Pakistan’s ties with India, nearly frozen since 2019, touched a new low this year when Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari made an “uncivilised” outburst against the Indian leadership, dashing any hope for the resumption of early engagements between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
Pakistan had downgraded its diplomatic relations with India, reducing the presence of diplomatic staff in the Indian capital, and severed trade links following New Delhi’s decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019.
The only positive development recorded since then has been the restoration of a crucial ceasefire agreement on the highly volatile Line of Control in February 2021, which kindled a frail feeling for more such steps in days to come. The ensuing months, however, showed that it was yet another mirage.
This year saw no improvement in bilateral ties as India accused Pakistan of cross-border infiltration and re-activation of terror-launching pads near the LoC.
Pakistan, however, alleged that India supported terrorist groups in the country.
Foreign Minister Bilawal resorted to a personal attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and slammed the RSS after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar told a UN Security Council meeting that the “contemporary epicentre of terrorism” remains very much active and called for collective action to tackle them. Though Jaishankar did not name any countries, it was apparent that he was making a veiled reference to Pakistan.
In a strong condemnation of Bilawal’s remarks, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi said the Pakistan foreign minister’s “frustration” would be better directed towards the masterminds of terrorist enterprises in his own country” that has made terrorism a part of their “state policy”.
Talking about the prospects of Indo-Pak ties with this bitter baggage on the back, Dr Ashfaq Ahmd of Sargodha University said that it was difficult to predict any tangible move to straighten the strained relations in the near future.
“I don’t see any change in the coming months unless there is a miracle,” he said, but added that secret or low-keyed diplomatic engagements cannot be ruled out even during wars.
He also hoped for a change in the relations matrix after general elections in Pakistan (whenever held), provided the current government won the electoral contest.
“This government would like to have trade and economic ties as there is pressure from various commercial groups as well as vested interests to repair ties with India for economic reasons,” he said.
When asked about any future talks with India, the foreign office spokesperson said no talks were in the pipeline.
“I would not like to comment on its impact on any dialogue, because at this stage, there is no dialogue between the two countries and this question is thus a bit premature,” she said.
About the prospect of parleys, she said the Kashmir issue and India’s “hegemonic regional designs” were the main two hurdles for peace and security in the region.
On the domestic front, Pakistan witnessed political turmoil since the beginning of the year that forced Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ouster in April after he lost a no-confidence vote in Parliament. Khan was replaced by self-exiled former premier Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother and PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif, who was backed by a joint opposition of 11 political parties, including the Pakistan People’s Party.
Khan took out a long march to Islamabad to force the government to order snap polls, a demand rejected by the ruling coalition.
During his long march in early November, Khan survived an assassination bid on his life when gunmen opened fire on him.
Khan suffered bullet injuries and the long march was suspended for a few days before it was resumed to conclude in Rawalpindi later in November.
After six years, Pakistan witnessed a change in its military leadership when General Asim Munir, who has headed both powerful spy agencies — the Inter-Services Intelligence and the military intelligence, assumed charge as the new Army chief in November end, replacing General Qamar Javed Bajwa who retired after two consecutive three-year terms.
His appointment coincides with a dispute between the military and Khan, who blames the army for playing a role in his ouster in April through a no-confidence vote.
The powerful Army, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 75-plus years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in matters of security and foreign policy.
General Munir, who is in his mid-50s, would have to tackle a host of problems, including the threat from militants.
His inauguration came a day after the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militant group called off an indefinite ceasefire agreed with the government in June and ordered its militants to carry out attacks across the country.
Since then, the group has carried out several deadly attacks targeting security forces.
The TTP, also known as the Pakistan Taliban, was set up as an umbrella group of several militant outfits in 2007. Its main aim is to impose its strict brand of Islam across Pakistan.
In mid-June, Pakistan witnessed cataclysmic floods that left more than 1,700 people dead and thousands injured.
The unprecedented floods affected 33 million people and caused economic damages to the tune of $40 billion, fanning fears that the cash-strapped country may not be able to meet its debt obligations.
Millions of people hit by the floods are still waiting for rehabilitation, even facing shortages of food and other essential supplies amidst harsh winter.
Cash-strapped Pakistan was already facing a serious financial crisis before the heavy monsoon rains triggered unprecedented floods that at one point left a third of the country’s territory submerged.
In October, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, the global watchdog on terror financing and money laundering, removed Pakistan from a list of countries under “increased monitoring”, also known as the “grey list”.
The FATF had placed Pakistan on the grey list in June 2018 and asked Islamabad to implement a plan of action to curb money laundering and terror financing by the end of 2019 but the deadline was extended later on due to COVID-19 pandemic.
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