Bad to worse: India-Pakistan relations in 2020
With no thaw in the frosty bilateral relations, the year 2020 saw periodic war of words over the issue of Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism.
The relations between Asian neighbours – India and Pakistan – plummeted to new depths in 2020, a year marred by periodic verbal duels, summoning of diplomats and rhetorics by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is facing mounting pressure from the Opposition to step down in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic that has battered the country's fragile economy.
Bilateral ties suffered a series of blows in 2019 after Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror group killed 44 CRPF soldiers in Pulwama, prompting India to carry out airstrikes on terror training camps in Balakot.
The relations nose-dived further following the abrogation of Article 370 of India's Constitution in August 2019 that revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
The move angered Pakistan, which downgraded diplomatic ties with India and expelled the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad. Pakistan also snapped all air and land links with India and suspended trade and railway services.
With no thaw in the frosty bilateral relations, the year 2020 saw periodic war of words over the issue of Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism. In June, India asked Pakistan to reduce the staff in its mission in New Delhi by half and announced a reciprocal trimming of staff strength in its high commission in Islamabad.
India said its decision to downgrade the diplomatic ties was based on instances of involvement of Pakistani officials in "acts of espionage" and "dealings with terrorist organisations". Over the past 12 months, Pakistan made several futile attempts to raise the Kashmir issue at the international forums and drum up support against India.
New Delhi has categorically told the international community that the scrapping of Article 370 was its internal matter. It also advised Pakistan to accept the reality and stop all anti-India propaganda.
Pakistan, however, adopted escalatory measures by intensifying ceasefire violations along the Line of Control, where the armies of the two sides regularly targeted each other, resulting in casualties.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office tried to keep up pressure on India by regularly summoning its diplomats in Islamabad and issuing press statements about the alleged ceasefire violations by the Indian Army. Islamabad also accused New Delhi of "politicising" the deliberations at the meetings of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, a global money-laundering watchdog.
The FATF decided to retain Pakistan on its "grey list" till February 2021 as it failed to fulfil six key obligations, including failure to take action against two of India's most wanted terrorists – Jamaat ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed and JeM head Masood Azhar.
In 2020, Saeed was sentenced for a collective imprisonment of 21 years on terror financing charges in four cases, a move experts described as an attempt by Pakistan to improve its global standing and to wriggle out of the FATF’s grey list.
During the year, both sides also failed to agree how Kulbhushan Jadhav, on death row in Pakistan, should be represented in his review appeal in the Islamabad High Court against his conviction by a Pakistani military court for alleged spying. India says that Pakistan has failed to respond on core issues pertaining to the case.
The only window of hope for bilateral cooperation was provided by the outbreak of the COVID-19 and joint efforts by members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to contain the deadly virus. But Islamabad mostly used the high-level meetings to raise the Kashmir issue and other bilateral matters.
India slammed Pakistan for raising the Kashmir issue during SAARC video-conference meeting, saying Islamabad "misused" the occasion as it was not a political platform, but a humanitarian one.
Due to the deep mistrust between Islamabad and New Delhi, there was no forward movement in bilateral ties in 2020, according to Dr Ashfaq Ahmad, Assistant Professor in International Relations Department of Sargodha University in Punjab province. The chances for any change for broader cooperation between the two sides were slim in 2021, he said.
On the domestic front, Prime Minister Khan faces a serious challenge as the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) - an alliance of 11 Opposition parties - set a January 31 deadline for him to step down or face a "Long March" to Islamabad.
The PDM held massive rallies in major cities to seek Khan's ouster and press the powerful military to stop interfering in politics. The Pakistan Army has denied meddling in politics. Khan also denies that the Army helped him win the election in 2018.
Pakistan opposition comes together in a massive show of strength. pic.twitter.com/7qQG7pGP3u— Aima Khan (@aima_kh) December 13, 2020
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz supremo Nawaz Sharif has repeatedly blamed Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and ISI chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed for Pakistan's current situation. The government is trying to get Sharif, who has refused to return to Pakistan, deported from the UK after the three-time Premier was allowed to go to London for treatment.
With Pakistan's opposition badly wanting to deny the ruling party a victory in the Senate election in March, the PDM will likely want to maintain momentum/shape political developments/stick around until then. After that, who knows and all bets may well be off.— Michael Kugelman (@MichaelKugelman) December 13, 2020
For the first time in 68 years, Pakistan’s economy contracted in the outgoing fiscal year with a negative 0.38 per cent due to the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the already weak financial situation before the deadly infection hit the country.
Islamabad has approached its all-weather ally China to once again bail out the country from the economic woes while bolstering its bilateral defence ties.
Advisor on Finance Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, releasing the Pakistan Economic Survey 2019-20, said the economy suffered massively due to the pandemic, which forced the government to impose lockdown for several weeks.