Chal­lenge of Iso­la­tion

Pak­istan must climb out of the iso­la­tion that it has been driven into in the South Asian re­gion and make ef­forts to get rid of its per­ceived image of a state that backs and ex­ports ter­ror­ism.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Dr. Moo­nis Ah­mar

On Septem­ber 24, 2016, the In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi while de­liv­er­ing a speech in the southern In­dian city of Kozhikode warned Pak­istan that, “we will iso­late you. I will work for that. In­dia would con­tinue to push to make Pak­istan a pariah state in the eyes of the in­ter­na­tional community. We will in­ten­sify our ef­forts and force you to be alone all over the world.” Modi’s out­burst against Pak­istan and his threat to iso­late Pak­istan in the re­gion and in the world took place shortly af­ter a ter­ror­ist at­tack on the In­dian army camp lo­cated in Uri in its con­trolled parts of Jammu & Kash­mir which killed 18 sol­diers. In­dia also claimed to launch what it called “sur­gi­cal strikes” in­side Pak­istani ter­ri­tory to tar­get what it called “ter­ror­ist camps.” Pak­istan swiftly and ve­he­mently de­nied the In­dian claim and termed it as base­less and a bla­tant lie.

What is meant by the In­dian pol­icy to iso­late Pak­istan and is New Delhi ca­pa­ble of im­ple­ment­ing such a pol­icy? What should Pak­istan do to cope with the chal­lenge of iso­la­tion? These are the ques­tions raised in the af­ter­math of Modi’s as­ser­tion to iso­late Pak­istan and the chain of events prove how se­ri­ous is the In­dian gov­ern­ment about im­ple­ment­ing such a pol­icy. First was the BRICS (Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, China and South Africa) sum­mit which was held in Goa in Oc­to­ber and was used by the In­dian Prime Min­is­ter for ‘Pak­istan bash­ing.’ But his ef­forts failed as Rus­sia and China, the two key mem­bers of BRICS, re­fused to en­dorse his as­ser­tion against Pak­istan and called it ir­rel­e­vant and in­con­sis­tent with the agenda of that con­fer­ence. Sec­ond was the suc­cess­ful In­dian at­tempt to post­pone the 19th SAARC sum­mit which was sched­uled to be held in Is­lam­abad in Novem­ber. In­dia not only an­nounced a boy­cott of the con­fer­ence al­leg­ing that Pak­istan was in­volved in spread­ing ter­ror­ism in In­dia and in the re­gion but it also suc­ceeded in con­vinc­ing three more mem­bers of SAARC, i.e. Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh to ex­press their un­will­ing­ness to at­tend the SAARC sum­mit. There­fore, when four out of eight SAARC mem­ber coun­tries de­cided not to at­tend SAARC sum­mit in Is­lam­abad, it was tan­ta­mount to de­priv­ing Pak­istan of an op­por­tu­nity to host that sum­mit. Tech­ni­cally, even if one mem­ber of SAARC re­fuses to at­tend the sum­mit, it can­not be held. Third was the Heart of Asia con­fer­ence which was held in Amritsar in early De­cem­ber on dis­cussing ter­ror­ism in the con­text of Afghanistan which was also used by the In­dian Prime Min­is­ter

to hit out at Pak­istan and blame it about fo­ment­ing ter­ror­ism in the re­gion. He was joined by the Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani who also crit­i­cized Pak­istan of pro­mot­ing ter­ror­ism in his coun­try. The hos­tile In­dian at­ti­tude visà-vis the Pak­istan del­e­ga­tion in Amritsar re­flected the con­sis­tent In­dian pol­icy, par­tic­u­larly fol­low­ing the Uri at­tack, to marginal­ize Pak­istan at re­gional and in­ter­na­tional fora.

Three ma­jor fac­tors need to be ex­am­ined as far as the chal­lenge of iso­lat­ing Pak­istan is con­cerned. First, for the first time in the re­cent past, In­dia, along with three coun­tries of South Asia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan, has man­aged to form an in­for­mal al­liance against Pak­istan. While Bhutan sup­ports New Delhi on pol­icy mat­ters, Afghanistan and Bangladesh hold hos­til­ity to­wards Pak­istan for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons. Bangladesh, dur­ing Sheikh Hasina’s regime has de­te­ri­o­rat­ing re­la­tions with Pak­istan be­cause of Is­lam­abad’s con­dem­na­tion of the war crimes trial and the hang­ing of sev­eral po­lit­i­cal fig­ures on ac­count of their al­leged role in geno­cide in the lib­er­a­tion war of Bangladesh in 1971.

Afghanistan tilts to­wards In­dia since the ouster of the Taliban regime af­ter 9/11 and pe­ri­od­i­cally crit­i­cizes Pak­istan of pa­tron­iz­ing ter­ror­ist groups. Nepal and Sri Lanka, which used to have a soft cor­ner for Pak­istan, are now neu­tral and don’t want to of­fend In­dia. There­fore, these two coun­tries, af­ter the boy­cott of 19th SAARC sum­mit led by In­dia were un­able to sup­port Pak­istan. Fur­ther­more, In­dia has deep­ened its in­flu­ence in Nepal and Sri Lanka by pro­vid­ing sub­stan­tial eco­nomic as­sis­tance in mod­ern­iz­ing their in­fras­truc­ture. Sec­ond, Pak­istan was un­able to com­pre­hend the In­dian strat­egy to sub­vert 19th SAARC sum­mit. When the SAARC sum­mit was sched­uled to be held in Is­lam­abad in Novem­ber, Pak­istan should have been care­ful by avoid­ing steps which could have provided an op­por­tu­nity to New Delhi to boy­cott the sum­mit. For in­stance, on the oc­ca­sion of SAARC In­te­rior Min­is­ters Con­fer­ence held in Is­lam­abad in Au­gust, sev­eral protest demon­stra­tions were held against the vis­it­ing In­dian Home Min­is­ter Ra­j­nath Singh. He was so fu­ri­ous with the hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment in Is­lam­abad that af­ter go­ing back he said on record that Pak­istan was not a coun­try worth vis­it­ing.

At the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly an­nual ses­sion held in Septem­ber in New York, Pak­istan main­tained its hard po­si­tion, par­tic­u­larly on Jammu & Kash­mir, which led to a se­vere re­ac­tion from the In­dian del­e­ga­tion. The tense sit­u­a­tion along the line of con­trol fur­ther de­te­ri­o­rated re­la­tions be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan. It was in such an en­vi­ron­ment that the dates of SAARC sum­mit were ap­proach­ing. In­dia used what it called Pak­istan’s in­volve­ment in ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties and the hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment pre­vail­ing in Is­lam­abad against In­dia and an­nounced the boy­cott of the sum­mit. In a sem­i­nar held in Is­lam­abad in June on “Is Pak­istan Iso­lated? Re­gional Chal­lenges and Op­por­tu­ni­ties” or­ga­nized by the In­sti­tute for Pol­icy Re­forms, the par­tic­i­pants were di­vided as one school of thought sub­scribed to the no­tion about the iso­la­tion of Pak­istan at the re­gional and in­ter­na­tional level while the other re­jected that no­tion. It seems Pak­istan fell into the trap which was hatched by In­dia to sub­vert the SAARC sum­mit sched­uled to be held in Is­lam­abad. Was Pak­istan in a po­si­tion to re­main calm and cool when the SAARC sum­mit was sched­uled and ig­nore things which could have provided In­dia an op­por­tu­nity to boy­cott the sum­mit? Un­for­tu­nately, the tim­ing of es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions with In­dia when the SAARC sum­mit was to be held, back­fired as four out of eight SAARC mem­bers de­cide to boy­cott.

Third, the image of Pak­istan abroad that the coun­try is pa­tron­iz­ing banned ter­ror­ist groups like Jaish Mo­ham­mad and Ja­maat ud Dawa tends to cre­ate neg­a­tive opinion about the coun­try.These two groups are banned but their lead­ers are al­lowed to ad­dress pub­lic gath­er­ing and dis­sem­i­nate their pro­grammes. The mes­sage which is sent from Pak­istan about the free­dom given to banned Ji­hadi out­fits is very dam­ag­ing which pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity, par­tic­u­larly to In­dia, to por­tray a neg­a­tive image about Pak­istan. Un­der the Na­tional Ac­tion Plan which was launched in Jan­uary 2015, the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment had com­mit­ted to rein in mil­i­tant, ex­trem­ist and ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions and deny them any pub­lic space. But these banned re­li­gious ex­trem­ist groups ap­peared un­der a dif­fer­ent name and are al­lowed to con­tinue with their ac­tiv­i­ties by preach­ing sec­tar­ian ha­tred. This means that within the es­tab­lish­ment there are el­e­ments who have a vested in­ter­est in pa­tron­iz­ing such groups as they think that they can be used against In­dia in its con­trolled parts of Jammu & Kash­mir and against the per­ceived pro- In­dian regime in Kabul.

Pak­istan will con­tinue to face iso­la­tion in the re­gion and out­side un­less it for­mu­lates a two-pronged strat­egy. First, nor­mal­ize its re­la­tions with Afghanistan and Bangladesh so that at­tempts made by New Delhi to use these two mem­bers of SAARC against Pak­istan are neu­tral­ized. For that mat­ter, Pak­istan must main­tain a neu­tral stance on do­mes­tic is­sues of Bangladesh. In case of Afghanistan, Pak­istan must pur­sue a pol­icy of strict non-in­ter­fer­ence as its past pol­icy of pa­tron­iz­ing some Afghan groups has proved to be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Iron­i­cally, in the past it was Pak­istan which was pur­su­ing a pol­icy to lead the smaller coun­tries of South Asia against per­ceived In­dian dom­i­na­tion and bel­liger­ence. Now, things are mov­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion and it is In­dia which has suc­cess­fully iso­lated Pak­istan at the re­gional level. Sec­ond, Pak­istani diplo­matic mis­sions abroad must be given the task to ag­gres­sively, ef­fec­tively and ra­tio­nally counter the In­dian tirade against Pak­istan by suc­cess­fully pro­ject­ing mas­sive hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions by the In­dian se­cu­rity forces in its con­trolled parts of Jammu & Kash­mir and the anti-mi­nor­ity pol­icy of Modi regime, par­tic­u­larly against Mus­lims and Chris­tians. Prin­ci­pally, the world should take note of In­dian atroc­i­ties in Kash­mir and its in­tol­er­ant pol­icy vis-à-vis mi­nori­ties and should iso­late New Delhi.

Re­vers­ing the tide of Pak­istan’s iso­la­tion is an up­hill task be­cause un­less the leadership is clear, co­her­ent and con­sis­tent in its ap­proach to pur­sue zero tol­er­ance vis-à-vis re­li­gious ex­trem­ist groups, it will con­tinue to face the chal­lenge of iso­la­tion. Re­gional dis­con­nect is an­other type of iso­la­tion as travel, trade and con­nec­tiv­ity of Pak­istan with al­most all the coun­tries of SAARC is mea­ger. It is time on the part of the gov­ern­ment and civil so­ci­ety in Pak­istan to re­think do­mes­tic and for­eign pol­icy be­fore it is too late and the coun­try is fur­ther iso­lated. The writer is Mer­i­to­ri­ous Pro­fes­sor of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and Dean Fac­ulty of So­cial Sciences, Univer­sity of Karachi.

Pak­istan will con­tinue to face iso­la­tion un­less it for­mu­lates a two-pronged strat­egy.

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