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Upping the ante

New Delhi seems to be in no mood for a compromise. It has upped the ante against Pakistan. In another letter to Islamabad, the Indian government has hardened its position, outlining the need for talks on fighting terror emerging from Pakistan that targets “not just India, but other countries in the region”. Both sides had exchanged letters earlier this month over Pakistan’s offer of Foreign Secretary-level talks on the “Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolutions”. New Delhi flat out rejected the offer and said that it is prepared to hold talks on terror-related issues including investigations into the Pathankot airbase attack in January 2016 and the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008. This is the red line it has drawn. But it has upped the ante further with the addition of a new demand that Pakistan vacates Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). India’s case on PoK rests on the accession of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir to India in 1947. These developments follow Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent comments on Pakistan’s role in fomenting terror in the Kashmir Valley, and gross human rights violations in PoK, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Balochistan. The reference to “other countries of the region” affected by Pakistan-sponsored terror also represents a new strategy in dealing with Islamabad. To the uninitiated, the “other countries in the region” is a reference to Bangladesh and Afghanistan—both fellow members of SAARC. These nations have been at the receiving end of attacks from terror groups with strong ties to Pakistan. In a clear sign of indignation, Bangladesh has decided not to send high-level officials to any SAARC-related events organised in Pakistan. Reports indicate that links had emerged between the recent Dhaka café attack and others that it links to the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment. 

Last month, Bangladesh’s Information Minister Hasanul Huq Inu made the stunning claim that Pakistan’s all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had trained upto 8,000 Bangladeshi jihadis in the last two years and sent them back to launch a violent campaign. “They are trying to avenge 1971, they can’t get over it,” the Minister said. “First, they hit India at Mumbai, now they hit us here in Dhaka with these homegrown jihadis who they have trained.” Bangladesh’s intelligence community has furnished several details of Pakistan-trained terrorists. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani asserted on Wednesday that the recent terror attack on the American University in Kabul was “organised” in Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban operates out of Pakistan, under the patronage of the Pakistan Army. “Instead of compelling the Taliban leadership to talk, it’s (Pakistan) allowed their largest offensive in years to surge forward. In effect, it’s stringing Afghanistan along, until the Taliban bring the government to its knees. Islamabad’s compulsions are simple. Pakistan can’t risk the Afghan Taliban joining hands with the Pakistani Taliban networks and the Islamic State led by Khan Saeed, who want to overthrow the government. That could end in a war larger than the Pakistan army is prepared to fight. It is simply in no position, therefore, to restrain the Taliban,” an Indian expert on strategic affairs recently said. The aim here is to isolate Pakistan within the immediate neighborhood.

The overall strategy here is two-pronged: isolate Pakistan within the immediate neighborhood and corner it across international forums on their domestic insurgencies. But no attempt to corner Pakistan on international forums could come to fruition unless New Delhi can devise a strategy to either co-opt or nullify Beijing’s influence in the region. China has decided to use Pakistan to not only further their economic interests in the region but also as a buffer against potential security threats. On the economic front, it is heavily invested in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which stretches between Chinese province of Xinjiang and Pakistan’s Gwadar Port. Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Islamabad to sign agreements worth $46 billion on energy and infrastructure projects to be built along an “economic corridor”. Strategic experts believe that this “economic corridor” will give China quicker access to markets in both Europe and the Middle East. This corridor, however, passes through one of Pakistan’s most volatile areas, i.e. the Balochistan province, home to Pakistan’s longest running insurgency. The construction of the Gwadar port has angered Balochis. They believe that the project would only benefit China and Pakistan’s Punjabi traders, leaving them empty-handed and alienated from their own land. Even in Gilgit, one was witness to mass arrests of people protesting against the CPEC. But the Chinese do not seem perturbed by these developments. 

The Modi government’s strategy of initiating talks only the issue of Pakistan-sponsored terror is aimed at placating its domestic audience.  It is no secret that this strategy had failed to materialise earlier. Any attempt to pressurise Pakistan into discussing home-grown terror will require significant international pressure, primarily from China. But Beijing seems to be in no mood to play ball. Despite the new found bonhomie between Modi and US President Barack Obama, Washington is also in no mood to escalate tensions against Pakistan. It is unclear now whether the SAARC summit in Islamabad will go ahead as planned in mid-November. The summit will be canceled if any head of state or head of government is unable to attend. Meanwhile, discussions on the Pathankot investigations have gone cold following the Nawaz Sharif government’s decision not to allow an Indian NIA team to visit Pakistan.
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