India ‘decimated’ rare moment of mutual peace, says defence minister


ISLAMABAD: Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir has said good relations are possible with rival India, using the example of the recent historic meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea. But, that will require mutual political courage to “transcend the past”.

In an interview with VOA, Dastgir said persistent diplomatic and military tensions, particularly over Kashmir, have increased the likelihood the disputed Himalayan region could become a “flashpoint” between the nuclear-armed South Asian nations.

Indian and Pakistani military forces have been locked in almost weekly exchanges of fire along the Line of Control, the defacto Kashmir border. Both sides blame each other for initiating the deadly clashes. India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in its entirety. The region has triggered two of the three wars the countries have fought since they both gained independence from Britain in 1947.

Dastgir told VOA that despite the continued mistrust and hostility in bilateral relations, former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif undertook a historic visit to New Delhi in 2014 to attend the inauguration ceremony of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“It is that kind of courage that is required for us to transcend the past. Courage will also be required to see that peace has greater dividends for our future generations than hostilities,” the minister said when asked whether the inter-Korean summit could encourage the South Asian nations to talk peace.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met last month at the heavily fortified demilitarised zone between their countries in the first summit between both nations in more than a decade. The two leaders pledged at the meeting to work together to eliminate the risk of war and achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Dastgir said that the Indian government, since the historic Sharif visit, has constantly demonstrated “aggressive posturing” toward Pakistan, adding the policy is deeply disturbing and detrimental to regional stability.

The minister said that over the years a “political consensus” has emerged among all stakeholders in Pakistan to forge a peaceful political and economic relationship with India. He added that no Pakistani political party in the previous two elections, in 2008 and 2013, went to voters on an anti-India platform. But New Delhi has lost the “unique and very valuable moment” in Pakistani history to promote mutual peace.

“This unique, peaceful moment, this political consensus in Pakistan that in the 21st century we should move forward with India by finding peace with our eastern neighbour, that moment is merely decimated and I think a great opportunity has been lost since 2014 of bringing our two countries together.”

Instead, Dastgir said, Indian political and military leaders have since become increasingly aggressive in their statements and actions. New Delhi, he said, has also enhanced its military presence along the international border with Pakistan to be able to quickly mobilise troops to impose another conflict on the country.

“India has created a string of bases along the Pakistani border in which now they have all the material and men, including their air force, in which they could if, God forbid, a situation arises, mobilise extremely quickly. This is a reality,” said Dastgir.

India, he emphasised, needs to review its policy and “to cease and desist on this point” and come to discuss resolution of issues dividing the two countries.

“I think more importantly, our mutual friend, the United States should be looking at it very seriously and the world community should be looking at it very seriously on what is happening on the border between India and Pakistan.” There has been no immediate comment from the government in New Delhi.

Indian Prime Minister Modi’s government has linked a resumption of formal talks with Pakistan to the elimination of alleged terrorist networks in the neighbouring country that it says is being used to stage cross-border terrorist attacks.

Islamabad rejects the accusation and says New Delhi’s aggressive stance is aimed at diverting attention from alleged atrocities by Indian forces against Kashmiris in an attempt to deter them from staging anti-India protests in the divided region.

India and Pakistan are set to hold their first-ever anti-terrorism exercise with other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO, in Russia later this year, raising hopes of a thaw in bilateral relations.

Pakistani and Indian soldiers have been working together in the United Nations Peacekeeping Force, but this will be the first time the rival nations will be part of a counterterrorism drill.

Analysts are sceptical about whether the SCO military exercise will eventually pave the way for Pakistan and India to jointly fight regional terrorism and ease mutual tensions.