New Delhi: There is inadequate realization in this country that it is dealing with a pragmatic and progressive Pakistan army chief. General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s relations with prime minister Imran Khan also require appreciation and study although they appear on the surface to be even, friendly and animated by mutual respect. General Bajwa has long been a student of India. This doesn’t make him pro-India by any means but he nevertheless understands the value of peace with the giant eastern neighbour for Pakistan’s rise and all-round development. The institution of the Pakistan army is strong and has resisted fractures in earlier periods of military rule and war losses to India. It goes without saying that General Bajwa’s direct peace overtures to India made during a visit to the Line of Control last week and mostly missed by the Indian media has the approval of the Pakistan army’s corps commanders. The Kartarpur corridor is one manifestation of it. The other is, by its very nature, Pakistan-centric, but its message to the world is all the same reassuring. Islamic zealots led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi who were challenging the authority of the Pakistan state and state institutions like the Supreme Court and the army in the Aasia Bibi case faced a crackdown across the country last week leaving state-Islamist relations torn and bleeding. Pakistan needs encouragement in that direction and some of it has to come from India from its non-Hindutva and secular-constitutional avatar.

The key thing to understand is that while Imran Khan is the face of a hesitantly changing Pakistan, the real mover is the Pakistan army. Imran Khan is not your average dynastic Pakistani politician. He doesn’t necessarily represent a political or politico-religious ideology. He is the equivalent of the third force in politics while the first two are represented by the Sharief and Bhutto families. Dealing with Imran Khan is not to exclude traditional political forces but simply to recognize present power realities. The constant, however, is the Pakistan army and this institution needs delicate and creative handling.

From the outside, it appears that there is greater appreciation in the Pakistan army that terrorism as a countermeasure against perceived Indian hegemony in South Asia is subject like all else in the material world to the law of diminishing returns. The fear of India drove Pakistan to seek strategic depth in Afghanistan but it had to own Afghan jihad in the process which has created almost insurmountable problems for the country domestically. The jihad culture underlay the attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi in which Baluch separatists spectacularly were involved. The Aasia Bibi blasphemy case is another example where a free pass to Islamists has threatened the very survival of the Pakistan state. The last factor signifying the diminished value of terrorism for the Pakistan state is its inability to influence the geopolitics over Kashmir. Although Kashmiris may not readily admit it, terrorism is something which sits ill with their practise of Sufism and their general way of life. The psychological impact of militancy and counterterrorism operations has been vaster and deeper in Kashmir than in comparable conflict zones in other parts of the world. Whatever else it does for India’s image as a liberal democracy (it dreadfully damages it), it does not portray Pakistan in good light.

Over and above the dwindling impact of terrorism is the notoriety it has brought to Pakistan accompanied by economic and social ruin. Pakistan’s survival in a world dominated by geo-economics depends on cleansing itself of violence and terrorism. In the long run, China will wash its hands of Pakistan if terrorism is not brought under control: the last thing it wants is Uighur terrorism getting oxygen from China’s CPEC investments in Pakistan. On the other hand, the United States has made its displeasure with Pakistani terrorism in Afghanistan immediately clear and both American defence aid to Pakistan and American clearance for an IMF bailout for it have been denied. US pressure on Saudi Arabia with its links to Pakistani terror groups is awaited and once that comes, Pakistan will be gasping for breath.

At least some if not all these factors have possibly affected mindsets of the Pakistan army leadership. Sustaining the pressure on Pakistan, India could take incremental steps towards peace with the western neighbour. The situation today is substantially different from the days of Nawaz Sharief when he was driving the peace effort with India with only grudging support of the Pakistan army. Presently, the army appears to be on board with Imran Khan’s peace moves. Indeed, it may even be argued that the Pakistan army is the prime mover. Cautiously, India ought to open a second channel of dialogue with the Pakistan army while in no way undermining Imran Khan. Pakistan is on the cusp of change which appears positive from this distance. It creates opportunities which India must not forgo while remaining aligned with national interest.