Pakistan’s move towards New Geostrategic Realignments – Mian Sanaullah

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Photo Courtesy: MOFA, Islamabad

In recent months, Pakistan has been able to break the diplomatic gridlock engineered by Indian foreign policy pundits to ensure our diplomatic isolation. The forthcoming 13th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) summit of 10-member states being held and organized by Pakistan in Islamabad on March 1 is not a minor achievement in this context. Perhaps, Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz is not entirely wrong in his jubilation that the Indian efforts to isolate Pakistan have borne no fruit. He claimed that seven heads of state and Deputy Prime Minister from Uzbekistan would attend the summit, which marks the end of regional isolation. Afghanistan alone will be sending its Foreign Minister.

Last September, Russia for the first time conducted joint military exercises in Pakistan. In fact, Russia ignored the Indian demarche and participated in exercises in Cherat. Pakistan capped it with the International naval exercise ‘Aman-17′ from February 10-14, with more than 35 countries participating in the event. Navies from 12 countries including Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States conducted the joint exercise.

The Indian Prime Minister’s stated policy to isolate Pakistan triumphed when Pakistan was forced to cancel the November SAARC summit in Islamabad where Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan followed India’s decision to stay away from Summit. India cited “cross-border terrorist attacks in the region” as a reason for boycotting the summit; Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan too expressed concern about the same issue in their official notes to Kathmandu. The SAARC summit cancellation was touted as the biggest snub for Pakistan, notwithstanding the fact that SAARC summit had been postponed many times in the past.

India has tried to wean away Russia from Pakistan, especially after Russian special envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov while addressing the ‘Heart of Asia’ Conference in Amritsar (India) has said that “the allegations made against Pakistan by India and Afghanistan are totally baseless”. His message was strident; let it be known that the allegations’ game needs to be stopped and that criticizing Pakistan is wrong. He also appreciated the speech of Pakistan’s advisor on Foreign Affairs, declaring his statement as constructive and friendly.

It is still a beginning. Pakistan has to do a lot to cover up the lost ground. India has not given up. As of February 2017, Indian Prime Minister has made 56 foreign trips on six continents, visiting 45 countries including visits to USA to attend UN general assembly and to Asian countries. His main theme, as a priority, included Pakistan’s isolation.

The US administration has not yet firmed up its policy of engagement. No one is confident or sanguine how the existing blow hot, blow cold American policy towards Pakistan would be recalibrated. Whether it would be all stick or some carrots as well. As the recent US congressional Committee hearing entitled “Pakistan: Friend or foe in the fight against terrorism” goes, US leaders are not prepared to trust Pakistan and its narrative on counterterrorism. They believe that more work has to be done on Pakistan.

The message come loud from US Defence Secretary James Mattis’ statement during his confirmation hearing. He vowed that the Trump administration would offer incentives to Pakistan to cooperate with the United States on critical issues. Mattis underlined the need “to stay engaged with Pakistan, with focus on Pakistan’s need to expel or neutralize externally-focused militant groups that operate within its borders.”

This veiled threat is no different from the tweets of Trump. The latest disturbing move came from G-7 yesterday where the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), led by the G7 countries, put Pakistan on a three-month warning regarding terrorist financing. Failing to act against terrorism can cost isolation from global banking system.

Within the region, Pakistan has vibrant strategic relations with China. The other major power, the Russian Federation, has reset its policy towards Pakistan. It underpins engagement with Pakistan as a friend. Central Asian countries, as always, have shown their willingness to support Pakistan by affirming their participation in the ECO Summit. Earlier, they welcomed Pakistan as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Pakistan is also ready to work with Afghanistan. Foreign Office spokesperson confirmed that the contacts between the two countries had been positive. However, only last week, an Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs official threatened to seek U.N. sanctions against Pakistan for supporting terrorists linked to the Taliban. Yesterday a deputy Minister threatened in Kabul that Afghanistan might officially complain to WTO (World Trade Organization) against closing of transit trade routes to a landlocked country (Afghanistan) since February 16.

While little revelling over ECO Summit is justified, Pakistan must realize that a successful ECO Summit would not fully connect Pakistan with its friends and powerful allies within Muslim world and beyond; ECI with its theme of “Connectivity for regional prosperity” provides an opportunity to address new geostrategic realignments based on Pakistan’s strengths and vulnerabilities. The continued belligerence of India, and Afghanistan as its surrogate, should not be allowed to hold back Pakistan from taking measured steps to expose the Indian hypocrisy to use Afghan soil against Pakistan. This fact is not hidden from US administration. Chuck Hagel, former US defence secretary, has rightly claimed that India was using assistance to Afghanistan as a “second front” in its conflict with Pakistan.

The author Mian Sanaullah is a former Ambassador, political analyst and Advisor to Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS). He can be reached at mian.sana@gmail.com.

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