Ladakh will soon have South East Asia's first Night Sky Sanctuary, Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh, said.
The India-China disengagement in Ladakh is progressing smoothly. After successful disengagement in Pangong Tso, talks are underway to enforce the same arrangement in other sectors. De-escalation and de-induction would follow disengagement. Confidence exists within the Indian security establishment that it will be implemented across all friction points in Ladakh. Increased diplomatic engagements indicate that India- China ties are moving towards normalcy.
The Chinese decision to move towards disengagement was due to multiple actions. Initially, India stopped the Chinese in their tracks, preventing further transgressions. Then came Galwan, where Indian forces displayed an offensive spirit and put to rest the ghosts of 1962. Following Galwan, there were economic and diplomatic actions, including banning Chinese investments as also refusing to participate in Shanghai Cooperation exercises, thereby linking trade and diplomatic ties with peace and tranquility along the LAC. Finally, there was occupation of dominating features on the Kailash Ridge, which gave India a tactical advantage over Chinese permanent camps. There are still hills to climb before complete peace is restored, but the ride now appears smoother.
While India and China talked disengagement and moved towards peace came an offer for talks from General Bajwa, the Pakistan army chief. While addressing an army graduation ceremony, on 2 February, General Bajwa stated: “It is time to extend a hand of peace in all directions.” He added, “Pakistan and India must also resolve the longstanding issue of Jammu and Kashmir in a dignified and peaceful manner as per the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and bring this human tragedy to its logical conclusion.” This was reiterated by Imran Khan in a speech in POK a few days later.
Last week, a joint statement issued by the Directors-General Military Operations (DGMOs) of India and Pakistan, after their weekly talks, announced a ceasefire between the two forces. The statement read, “Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control and all other sectors.” The offer for peace and subsequent ceasefire would have involved considerable back-channel diplomacy and discussions at multiple levels. It is possible that the statement from Bajwa and Imran would have been part of confidence- building measures, as India does not trust Pakistani politicians, as they possess no authority.
As per inputs, there were covert discussions between National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart, Moeed Yusuf, though Yusuf denied this. While both sides insisted there was no change in their stance on core issues, there was a reduction in rhetoric between the two countries. The Indian spokesperson stated, “We are committed to addressing issues, if any, in a peaceful manner.” Yusuf stated, “Doing so (implementing the ceasefire) will save lives, so no one should question the intent. Nor should wrong inferences be drawn.”
However, what came to the fore was the immense trust deficit. The Indian foreign office spokesperson stated, “Our position is well known. India desires normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan in an environment free of terror, hostility and violence.” He added, “the onus is on Pakistan for creating such an environment.” The Pakistan foreign office spokesperson stated, “The onus is on India to create enabling environment for meaningful engagement.”
Imran Khan tweeted, “the onus of creating an enabling environment for further progress rests with India.” Still doubting Pakistani intentions, the Northern Army Commander, Gen Joshi stated, “I want to assure that this ceasefire will have no bearing on the counter-terrorist operations, and we will maintain our alertness.”
Some believe the Pakistani offer for ceasefire flowed from FATFimpacted economic conditions, deteriorating scenario in Afghanistan, strong Indian responses to firing incidents, its failed Kashmir policy and growing internal insecurity. It has already moved additional forces into Baluchistan to protect CPEC projects.
Some suggested it could be the result of the Biden government’s current policy towards the region. However, it is unlikely for Pakistan to offer talks and accept a ceasefire without the concurrence of China, their major ally and benefactor.
A few aspects lead to doubting the Pakistani offer. How would Pakistan handle its trained terrorists, awaiting induction? If it attempts to push them in, how would India respond? Would Pakistan’s terrorist group leaders, considered as prize assets of the army, accept the ceasefire? In case of a terrorist strike crossing Indian redlines, would India continue with the ceasefire? Answers to these are difficult and hence trust deficit is high.
The Pakistani offer comes as India and China are seeking to restore peace and tranquility along the LAC. China is aware that it would have to withdraw from areas it has transgressed, while Indian construction of infrastructure in Ladakh would continue. The vulnerability of the CPEC through Gilgit Baltistan would remain. Thus, in case Pakistan attempts to cross Indian redlines, there is a possibility of India striking CPEC targets close to the LOC. China would not have much option as the targets are not on Chinese territory, though built with Chinese investment.
On both borders, talks and ultimate resolution of issues is a long way away. Differences in perceptions between India and China as also between India and Pakistan cannot be resolved in a short time. As long as talks continue and ceasefire remains in place, the assets of the CPEC remain secure, thus benefiting China and Pakistan. It would remove the one threat for which China intruded into Ladakh.
There is no doubt that peace is a major requirement for nations of the region. Ceasefires may not lead to immediate resolution of pending disagreements; however, they could usher in an era of peace and development and reinvigorate the economy. The major stumbling block between India and China as also between India and Pakistan is trust deficiency. India has been stabbed in the back by both nations and hence remains wary. Overcoming this deficit is a greater challenge than seeking a long-term solution. The next few weeks would be crucial for building trust from both ends.
However, the Indian government must continue enhancing military capabilities despite a push towards peace. Military power is the most powerful vaccine for securing borders and ensuring peace.
The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.