Bloomberg , Dec 07 :
Pakistan’s military is making an unusually strong effort to mend ties with arch-rival India, as top generals worry about a deteriorating economy amid fractious relations with US President Donald Trump.
Current and former Pakistani military officials have told Bloomberg that both a slowing economy and pressure from Beijing to improve ties with the West is prompting the shift on India. At the same time, they said, Pakistan is also wary of becoming too dependent on China after Trump cut some $2 billion in security aid.
Among the proponents of a detente with India is Pakistan’s powerful army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who once served under an Indian general during a stint with a United Nations peacekeeping mission and is seen as more moderate than his predecessors. Entering his final year in office, Bajwa last week called a move to ease border controls with India for visiting Sikh pilgrims “a step towards peace which our region needs.”
The army chief has publicly supported China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has unleashed financing for more than $60 billion worth of projects — adding to debt that has forced Pakistan to seek another International Monetary Fund bailout. But he is thought to be uneasy about Pakistan’s over-reliance on Beijing, according to Western diplomats who asked not to be identified so they could speak freely about senior generals.
“From the outset of his term, General Bajwa was heavily inclined to end the state of ‘No Peace, No War,’ but recognized that shifting views inside the huge Pakistan army would take time,” said Shuja Nawaz, author of a book on the armed forces and a former IMF official who is currently a distinguished fellow at the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington. “This may be another incentive to launch a peace initiative.”
The military’s press department didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who surprised many by calling for talks with India in his July election victory speech, said last week his political party and the military are “all on one page” in wanting to mend ties and resolve the conflict over the disputed region of Kashmir. His government is in the midst of negotiating Pakistan’s 13th IMF bailout since the late 1980s.
Since taking office in August, Khan has sparred repeatedly with Trump. Just a few weeks ago they traded barbs after Trump said the U.S. no longer gives Pakistan billions of dollars because “they don’t do a damn thing for us” in fighting terrorism.
So far, there’s no indication that Pakistan’s outreach will prompt Trump to reconsider aid money, which was cut due to insufficient efforts to deny extremist groups safe haven and freedom of movement. A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad declined to comment.
But there are small signs that relations are improving. This week Trump sent Khan a letter asking for Pakistan’s help in facilitating talks with the Taliban to end the 17-year war in neighboring Afghanistan, a move welcomed in Pakistan. And Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, nominee to become commander of U.S. Central Command overseeing Pakistan, said the military relationship between the countries was “strong.”