Fear no more

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Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has decided to dispatch a group of parliamentarians to Western capitals to highlight a brutal surge of human rights abuses by India in Kashmir. What is the urgent need for such an initiative? Why have Indo-Pak relations plunged in recent months? Is some sort of geostrategic shift taking place in the region for which Pakistan is flaying about for an appropriate response?

Mr Sharif was disabused of his desire for peace with India by the arrival of Mr Narendra Modi as prime minister and Mr Ajit Doval as his National Security Advisor of India in 2014. Far from clasping Mr Sharif’s hand of goodwill on the day of his inauguration by reviving the back channel on Kashmir initiated by his BJP predecessor Atal Behari Vajpayee a decade ago, Mr Modi intervened brutally in Indian-occupied Kashmir and aggressively against Pakistan (Mr Doval’s “offensive defense” doctrine). The first is manifest in the bloody crackdown against peaceful protestors in Indian-occupied Kashmir; the second is evident from the notching up of proxy terrorisms in various parts of Pakistan, equating Pakistan’s human rights violations in Balochistan (an internal matter) with human rights abuse in Kashmir (disputed territory) and claiming Pakistan’s Azad Jammu Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan territories as “integral parts of India”. All this has been pegged to the issue of “terrorism by Pakistan” — on allegations that ex-Mumbai Don Dawood Ibrahim is sheltered by Pakistan (never mind that he has been put out of “business” for twenty five years), and that Pakistan isn’t doing enough to convict the Mumbai or Pathankot accused or crack down on the Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Tayba (never mind that Pakistan has put a firm lid on all such groups and has gone so far as to cooperate with India on giving advance warning of suspicious border crossings by maverick jihadi groups out of the control of Pakistan). This has apparently led Mr Sharif to redress matters by trying to internationalize the Kashmir issue and put the spotlight on state sponsored terrorism by India in Kashmir and Pakistan by dispatching parliamentary delegations to the West in advance of the United Nations Security Council moot later in September.

India’s new “offensive-defense” strategy looks both East (towards China and SE Asia) and West (towards Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and West and Central Asia). Its pivot is a budding economic and military alliance with the United States in which India is building itself up as a counterweight to China in Greater Asia. Towards this end, India and the US have stitched up unprecedented defense and nuclear agreements (American use of Indian military installations, American state-of-art air weaponry technology for jet engines and UAVs, US support for India’s inclusion in the nuclear suppliers group, joint war-games and naval exercises in the Indian Ocean), mutually reinforcing anti-China policies relating to South East Asian sea lane rights, and increasing US foreign investment in India, etc. Most alarming for Pakistan and China has been Indian opposition and hostility to the CPEC which aims to both boost Pakistan’s economy and open up strategic alternative trade and energy corridors linking China to the Middle East and Central Asia. Needless to add, both the US and India have the same vested interest in stabilizing the Afghan state as a dependent and pro-US-India country that fits in with their strategic plans to contain China and downgrade Pakistan. Indeed, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s ongoing visit to New Delhi is aimed at beefing up the US-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue.

Unfortunately, however, while China seems to be acutely aware of the New Great Game, the ruling establishment in Pakistan is still floundering in a sea of internal political conflicts and is unable to fashion an appropriate and swift strategic response to the historic challenge facing it. For starters, the political parties are at each another’s throats over a range of issues that simply don’t allow them to sit down, fathom the nature of the challenge and fashion a consensual and fitting response. Then there is the civil-military turf war between the Nawaz Sharif and Raheel Sharif camps that has created uncertainty, ill will and instability in the system. The worst aspect of all this is the bickering over CPEC among the provincial civilian stakeholders on the one hand and the civil-military administrations of the two Sharifs on the other. The Chinese are deeply worried by the inability of Pakistan to get its act together and guarantee the viability of CPEC.

Tectonic geo-strategic shifts are happening in the region. Yet all that Pakistan’s civil-military leaders can do is pack off a delegation of mostly inept and incompetent ruling party parliamentarians (instead of one representing all major parties to demonstrate a national consensus) to the West to highlight India’s human rights abuses in Kashmir. The paramount need of the hour is for the two Sharifs to shrug off their personal or institutional issues and help forge a national political consensus on a stable, dynamic and creative way forward for Pakistan.