Opinion: Should India reach out directly to the Pakistan army?

Opinion: Should India reach out directly to the Pakistan army?

A number of important steps have been taken by India and Pakistan in the past few months. Both sides have agreed to humanitarian gestures, pertaining to prisoners languishing in each other’s jails. Pakistan has already released one Indian prisoner on humanitarian grounds. Meanwhile, the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Ajay Bisaria, has spoken of improving trade ties. Bisaria has also stated that India and Pakistan need to have a new vision of the future, and could draw lessons from North Korea and South Korea.

Outreach initiative

It is on this backdrop that Amarjit Singh Dulat, ex-Chief of the Research and Analysis Wing of India’s external intelligence (1999-2000), took a dramatic step: he suggested that India extend a direct invitation to Pakistan’s Army Chief, Qamar Ahmed Bajwa. In an interviewDulat stated:

“We should invite General Bajwa, the army chief. He has been talking peace and also a lot of our frustration in our dialogue with Pakistan is because we feel frustrated by the armed forces or what we call the ‘deep state’ – the ISI or the army. Therefore, why not talk to the army chief directly? He is talking reasonably now. Why not invite the army chief, just an idea.”

Dulat’s suggestion came on the heels of the Pakistan Army Chief’s recent conciliatory statements, most notably at the passing out parade of cadets at the Military Academy on 14 April 2018, where Bajwa said:

“It is our sincere belief that the route to peaceful resolution of Pak-India disputes – including the core issue of Kashmir – runs through comprehensive and meaningful dialogue.”

Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman welcomed Bajwa’s statements. On the sidelines of a seminar on Artificial Intelligence, Sitharaman remarked that “any comment on wanting peace will definitely be taken seriously”.

Earlier, Bajwa had even gone so far as to invite the Indian Defence Attache Sanjay Vishwarao and other diplomats to the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad on 23 March 2018 – which the Indian side accepted

Debate and dialogue

The case for reaching out to the Pakistan Army directly is not new. There are those on the Indian side who believe that outreach to Pakistan’s civilian leadership is pointless, since it is the military and intelligence establishment that calls the shots on crucial foreign policy issues. Dulat reiterated this approach in an unusual book published last month: Spy Chronicles – RAW, ISI And the Illusion of Peace, which consists of a rare series of dialogues between himself and Pakistan’s former intelligence chief, Lt. General Asad Durrania. In the course of their conversations, it is noted that ties between New Delhi and Islamabad witnessed an improvement during General Musharraf’s reign. Dulat, for instance, points to Musharraf’s flexibility on Kashmir:

“Without hesitation or doubt, in the last 25 years there hasn’t been a Pakistani leader more positive or reasonable on Kashmir than Musharraf. His repeatedly saying that whatever is acceptable to Kashmiris is acceptable to Pakistan – that was good for India.”

Durrani agrees, while cautioning that Bajwa’s conciliatory remarks need to be placed in context:

“While there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the Pakistan Army calls the shots, and some progress was made in terms of India-Pakistan ties during the Musharraf era, it is important to bear in mind some of the possible reasons for Bajwa’s recent statements.”

Challenges in Pakistan

In fact, Bajwa’s remarks have been propelled by some of the challenges the Pakistan Army is confronting. As India and China seek to mend their relations, Beijing is likely to rethink its approach towards terror groups. One of the key takeaways from the Wuhan Informal Summit in April 2018, was that India and China will also be working jointly in a project in Afghanistan. This certainly wouldn’t have pleased the Pakistan Army.

Apart from this, the army is facing a serious potential challenge from the Pashtun Protection Movement (or PTM), which has strong resonance in the population. Led by Manzoor Ahmed Pashteen, the movement has been seeking redress of human rights violations (including the death and disappearance of Pashtuns), as well as compensation for property destroyed by Army operations in FATA. But it was public outrage over the police killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud, a young man mis-identified as a Taliban fighter, in January 2018, which gave PTM momentum.


New Delhi can certainly not ignore Bajwa’s overtures, and can only hope that there is a genuine change in the mindset of the Pakistan military. That said, it is a bit naïve to take such a giant leap of faith unless the Pakistan Army’s words are matched by actions on the ground. New Delhi would be well advised to wait for the results of the Pakistan elections in July, and see how the civil-military relationship pans out post the results. Reckless summitry has always backfired in the context of India-Pakistan ties. While outreach makes perfect sense, high level meetings, low on substance and high on optics, are not advisable.


Tags: India, Pakistan

About Author

Trividesh Singh Maini

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst. He is an Assistant Professor with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana. He is a former SAV Visiting Fellow (Winter 2016) with the Stimson Center, Washington DC. Maini was also an Asia Society India-Pakistan Regional Young Leaders Initiative (IPRYLI) Fellow (2013-2014), and a Public Policy Scholar with The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, Chennai (November 2013-March 2014). His research interests include; The role of state governments in Indian Foreign Policy, The India-Pakistan-China triangle, India’s Act East Policy, The Indo-Pacific Region, and Changing nature of Indian Federalism. Maini is a regular contributor for a number of publications including The Diplomat, LSE South Asia Blog, and South Asia Monitor. He has worked earlier with The Indian Express, New Delhi (2007-2008) as Senior Staff Writer.