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Pakistan

Amid tensions with India, what are Pakistan’s foreign policy options?

By Durdana Najam

In a recent development, the United States, Britain and France have joined ranks to prevail upon the United Nations Security Council to blacklist Maulana Masood Azhar, the head of Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM). This comes in response to China’s persistent technical hold on keeping Masood Azhar from getting into the list of designated terrorist.

The context of this fresh impetus is the February 14 Pulwama attack, which, according to India, had been planned and executed by the JeM.  Pakistan’s official position on the attack is that it was indigenously planned in the Indian Held Kashmir.  Pakistan has already rejected the intelligence report shared by India, which, the diplomats in the foreign office say, has failed to provide any actionable intelligence to substantiate JeM’s involvement in the attack. 

Some 40 Indian paramilitary personals were killed in the attack that brought both the countries on the verge of war.

In a tit-for-tat response to India’s blatant attack on Pakistan’s soil, on February 26, where India targeted JeM’s training camps in Balakot, Pakistan shot down two Indian Air force jets and captured one pilot alive inside Pakistan. However, without further giving in to Modi’s war hysteria, Pakistan quickly stepped back and not only released the captured pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, but also offered to hold dialogue on the issue. 

The draft resolution on Azhar has been presented to the Security Council’s Islamic State and al Qaeda Sanction Committee, which operates on consensus. A similar resolution was tabled by France in March which was blocked by China on grounds that it needed more time to study evidence against Masood. In response to the US resolution, China’s foreign ministry said: “a comprehensive and thorough assessment was needed before blacklisting Mr Azhar.” 

Earlier, Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi deplored the practice of using the Security Council’s terrorism sanctions regime and Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international anti-money laundering and terrorism financing watchdog, as an instrument for geopolitical gains.  

“Pakistan has been the principal victim of terrorism, including that supported, sponsored and financed from abroad. But this has not diminished my country’s resolve to eliminate this scourge,” Ms Lodhi said. Lodhi’s assertion also supports the popular view regarding the international community’s denial to appreciate Pakistan’s consistent action against militant organizations operating from Pakistan.

Pakistani military establishment has been accused of using as proxies the Madrassa educated individuals to counter Indian influence in the region. Notwithstanding the reality of Jihadist organizations finding shelter in the erstwhile tribal areas of Pakistan, it was not until the Soviet-Afghan war–induced, propelled and financed by the US and its Middle East ally Saudi Arabia that– that Jihad came to be used as a tool against regional adversaries.

It is relevant to remember the US role in stacking up Jihad as a parallel ideology to Communism. Not just that, the Jihadists trained and brainwashed to defend Islam were left unguided and unattended in the war-hardened Afghanistan. Other than walking away from Afghanistan, the US had also turned its back on Pakistan following the usual pattern of relations between the two countries.

Another pattern was the coming together of the US and Indian interests. In corollary, Pakistan was left with little option than to fend its western border both from the Indian aggression, which was struggling to find a new space with the Northern Alliance and greedy Afghan war loads, and the Jihadi infrastructure breeding an army of soldiers hitched to the metaphor of building an overarching Islamic state—the Caliphate. 

Without discounting Pakistan’s error of judgment in allowing its soil to become a shield for militants, an introspection into the geopolitical changes in the region and Pakistan’s military establishment’s determination to disrupt extremists and terrorist’s network warrants both attention and a scholarly debate. 

It would be wrong to say that Pakistan has only acted against the militants after Pulwama. In fact, the drive against militancy has begun in earnest since 2009 with the Swat Operation followed by Zarb-e-Azab (2014) and Operation Rad-ul Fasad (2017). Such was the success of the Operation Zarb-e-Azab that the Military experts globally had been all praise for the operation’s success in dismantling terrorist networks.

Another watershed moment was the Army Public School massacre that killed more than 100 students, teachers and staff on December 16, 2014. Shocked to the core, the incident banded the nation together to formulate the National Action Plan—an ambitious 20 points agenda to eliminate terrorism. It was an action plan against terrorists of all shapes and hue. The sources that produced, nurtured and promoted extremism, such as hate literature, the pulpit of the cleric, madrassas and most importantly the development of the tribal areas among others were put in the crosshair of the national policy against terrorism. Though not in entirety, bits of all the points have been put into action.    

According to General retired Naeem Lodhi, there is complete unanimity in the Pakistani policy-making circles on the elimination of terrorism from our society. However, he maintained national policies are not made in isolation of the regional countries’ behaviour. “If Pakistan’s interests are jeopardized, and India keeps interfering in Balochistan, there should be a response of equal ferocity.”

He dismissed the general assumption that Pakistan might slacken off its drive against militant once India’s elections are over. He said: “Continuing with the policy of supporting militant is not in Pakistan’s interest. It is not about India; it is about Pakistan.” 

India’s failure to acknowledge that the struggle for independence in Kashmir has become indigenous has also made handling Kashmir a difficult option. Pakistan does have interest in Kashmir’s liberation and cannot pull itself out of this pledge, which at times translates from giving moral support to the cause to giving the Kashmiris the desired space and resources to step-up their struggle. In the contemporary world, the US support to Israel legitimates this assistance. The rut lies in pigeonholing as terrorism the retaliation of the Kashmiris to India’s aggression.

Just as Pakistan has started living in reality, India should as well smell the coffee.   

 “My understanding is that this situation will have to change. Both Pakistan and India have been using proxies to settle scores but after Pulwama, it is increasingly becoming tough for both the countries to keep to the business as usual. For peace, both India and Pakistan have to disengage from using proxies. Pressuring Pakistan and turning an eye away from India’s intervention into Balochistan through proxies will not produce results”, says Dr Saeed Shafqat Professor and Director, Centre for Public Policy and Governance (CPPG), Forman Christian University.

A volatile region will only be of interest to organizations like Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and ISIS/Daesh. In the wake of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, any immaturity on part of either India or Pakistan could result in the hijacking of the militant project by both the TTP and ISIS.

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