Mixed Signalling Indicates Post 23rd May Divisions in Pakistan on India Policy
While the inevitable was evident to political observers especially after the Exit Polls predicted a renewed mandate to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the general elections in India, there was much interest in the reaction from Pakistan with both countries having been through a major aerial skirmish in the month of February just preceding the Indian elections.
The first indicators from Islamabad denote mixed signalling.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had an informal meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Ministers meeting in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on 22 May.
He reiterated Pak Prime Minister Imran Khan’s diplomacy of talks with India.
The Statement by Mr Qureshi as given in the News read, “I told Sushma Ji that we are still firm on the statement of PM Khan that if India takes one step forward, Pakistan would reciprocate with two.”
“Sushma Ji pointed that I sometimes speak harsh so she has brought some sweets for me so that I talk sweet,” Qureshi said. “In response, I said we are positive on holding negotiations with your country on all issues,” he added in conversation with the Pakistani community in Bishkek.
While multiple Pakistan media sources including the Dawn, Daily Times and the News reported the meeting there was muted publicity to the same in the Indian media which was possibly focusing on the Election outcomes.
The Daily Times called it a, “big sign of melting ice,” and indicated that the two were seated alongside during the SCO meeting with a strong possibility of the seating arrangement by the organisers to ensure that they had an interaction at the table.
SCO has been promoting talks between the two South Asian rivals from time to time and this gesture could be seen as a pointer towards the same.
Dawn News quoted Qureshi as saying, “We made it clear to her that we want all the matters resolved through dialogue, and that Prime Minister Imran Khan had said in his very first speech that if India takes one step forward, we would take two steps forward.”
The Dawn also noted that the two foreign ministers were, “initially scheduled to meet on the sideline of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York last September. However, New Delhi had declined citing, “unclean intentions” on Pakistan’s side as the reason for doing so”.
Post terrorist attack in Pulwama on 14 February and India’s response at Balakot on 26 February followed by the aerial skirmish the next day, relations between the two countries reached an all time low.
Thus the foreign ministers meet in Bishkek may have raised some hopes.
However in a mixed signal, Pakistan Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) announced on 23 May that the Strategic Forces Command had conducted a successful training launch of Shaheen-II, a surface-to-surface ballistic missile.
“The training launch was aimed at ensuring [the] operational readiness of [the] Army Strategic Forces Command. [The] Shaheen-II missile is capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads up to a range of 1,500 kilometres,” the ISPR handout said.
Shaheen-II as indicated in the Dawn was described as a, “highly capable missile which fully meets Pakistan’s strategic needs towards maintenance of desired deterrence stability in the region”.
The launch was witnessed by director general of the Strategic Plans Division, Commander Army Strategic Forces Command Lt Gen Qazi Muhammad Ikram Ahmad, Chairman National Engineering and Scientific Commission Dr. Nabeel Hayat Malik
President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan extended their congratulations as per the Dawn Report.
As Pakistan held a meeting of the National Command Authority (NCA) on 22 May, the Prime Minister would have been informed of the missile test if not earlier.
The timing of the Shaheen II test in tandem with the Indian general elections is a strong signal by the Pakistan military if not the government in Islamabad that a robust counter deterrence policy will be maintained even as the foreign minister signalled willingness for talks with New Delhi.
As Foreign Minister Qureshi in an informal meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj indicated willingness for talks, the test of Shaheen II on the day of elections results in India seems ominous.
Thus the new government in India will have to take into account the mixed signalling before opening up engagement if at all with Pakistan in the coming months.