Wasted opportunities against Pak
US and the Pakistani ISI have a bloody history of arming and abetting mujahidins jointly during the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
While the US clinically and selfishly washed hands of the ragtag army of Islamist warriors post the Soviet withdrawal, Pakistan harboured grandiose plans to dominate the region and retain control over the region via “Strategic Assets” (who would semantically morph into “Non-State Actors” when the progeny went out of control).
Given the regional intrigues, entrenchments and multiplicity of stakeholders for a status quo position on relationships, the sub-continent was set for strife to persist. Pakistan benefitted immensely from the inconsistent and unaligned diplomacy of its neighbouring countries– therefore, contrary to all logics, Ashraf Ghani gave the long rope to Pakistan initially, on assuming Presidentship (only to renege within a year), the US knowing fully well the real utility of resupplying F-16’s to Pakistan, masked it under the ostensible aid towards “taking on terrorists”, a change of political dispensation in a democratic India warranted a similar “biryani diplomacy” that the previous political dispensation was so cavalierly, accused of.
All in all, there was no consistency or cohesiveness of joint-diplomacy that was afforded on the most troublesome player in the region, Pakistan. But ironically, for China, all four other stakeholders in the region i.e. India, Afghanistan, Iran and the US have serious trust-deficits and concerns on Pakistan’s duplicitousness and are indulging in the kind of plain-speak that Pakistan has never been subjected to before. This direct pressure on Pakistan manifests in the innovative and convenient line of playing the martyr syndrome, pleading unconvincingly as the biggest victim of terrorism when confronted with uncomfortable facts and questions on its misdoings.
Last week, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani unequivocally pointed fingers at Pakistan following the onset of the Taliban’s promised “Spring Offensive” that led to 64 deaths in Kabul – frustratingly he observed, “I want to make it clear that we no longer expect Pakistan to bring Taliban to the negotiating table”. In an unprecedented diatribe, Ghani threatened diplomatic reprisals against Pakistan for inaction against the dreaded Haqqani network (implied to be complicit with ISI) – the US upped the ante and the State Department’s Press Office noted Pakistan’s conduct in very sharp terms, “We have consistently expressed our concerns at the highest level of the government of Pakistan about their continued tolerance for Afghan Taliban groups such as the Haqqani network operating from Pakistani soil. And we did again — after this week’s attack, we have pressed the government of Pakistan to follow up on its expressed commitment not to discriminate between terror groups regardless of their agenda or their affiliation by undertaking concrete action against the Haqqanis”. Expectedly and immediately, the Afghan Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah cancelled a visit to Pakistan, pending investigations.
The Af-Pak stalemate is mirrored with a parallel Indo-Pak logjam with India struggling to make sense of Pakistani intransigence in going soft on elements that are inimical to regional peace and yet, get Pakistani state cover and protection e.g. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi etc. China’s expected “cover fire” to Pakistan in the UN to veto out Indian efforts to designate Masood Azar a terrorist, may be fair game in realpolitik, but it is symptomatic of Pakistan’s unlearnt lessons or deliberate acts of omissions and commissions on terror management that besets the Pakistani establishment’s psyche. Echoing deceits and sleights that India always accuses Pakistan of, Ashraf Ghani reminded Pakistan that there are, “no good or bad terrorists, they are just terrorists” and that, “Pakistan must understand and act against them”.
This providential noose around Pakistan is getting wasted with rudderless diplomacy by the Indian government with actions like feigning normalcy and bonhomie with impromptu Head of State visits, allowing Pakistan JIT to visit Pathankot to ascertain Pakistani complicity or holding Indo-Pak foreign secretaries meet which gave Pakistanis that distractionary opportunity to reaffirm Kashmir as the core issue as well as raise non-issues like Kulbhushan Jhadav’s arrest as a “spy” in Baluchistan. Also, Pakistan did not play by the rule of protocol correctness and released convenient statements while the Foreign Secretary talks were still on. Amidst all these sops and escape vents to Pakistan, an almost amateurish diplomatic self-goal was done by India in issuing visa to Baloch nationalist leader Naela Qadri Baloch, tantamount to falling prey to Pakistani tactics and line of “India-hand” in Baluchistan. Now that a certain regional pressure is building on Pakistan, Indian diplomacy ought to be more restrained, less effusive and politely assertive given the irrefutable handiwork of Pakistani elements in the Indian terror landscape. All this unnecessary diplomatic hullabaloo and shenanigans with a known history-sheeter could have been avoided with a more “isolating” approach towards Pakistan - this does not imply an unnecessarily belligerent posturing of playing to the domestic constituents, but a more nuanced and sober “naming and shaming” exercise that force-multiplies with the collective angst of Afghanistan, US (for the time being), Iran (the visit of President Hasan Rouhani to Pakistan notwithstanding, the sectarian issue is irreconcilable) and obviously juxtaposing our own concerns.
Positing India as the perennial enemy is the raison d’etre for the two principal institutions in Pakistan; the Pakistani Defence Forces who need a credible and “nationalistic” enemy to justify the privileges and spends that are afforded on the Pakistani faujis, and secondly, for the myriad Pakistani democratic political parties who are the legitimate claimants to the flawed and failed “two-nation theory”. Efforts should not be wasted towards trying to befriend an asymmetric relationship that is fundamentally at cross-purposes, rather a more consistent line of affirming our stated positions and rationales to help the Pakistani mainstream realise the moral and functional futility of the standard Pakistani narrative, as it is – already the Pakistani intelligentsia and the middle-upper classes are voicing concerns on the instinctive and conventional Pakistani stand on terror management as the proverbial Frankenstein Monster is unleashed on the hapless nation itself.
The Indian diplomacy has to stand firm in its line of “moral high ground” as the global surge is also towards rooting out the terror nurseries fundamentally and therefore calling upon nations like Saudi Arabia and the other Sheikhdoms to tighten the screws on blind-funding madrassas, whilst onboarding countries like Iran (which was earlier, uncharitably declared the hub of global terror). Similarly, pressure on Pakistan to change track is inevitable and unavoidable, only if we allow the circumstantial regional opportunity like the one now to be used for calling a spade a spade, as opposed to sending conciliatory, contradictory and conflicting signals of hot and cold at the same time.
Lt General Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. The views expressed are strictly personal.