameed had one secret meeting in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in December last year, which was followed by the February 25 joint statement from the militaries of the two neighbours agreeing to strict adherence to the 2003 ceasefire understanding, The Indian Express has confirmed.
On why was the meeting held in UAE, Bajwa said it was primarily because of the pandemic and ruled out UAE’s mediation in the talks. The ‘iftar’ party was not attended by ISI chief Hameed, but top Army and intelligence officials were present.
Bajwa said the December 2020 meeting happened after India hinted at resuming talks between the two nations. The Pakistan Army General said that both India and Pakistan agreed that rather than “Kashmir first” or “terrorism first”, all issues would be addressed at the same time, including trade.
When asked by journalists why Pakistan did a U-turn on trade in cotton and sugar with India, with Prime Minister Imran Khan raising the Kashmir issue once again, Bajwa said the political leadership may have its reasons, but long lasting peace is possible only with trade and commerce. He gave the example of European Union (EU) and The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Bajwa said that Pakistan wants restoration of full statehood for Kashmir with no change in the demographic balance of the region. Bajwa said India has assured Pakistan on both counts. Therefore, he said the application or abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir makes no difference for Pakistan.
Bajwa may have a vision to see India and Pakistan as trade partners, but he is due for retirement next year and there is no guarantee the next General would share his dream. Bajwa said his children too have warned him that he might not emerge “unscathed” from the Afghanistan and the Indian processes, but said he is “determined to do so”. He said the Pakistan Army has changed as an institution in its strategic thinking, which is reflecting in the present communication with India.