Wednesday October 20, 2021

Joint exercises

April 29, 2018

At first glance, the decision by Pakistan and India to take part in joint military exercises under the banner of the SCO represents a surprising breakthrough. For two armies that face off daily across the Line of Control to work together in even this limited capacity will be a seen as a sign of progress. The exercises will be hosted by Russia in September. Still, it is best not to get too carried away by the decision. Pakistani and Indian soldiers work together as peacekeepers for the UN and the SCO exercises, titled Peace Mission 2018, are geared towards such engagements. It is believed that China prevailed on both countries to take part as a show of unity after what was a contentious SCO summit in Beijing.

The final communiqué released after the meeting explicitly omitted India when listing the countries that are backing China’s One Belt One Road initiative. Apart from its rivalry for regional dominance with China, India is particularly angry that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – which is part of the larger OBOR project – cuts through Azad Kashmir. At the foreign ministers’ meeting at the SCO, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj pointedly called on the SCO to identify states that encourage, support and finance terrorism – a veiled reference to Pakistan. The artificial united front presented by the joint military exercises will not cancel out the bitterness and anger shown by India at the meeting itself.

If anything, relations are at an all-time low right now. Prime Ministers Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Narendra Modi did not meet or even shake hands at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London earlier this month. Both sides are still accusing each other of near-daily violations along the Line of Control and just a few days ago we approached the World Bank to take action against India’s serial violations of the Indus Waters Treaty. So complete is the Indian insistence that there be no normalisation of ties with Pakistan that the ICC Test Championship schedule announced on Thursday has every cricketing nation playing each other except for India and Pakistan. The Modi government has made it clear that as long as it is in power it has no interest in pursuing diplomacy with Pakistan. While we should be open to any offer of talks, those offers do not seem to be forthcoming. The SCO drills will be recognition of the sway China holds in the region rather than a new dawn for Indo-Pak relations.