Even after ‘tactical triumph’ against India, Pakistan faces heavy odds!

By Imtiaz Gul

In the post Pulwama stand-off, Pakistan has displayed its tactical brilliance. From the downing the Indian Mig 21 to the return of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, Prime Minister Imran Khan has won accolades from all over.

Even the OIC Abu Dhabi Declaration (March 2) welcomed “the positive initiative to hand over the Indian pilot as a gesture of goodwill to de-escalate tensions in the region.” No doubt the tactical brilliance, rational responses anchored in desire for peace and dialogue as well as the accolades for the PM managed to fracture the Indian narrative. 

But the big question still facing Pakistan is whether all this will result in any strategic gains for a country whose narrative, despite its sufferings, remains as unattractive and dogged as that of the Iranian clerics?

As a politically marooned Narendra Modi keeps up the pressure through his sabre-rattling and threats of “hot pursuit into Pakistan,” does the latter have many options to turn Modi’s jingoism to its advantage?

Let us consider the following odds that Pakistan currently faces.

The 50 point Declaration issued at the conclusion of the 46th Session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers makes no mention of Kashmir – the very cause of Islamabad’s three wars and its continual chequered relations with India, whose foreign minister addressed the meeting as a special guest.  

The Declaration (Points 13, 14, 15) does talk of “Palestine” as a central issue to both the Arab and the Muslim nations. This despite the fact that the UAE, Turkey and a few other Muslim countries either maintain business or diplomatic relations with Israel. Essentially, those who opposed Israel for its aggression against the Palestinians, including India, Turkey and most Arab nations, today display little qualms in staying connected with Tel Aviv one way or the other.

Secondly, India, regardless whether ruled by BJP or Congress, will remain the prime driver behind Pakistan’s grey-listing by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). FATF is in fact a more political than regulatory noose around the necks of Pakistan and Iran, anchored in the global rejection of non-state actors as instruments of politics (Let us avoid going into the merits or demerits of this). Many tend to call this as a coercive tool but it is a reality in an inter-linked global financial and trade system.

So, the FATF will continue hanging over Pakistan’s head until resumption of dialogue gives way to the current acrimonious posturing by India.

Thirdly, India is – for all economic reasons – connected with the top eight mighty nations of this world; mainly the United States, Russia, China and Israel (which according to a recent Pennsylvania University ranking occupies the eighth position).

Fourth, India enjoys an unusually exemplary relationship with Israel since June 1991, when an Israeli tourist was killed by militants in Kashmir, leading up to diplomatic relations between the two in 1992. Essentially, the relationship began with counter-terrorism (CT) cooperation and has fast expanded to Information Technology (IT) joint ventures worth billions of dollars, including the latest lethal military hardware for India. So the CT-IT in fact gave birth to the Indo-Israeli partnership.

Fifth, India shares seats with all the top powerful countries – US, China, Germany, Japan, Russia and France in particular – at several international forums such as G-20, BRICS, SCO, ASEAN etc. This translates into an immense clout for the country – however repressive it may be in Kashmir.

No surprise, therefore, that all the mighty nations sprang into action only after Pakistan had downed the Indian jet. None condemned India for violation of Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty but all directed their appeals for de-escalation at both and not just India – who had initiated the aggression.

We should not forget; brute Israeli oppression has reduced the Palestinians into literal sitting ducks. India, on the other hand, has been stifling the Kashmiris – meanwhile riding the wave of resentment through home-grown militants who have only seen guns and security forces.

None of the “global powers” have ever winked; their economic interests in the ‘1.3 billion India’ far outweigh the interests of a few million Kashmiri Muslims. Yes, they would certainly have raised hell had these this oppression and these human rights violations obstructed their economic and commercial interests. And India apparently has carried out its anti-Kashmir agenda with the active support of its Israeli advisors and armoury; quite a synergy of interests that trumps human rights’ considerations.

Sixth, and this must be alarming of all; through an opinion article in the Global Times, the message out of Beijing is that India and Pakistan are both dear to China, and hence it cannot take sides. 

“Though the region has been a long-lasting problem between India and Pakistan, the current crisis may influence China’s policy on South Asia.….. it is tough for China to take sides. In general, Beijing will adhere to the mediation policy. In the long run, if tensions continue to rise, China may face a greater impact; but despite that China is facing difficulties in mediating between the two neighbors, in the current scenario, the influence on China is limited,” says Fu Xiaoqiang, a research fellow with China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations in his op-ed on March 4.

A number of Pakistani officials may now start viewing it as a change of tone and tenor but they have to introspect themselves to find obvious answers to their questions. 

We know that the General Headquarters has been resonating with the realization that economic development was the only panacea for many of Pakistan’s woes. Even a rethink on relations with India as well as on ties with Israel has also been discernible “if we want to transition from a security to normal state.”

We know deliberations are also taking place for gradually constraining the space on all non-state actors – as undesirable elements which are more detrimental to the country than violation of airspace by an enemy jet.

But all this could not gather pace and Pulwama happened; all indicators point to home-grown act of terror – even if not a false flag operation.

Once again, Jaish-e-Mohammad was at the center of all this; beginning from the attack on the Indian parliament in Dec 2013 to the Jan 2106 Pathankot and September Uri raids, the JeM has been omnipresent – regardless whether rightly or wrongly.

But if it has been for the right reasons, then the state of Pakistan has all the more reason to neutralize it ASAP. How can the state tolerate an outfit that continues to haemorrhage Pakistan internationally more than anything else? Isn’t it about time to terminate the red herring that is being used to drag and muddy Pakistan’s image? Given the existing desire for doing so, this will be achievable only through a united and pro-active civil-military leadership. They shall have to ‘walk the talk’ through demonstrable indiscriminate actions against all non-state actors.

The author is Executive Director, CRSS

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