Pakistan’s powerful army chief has called on arch rivals India and Pakistan to “bury the past” and move towards cooperation, an overture towards New Delhi that follows an unexpected joint ceasefire announcement last month between the two countries’ militaries.
General Qamar Javed Bajwa stressed however that the burden was on India to create a “conducive environment” and said the United States had a role to play in ending regional conflicts.
“We feel it is time to bury the past and move forward,” Bajwa said on Thursday while addressing a gathering of scholars and experts discussing national security issues at a seminar in the capital, Islamabad.
“But … our neighbour (India) will have to create a conducive environment, particularly in Indian-occupied Kashmir,” he said, referring to the part of the Himalayan territory India administers.
Unsettled disputes between the two South Asian nuclear rivals are “dragging this region back to the swamp of poverty and underdevelopment,” said Bajwa at the conference meant to highlight the Pakistani government’s new security policies.
There was no immediate comment from India.
Pakistan’s powerful army has ruled the country for nearly half of its 73-year existence, and the military has long controlled foreign and security policies.
The disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir is split between Pakistan and India but claimed by both in its entirety. The two countries have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.
Relations deteriorated in 2019 after New Delhi stripped its part of Kashmir of the special status it long had under the Indian constitution.
Bajwa said the economic potential of South and Central Asia had “forever remained hostage” to the India-Pakistan disputes.
“It is important to understand that without the resolution of the Kashmir dispute through peaceful means, the process of sub-continental rapprochement will always remain susceptible to derailment,” he said.
Bajwa’s call came after the armies of the two countries released a rare joint statement on February 25, announcing a ceasefire along their de facto border in Kashmir, known as the Line of Control (LoC), after having exchanged deadly fire hundreds of times in recent months.
The US immediately welcomed the move and encouraged the two to “keep building on this progress”.
Bajwa said Pakistan had “hope” in the form of President Joe Biden’s new administration, which he said could help facilitate peace in the region.
Also speaking at the gathering was Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who said “if India took one step forward for peace, Pakistan will take two”.
He however, claimed “India chose to take several steps backwards … (with) South Asia once again teetered on the brink”.
Pakistan wants India to reverse the 2019 move under which New Delhi stripped Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and imposed a slew of administrative changes through new laws, touching off anger on both sides of the frontier.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training anti-India rebels in Kashmir and also helping them by providing gunfire as cover for incursions into the Indian side, a charge Pakistan denies. Rebels in Indian-administered Kashmir have been fighting the Indian rule since 1989.