Ever since the dialogue process hit the proverbial roadblock, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been on a mission to isolate Pakistan across international forums without explicitly naming it. On Thursday, Modi expressed deep concern over the rising “export of terror”, in an apparent reference to Pakistan. He said that it is a common security threat to the region and there was the need for a coordinated response from ASEAN member nations to combat the menace.
“Export of terror, growing radicalisation, and spread of extreme violence are common security threats to our societies,” he said in his second attack on Pakistan in two days amid escalating war of words between New Delhi and Islamabad. Even during the G-20 meet, where the focus is usually on the state of the global economy, Modi took on Pakistan. In an apparent reference to Pakistan, he said “one single nation” in South Asia is spreading “agents of terror”. He asserted that those who sponsor the menace must be sanctioned and isolated, not rewarded. Washington backed Modi’s assertion on Thursday, when it said Pakistan cannot “pick and choose” the terrorist groups it goes after and has to target militants taking refuge on its territory who seek to harm its neighbours.
In an earlier statement, the US had said it is in constant “conversation” with the Pakistani leadership on the threats posed by terror organisations like the Haqqani network (ideologically and strategically aligned with the Afghan Taliban) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba operating in the region. The dreaded Haqqani network, which is blamed for several deadly attacks on Indian interests in Afghanistan, has also carried out a number of kidnappings and attacks against US interests, the Afghan government, and innocent civilians. Despite this "conversation", Washington has sought to improve ties with New Delhi and sharply diminish Islamabad’s strategic importance as an ally.
Indications of the same had come earlier this month, when US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter refused to authorise $300 million package to Pakistan, citing the limited gains the country has made fighting the militant Haqqani network. The terror group is based in the Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. "We're seeing a very definitive and very sharp reorienting of U.S. policy in South Asia away from Afghanistan-Pakistan and more towards India," Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert with the Woodrow Wilson Center told Reuters.
As per latest US government data, American civilian and military aid to Pakistan is expected to total less than $1 billion in 2016, down from $3.5 billion in 2011. Despite targeting terror groups in the northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Areas, both the civilian and military establishment in Pakistan continue to support and finance terror groups in India, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh to fulfill their strategic objectives. Legal proceedings against JeM Chief Masood Azhar and top LeT commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi for the Pathankot siege and the 26/11 attack respectively have come to a grinding halt. Meanwhile, the US will hold trilateral talks with Afghanistan and India during next month’s United Nations session to further calibrate counter-terror measures.
In the past decade, American officials have sought to pressure Pakistan into denying safe havens for insurgent groups involved in destabilising Afghanistan, especially the Taliban and its brutal offshoot, the Haqqani network. But that has not created the requisite incentive for Pakistan to give up its terror apparatus. As argued in these columns, that script has gone terribly wrong.
But publicly the Americans are still keen on keeping Pakistan onside, despite evidence to the contrary. On Thursday, Washington rejected Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed’s remarks that America and India have joined hands against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Balochistan. It is heavily invested in the $46 billion dollar-China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which stretches between Chinese province of Xinjiang and the Pakistani port city of Gwadar.
Strategic experts believe that this “economic corridor” will give China quicker access to markets in both Europe and the Middle East. To counter China’s growing influence in the region, the Obama administration wants India to become a major player in its “Pivot to Asia” doctrine. Modi seems happy to play along, considering China’s recent economic and military concessions to Pakistan.
Beijing has worked overtime to undermine India across international forums. China has also decided to use Pakistan as a buffer against potential security threats in light of a growing tide of fighters from the troubled Xinjiang province to jihadist groups. Add the insurgencies in PoK and Balochistan to the mix, and China is faced with a tinderbox that could explode anytime. It is a strategy fraught with risks, as the Americans have discovered for themselves.