ISOLATING PAKISTAN NOT EASY

There is increasing evidence that the world does not see Pakistan from the same prism that India sees it. The final statement out of BRICS was notable for its avoidance of any reference to Pakistan and only an indirect reference to groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

And now, Myanmar’s state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi “gave a thumbs down to the idea of isolating Pakistan or even cutting off terrorist groups and individuals. She vaguely spoke of the need to address the causes of terrorism — an echo of China’s standard line of the need to address “root causes” before doing anything against Pakistan. While Suu Kyi’s reference is unclear, Beijing’s has always been a coded reference to Kashmir. But the Myanmar leader is hardly the only one”.

The Hindustan Times notes that just days before British Prime Minister Theresa May makes a state visit to India, the foreign office responded to a petition demanding clear steps against Pakistan’s sponsorship of terror by praising its “significant sacrifices” in the fight against terror and the “shared interests” of the two countries in this area.

Such an attitude, according to the paper is because of “several interconnected mythologies regarding terrorism and the conflicted nature of government interests regarding terrorism that are responsible for this mishmash of views on Pakistan. The most pernicious is the view of many governments that Pakistan-sponsored terror is aimed only at India and, therefore, not their concern. This flies in the face of considerable evidence that many of these India-centric terror groups are not above working closely with the likes of al-Qaeda. Also, the structure of Islamicist jihad is free-flowing: Recruits, training infrastructure and ideological inspiration are shared and move back and forth from one terror group to another. The other myth is that engaging with the Pakistani State will somehow persuade Islamabad to change its ways. The record shows almost the exact opposite.

Pakistan herself fears isolation

However, inside Pakistan there are critical voices about the diplomatic isolation the country is facing over Kashmir and the penalty she is to paying for harbouring and nurturing terrorists and using them against neighbouring countries. According to a report by Cyril Almeida, published in The Dawn (7 October 2016), the civilian government in Pakistan, in a blunt, orchestrated and unprecedented warning has informed the military leadership of the growing international isolation of Pakistan. The unequivocal message is that the “Deep State” should not interfere if law enforcement agencies act against militant groups that are banned or until now considered off-limits for civilian action. Nawaz Sharif has also reportedly directed that fresh efforts be made to conclude the Pathankot investigation and restart the stalled Mumbai-attack related trials so that Pakistan can resume dialogue with India.

Analyst Sankar Sen, writing in the Statesman points out that in an all-party conference in Pakistan held on 3 October, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chowdhury gave a separate exclusive presentation to a small group of civil and military officials. The Foreign Secretary’s presentation pointed out that Pakistan faces diplomatic isolation and the Government’s talking points in Kashmir have been met with indifference in major world capitals. Chowdhury pointed out that Pakistan’s relations with America have deteriorated and are likely to worsen further because of the American demand that action should be taken against the Haqqani network. India’s principal demands are completion of the Pathankot investigation and some visible action against Jaish-e-Mohammad. Chowdhury surprised the audience when he said that though China reiterates its support for Pakistan, it would also like a change of course. Though willing to put on technical hold a UN ban on Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar, China has questioned the logic of doing so repeatedly. In the same meeting Punjab’s Chief Minister Shaabaz Sharif told ISI DG Rizwan Akhtar that whenever action has been taken against certain terrorist groups by civil authorities, the security establishment has intervened to set them free.

Sen continues that during the meeting of the Pakistan National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs on 6 October, Rana Mohammad Afzal (PML-N) asked why Pakistan is not taking action against Hafiz Sayeed and “what eggs he is laying for us” that the country is continuing to nurture him. He added that India has built up such a case about the JamaatudDawa chief that foreign delegates during a meeting on Kashmir mentioned him as the bone of contention between Pakistan and India.

This confrontation has been viewed by many government officials as a high-stakes gamble by Nawaz Sharif to forestall further diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. Now the Sharif government under Army pressure has said that Almeida’s report was speculative and misleading.

The fact however is that “Pakistan views India as an existential threat and this is not just a mere pretence. This feeling has further deepened after the vivisection of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh. Pakistan’s perception of threat from India has been exploited by members of the civilian and military establishments to retain their control over the population and subsume internal divisions by taking a united stand against a common external enemy. Hence, Pakistan’s relationship with India is going to remain tense and fraught for a long time to come”.

Maj Gen Raj Mehta (retd),commanded an LoC Division in North Kashmir summarizes thus: “The subcontinent’s immediate future does not look bright. Pakistan has to take a call on what it must do next. The easier decision here will be to conduct strikes to reclaim its lost “moral” ascendancy over India. The harder part will be to cope with the equally certain Indian response; this time of a higher order”.

Isolation at SAARC

There may be differences of opinion on India’s record to isolate Pakistan internationally, but there is no doubt that in South Asia, Pakistan stands completely isolated. Sandhya Jain, political analyst and independent researcher writes that “in the foreseeable future, Pakistan will find it difficult to overcome its diplomatic isolation following the cancellation of the 19th Saarc summit it was to host at Islamabad in November…..The cancellation of the summit is unprecedented, as is the fact that Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan followed India in citing the uncongenial atmosphere caused by escalation of terrorism in the region as the reason for their inability to attend. Although New Delhi had accepted the invitation to attend the summit in March, in the hope that Islamabad would act against the perpetrators of the Pathankot airbase attack on January 2, it was soon evident that the military brass would not allow the civilian Government to deliver on its promises”.

The boycott in fact puts a question mark on the future of Saarc itself. As Islamabad is unlikely to mend its ways — perhaps it is too late to dismount the tiger — it is difficult to see how the present stalemate of Saarc-minus-one can be overcome.

In effect, says Jain “Saarc is over, and regional groupings such as BIMSTEC can be expected to gain more heft. This includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand, five of which countries are also members of the now defunct Saarc. That leaves Maldives and Afghanistan in a limbo unless a new grouping can be evolved to include them in the South Asian and Southeast Asian framework. While the region’s diplomats have their task cut out, New Delhi must step up its bilateral cooperation with both countries”.

Jain notes that the Saarc boycott was spontaneous, and not deliberately planned by New Delhi. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was unhappy with Islamabad’s criticism of her crackdown on war criminals and extremists, and was reportedly planning to send the President to represent Dhaka.

Afghanistan has also been peeved with Islamabad on account of the “imposed terrorism on Afghanistan”, and the failure of talks with the Taliban.
Bhutan, though not directly affected by terrorism from Pakistan-based groups, was keen to show solidarity with India. And when Sri Lanka pulled out on September 30 and Maldives followed on October 1, this was the final nail in the coffin of Saarc.

That three nations standing by India are Muslim-majority nations (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives) would not have been lost on Islamabad. That the Gulf Cooperation Council, some of whose members are known to bankroll the Pakistani state and generally support it on the subject of Kashmir, maintained deafening silence indicates the extent of international concern over the scourge of terrorism.