his is not the first time that Pakistan is proposing a peace plan. The more than 70 years of joint history is replete with instances of doublespeak and treachery by Pakistan — peace proposals followed by ceasefires and then their subsequent violation.
But this time it was the turn of Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa to sermonise on peace, saying, “Pakistan is committed to the idea of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence….”. Ironically, two days after this homily, the army and the rest of the establishment in Islamabad held the ritual of observing ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ by organising anti-India protests.
Bajwa’s short-lived peace offer should also be seen in the background of changing geopolitical realities in the region. While Pakistan was considered part of the larger Islamic coalition but a poorer cousin, recent events have resulted in a drift between Saudi Arabia and Islamabad. The relationship took a hit when in 2015, Pakistan disallowed its military from participating in the Yemen conflict much to Riyadh’s displeasure. Islamabad once again stepped on Saudi toes when Prime Minister Imran Khan walked away disrespectfully and in breach of protocol after meeting the Saudi King during the OIC summit in 2019, without waiting for the translator to interpret the words he had exchanged. In November 2020, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) issued a statement that did not mention Kashmir in spite of Pakistan’s efforts to get the OIC to condemn India’s abrogation of Article 370. In August that same year, Imran Khan ‘accused’ the Saudi-led OIC of inaction over the Kashmir issue and plotted to convene an OIC meeting with the help of Malaysia and Saudi’s bête noire Turkey, bypassing Saudi objection. Saudi Arabia promptly asked Pakistan to repay the $1 billion loan immediately. China came to Pakistan’s rescue.
But China will prefer to wait and watch before advising Pakistan on further moves in the region. It is possible that it was under Chinese prodding that Imran Khan undertook his maiden visit to Iran to play matchmaker between Riyadh and Tehran. The Middle East conflicts are too serious a subject for Pakistan to resolve. The only reason Beijing would have prodded Islamabad is to play a greater role in Afghanistan and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
Meanwhile, the White House under President Joe Biden might not appreciate Islamabad rushing in where angels fear to tread. It is clear that Washington wants Iran to “obey and not negotiate”. As it stands now, the US, China and Saudi Arabia are pulling in different directions with Pakistan caught in the crossfire. None of these countries can afford to lose the commercial part of the relationship with India. As for China, it would not want any escalation of the conflict between India and Pakistan that could endanger its assets and strategic calculations in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects.
With none of these countries wanting to get into the India-Pakistan conflict, it is clear that an isolated Pakistan has no choice but to return to the table for talks, at least for the time being.