Could overtures of peace by retired military officers suggest a softening of ties between Pakistan and India?
At a time of great bilateral tension, two retired officers of India and Pakistan have frankly spoken of peace at the London School of Economics’ South Asia Forum. India’s Amarjit Singh Dulat, former head of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), confessed at the ‘Spymasters Speak: Can Intelligence Agencies Do Good?’ session that: “India has created a mess in Kashmir in the past 15 months; it’s high time we started talking.” To this, his Pakistani counterpart, former general Ehsanul Haq, head of the ISI under Pervez Musharraf, responded: “If left unresolved, the Kashmir dispute will keep returning as a crisis with increased intensity—there are no problems between the two countries that can’t be resolved through dialogue.”
Dulat was backed in India by Yashwant Sinha, who served as the finance and external affairs minister under prime minister Vajpayee: “We have lost the people in Kashmir emotionally…You just have to visit the valley to realize that they have lost faith in us.” Haq, who was among the Pakistani top brass that handled the fallout of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York, also appeared on Geo TV in Pakistan saying Islamabad had to break out of its isolation in the region and normalize relations with Afghanistan, Iran and India. He was followed by a more radically minded Riazuddin Sheikh, a former air marshal who asserted that Pakistan must “normalize” with India by giving it a trade passage to Central Asia and invite it to join CPEC, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
If an Indo-Pak dialogue at this stage gets off the ground, it will counter the latest American policy of attacking CPEC in the new cold war centered on Afghanistan where Washington wants India to “play a bigger role.” CPEC is seen by some American observers as China’s strategy of enhancing its power projection capability in the Arabian Sea, currently dominated by the U.S. 5th Fleet in the Gulf. China would greatly welcome Pakistan’s talks with India at this stage and would support India’s joining CPEC to facilitate India-China trade worth $100 billion that currently takes the circuitous and more expensive route through Indonesia’s Strait of Malacca.