By Imtiaz Gul
The section on International Peace and Security (from point 35 to 52) of the 60-point declaration released at end of the BRICS summit held over the weekend in China has evoked mixed reactions in and outside Pakistan.
Point 47 of the declaration reflects concerns shared by China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey regarding the situation in Afghanistan. It not only condemns the continued spate of violence there but also supports ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’ initiatives focused at promoting peace including the Moscow Format and the Heart of Asia-Istanbul.
Several other points reflect BRICS countries’ continued support for Palestinians, commitment and determination against trans-border terrorism, terrorist financing, and denial of space to foreign fighters as well as desire for negotiated settlement to other conflicts in the Middle-East and Africa.
Point 48, in particular, has triggered a quasi-celebration among perennial critics and skeptics, in particular those who would draw sadistic pleasure over anything that would slur or defame Pakistan. The full-text of the point is as follows:
“We support efforts of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces in fighting terrorist organisations. We, in this regard, express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH, Al-Qaida and its affiliates including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement,
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir.”
Former Pakistani High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit has expressed surprise at some of the reactions to this part of the BRICS declaration. “These terror outfits are already proscribed in Pakistan. They were also mentioned in the Amritsar Heart of Asia conference in December last year with Pakistan on board,” Basit has been quoted as saying. He has also pointed out that the Xiamen Declaration mentions the TTP, which Pakistani officials believe is funded by India.
The jubilation by some Pakistanis over Point 48 also drew dismissive reaction also from Chinese officials. Lijian Zhao, the deputy ambassador of China in Islamabad, took to the Twitter to explain his country’s position. He said, “BRICS summit is a multilateral meeting. If the UNSC named these organisations, is it such a surprise for BRICS to repeat the same words?”
Indeed, there’s nothing new in the point 48. Most of the US civil-military briefings, including those by the commander-in-chief in Afghanistan Gen. John Nicholson and the secretary of state in recent years, have been regurgitating nearly the same content. Having said that, the BRICS declaration goes off to show that myriad of challenges that have been staring Pakistan in the face for a decade and a half remain un-addressed.
The first challenge is to tailor a narrative on our counter-terror strategy and actions that dampens and blunts noises raised by India and Afghanistan. Most of the US leaders and their European friends still tend to use the Indo-Afghan prism for scrutinising Pakistan. Their combined global resonance and appeal far outweighs that of Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, Ankara and Islamabad put together.
Pakistan can offset this imbalance only through an astute and farsighted inclusive approach. Secondly, Islamabad would need to work harder than ever to convince friendly countries such as China, Russia, Iran and Turkey of the veracity of its ant-terror campaign.
For now, all of these countries endorse and support Pakistani actions on ground and are aligned with its Afghanistan policy. Hopefully, key civilian and military leaders understand the intricate nature of international relations: that policies are driven by national interests. The aforementioned countries will stand by Pakistan as long as their national interests would dictate that. Meanwhile, corrective, remedial measures, wherever needed, must be taken on an as-soon-as-possible basis to prevent dents to relations with Moscow and Beijing.
Thirdly, Islamabad and Rawalpindi shall have to pursue an immaculate and passionate but non-emotional approach to diplomacy to mend relations with Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani’s readiness for resumption of talks after the Eid prayers reopens the window for dialogue. But Pakistan will need to reach out to its neighbour with compassion and sagacity. Fourth, actions against all non-state actors, including the jaishs and lashkars, under the National Action Plan (NAP) shall have to be re-energised and sequenced in a credible way. Pakistan shall have to demonstrate that it does not consider obscurantist forces as partners for peaceful and progressive development that is in step with the rest of the world.
Lastly, the boon, i.e. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), can in all likelihood turn into a bane as well if Islamabad fails in dispelling reservations on counter-terror and counter-extremism front by friendly countries. The only silver lining for Pakistan – and it rests on the sustenance of CPEC – is Chinese support to Pakistan at international fora such as the UN. Only sustained and visible actions against religious militancy can help preserve relations with Beijing and Moscow and secure a better future for Pakistan.
Published in Daily Times, September 6th 2017.