Bilawal’s Stance About Kashmir Puts an End to Hopes of Diplomatic Ties Between India and Pakistan

Hopes of restoration in relations were dashed by Bilawal's hard position on Kashmir. The attacks have changed the way that the young Indians see Pakistan.

Both the flags of Pakistan and India were raised high at the Wagah-Attari border on a cool September day in 2005 as drums rolled on either side of the boundary to announce one of the greatest prisoner swaps between the two nations. Prisoners from both nations were lined up neatly on the ground, some waiting impatiently to be reunited with their families while wearing no shoes.

They regarded the large gates that separated the two warring nations with disillusionment because most had already served longer prison terms than were necessary. As a consequence of their confinement, some had suffered from mental problems.

This prisoner swap was carried out as part of the “confidence-building measures” (CBMs) between Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India.

In order to provide fast access to consulates and prompt deportation once the inmates have served their sentences, both nations share lists of detainees in each other’s custody. This was accomplished later in May 2008 through the signing of a consular access agreement. But following the Mumbai acts of terrorism, the system deteriorated, and inmates were kept behind bars despite the fact they had completed their sentences.

However, the bus service was stopped whenever there was a fight or an assault. In April 2020, when India unilaterally declared the suspension of commerce, it was ultimately entirely halted. But even before that, the Mumbai attacks had already decided the future of relations between India and Pakistan.

The Mumbai attacks, in which 174 people died in front of the entire world while being broadcast live on television, were a turning point for India. The new narrative disproved the romantic ideas that the older demographic of Indians had cherished since the division of land was lost, and young Indians came to believe that Pakistan brought violence to their towns. The Mumbai attacks changed how the younger generation of Indians saw Pakistan.

Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the foreign minister, took a significant political risk by travelling to Goa to participate in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) conference. The trials of individuals charged with the Mumbai attacks are ongoing in Pakistan.

Since 2009, three prosecutors, in this case, have shifted. Three people were abruptly fired: one was killed, another had a heart attack, and the third died. While the Mumbai attack suspects are facing charges in Pakistan’s anti-terrorism courts, the government has tried citizens as well as human rights advocates in non-civil forums. New Delhi has taken note of the inconsistent manner in which cases related to the Mumbai bombings have been pursued.

The BJP was still upset by Foreign Minister Bhutto-Zardari’s previous comments on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “Osama bin Laden is dead, but the butcher of Gujarat lives,” when he later travelled to Goa. Since he could not hold a press meeting with Indian media, prominent Indian media had limited opportunity to criticise Pakistan’s top officials.

While political pundits increased pressure on Bhutto-Zardari to bring up the Kashmir issue at the international meeting, the extremists in PTI at home criticised her for visiting the summit at all. The foreign minister declared releasing of 600 Indian fishermen as an act of goodwill, which ought to have calmed down the Indians.

However, the BJP leadership took exception to his interviews with two prominent Indian journalists in which he defended Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir. They felt that at a global meeting, bilateral issues should not have been taken up. He warned them “not to get caught up in weaponizing terrorism for international point-scoring,” which infuriated the Indians further.

When the foreign minister stated that diplomatic relations would not resume until India changed its stance on Kashmir before August 2019, all expectations for them were dashed. He criticised India for holding the G20 summit in Srinagar and forewarned that “we will give such a response that it will be remembered” when it took place.

Insinuating that Pakistan will be held accountable for any militancy in Kashmir during the G20 summit, his statements were quickly picked up by the media and patched with the news that five army troops were killed in a gun battle with militants in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district.

In a stinging press conference, India’s External Affairs Minister Subramanian Jaishankar yelled, “Weaponising terrorism!”, as soon as Bhutto-Zardari was waiting to board her flight home. “We are not scoring diplomatic points, we are diplomatically exposing Pakistan.” And about Kashmir, he roared, “Pakistan has nothing to do with the G20 summit or Kashmir, they should just vacate … Kashmir [AJK]!”

The SCO, a global meeting where participants were debating how to advance the bloc economically, abruptly became an India-Pakistan round-off, a sobering reminder of how their mutual animosity had rendered Saarc obsolete.

Herein lays yet another chance for these two snobbish countries: either join the rest of the world, which is concerned with regional and economic convergence or keep undermining the potential of their citizens. For the time being, lone fishermen and broken families who don’t threaten the security of either country remain to bear the price for false patriotism.

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