A time to keep our nerve | Ayaz Amir


Islamabad diary

Pakistan is under a double attack: (1) from India because Kashmir, the Indian-occupied part of it, is on the boil and nothing that India is doing is having any effect; and (2) from Afghanistan and the United States because the Taliban are on the march and are refusing to be defeated.

Pakistan, even if it wanted to, can’t settle Kashmir for India nor pacify Afghanistan for the US. And so it is being blamed by both sides. India refuses to acknowledge the indigenous nature of the present Kashmir uprising and blames it all on Pakistan and that handiest of all bogeys, ‘cross-border terrorism’. And the US and Afghanistan, unable to defeat the Taliban in the field, hold Pakistan responsible for not declaring war on the Haqqani Network and other Taliban affiliates.

Pakistan has enough on its plate in the form of its own Taliban problem, the TTP (Tehreel-e-Taliban Pakistan) against which the army has been carrying out a largely successful operation over the last two years. But the Americans, understandably, are consumed with their own Afghan problem and want Pakistan to perform the miracle of defeating the Taliban which eluded them for over 15 years.

As long as the Kashmir and Afghan fronts remain unsettled Pakistan should not expect the double onslaught against it to abate. The Indians and the Americans, with the Afghans chiming in, will continue to portray Pakistan as the source of all their problems. There is little that Pakistan can do to alter these hostile perceptions or change this state of affairs. We can bend over backwards and perform other gymnastic feats but in this season of double turbulence there is nothing that Pakistan can do which will satisfy the Indians, the Afghans and the Americans.

To repeat the earlier point, even if General Headquarters and ISI wanted and all our corps commanders earnestly desired, they cannot deliver Occupied Kashmir to Narendra Modi and Afghanistan to an American administration. Alas, Pakistan’s magic and prowess do not extend that far.

We can open Kahuta to inspection and announce a halt to the production of fissile material – we can jump into the sea – but the Americans will not be satisfied. They want Afghan pacification on their terms and that not coming about the anger against Pakistan will not subside, and sundry voices in the US Congress – now that Pakistan is no longer America’s bag-carrier in Afghanistan as it was post 9/11 – will keep directing fire and brimstone at Pakistan.

This is not the failure of Pakistani foreign policy, as foolish voices in Pakistan are all too quick to assert. Pakistan hasn’t created the present unrest in Kashmir. That is India’s doing, its failure over the decades to win over Kashmiri sentiment. The Kashmiris want to have nothing to do with India…they are sick of Indian rule. A hundred ISIs could not have created this situation. This feat is India’s alone and no amount of yelling about cross-border terrorism alters this circumstance.

And if the Americans in the longest war in their history have failed to conquer Afghanistan, how is Pakistan supposed to make up for this American failure? Here’s a telling statistic. How much is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor worth? $46 billion in all, when all the chips are counted. The US drowned Afghanistan in a sea of dollars–-close to 700-800 billion, the equivalent of 14-16 CPECs–-and it all was futile, the Taliban stronger than they have ever been since the American invasion. The natural anger and frustration this failure has bred are being taken out on Pakistan.

But if the Americans lose their cool we have to be calm…we can’t afford jangled nerves. Let them raise their voices if that is what satisfies them. Let us keep ours low. In the Vietnam peace talks in Paris the North Vietnamese delegate, Le Duc Tho, would never lose his calm. It was Dr Kissinger who would feel frustrated.

And in a quiet manner let us explore other options. Our overly-heavy dependence on the US over the years has not been good for us – friendship with the US, yes, by all means but the Musharraf and Zia kind of over-friendship is best avoided. And as India gets closer to the US, instead of getting panicky over this, let us try to build a stronger relationship with Russia.

Russia can’t be too happy with the growing Indian closeness to the US. Let us take advantage of this. The Moscow route we have seldom taken. It is time to explore this now. If our circumstances are changing we must change with them. And we have our Chinese connection. We must make the most of it…but without compromising our own interests. When it comes to trade deals we must look closely at the small print. There are no free lunches when it comes to relations with other states, no matter how thick the rhetoric and the friendly phrases.

We have to be careful about India though. With its Kashmir frustration mounting it can be tempted to make things hot on the border, especially across the Line of Control. There must be no let-up in our condemnation of Indian atrocities in Occupied Kashmir but sabre-rattling and unnecessary shouting we must avoid. It doesn’t suit us at all if things get hot.

After the Uri incident – the attack on the Indian military installation which left 17 Indian soldiers dead – there will be voices in India calling for a tough response. Again, Pakistan must remain calm. Every foolish outburst from India does not always merit a similar response. The first reaction of our Foreign Office to this incident was measured and correct: that India had a history of blaming Pakistan whenever such a thing happened.

India has an advantage in that its media speaks – largely – with one voice when it comes to foreign policy issues. The same cannot be said of our media, sections of which in their quest to appear ‘liberal’ and ‘enlightened’ end up echoing American and Indian allegations of Pakistan being mixed up with terrorism…as when a leading newspaper editorially says that the ISPR’s contention that “no infiltration is allowed from Pakistan soil” would be bolstered if there was “…a crackdown on all non-state actors allegedly involved in cross-border/LOC terrorism.” This amounts to saying that the ISPR’s contention is not wholly believable.

Earlier in the same editorial comes this assertion: the raid was carried out by four attackers, “individuals that Indian authorities have suggested came from across the LoC or are aligned with Pakistan-based anti-India militant groups.” Furthermore, Indian home minister Rajnath Singh has publicly called Pakistan a “terrorist state”.

These statements, even if laced with weak qualifications, taken together convey an impression that there is something to the charge of Pakistan supporting cross-border terrorism.

There is a time and place for everything. When something like Uri has just happened and the atmosphere is fraught between our two countries we could be more careful about our words. The Indian media, generally, is given to no such weakness. As noted above, when it comes to foreign policy it presents a united front and there is little in what it says which can give comfort to India’s enemies.

Still, this is a time to be careful and vigilant. No sabre-rattling but no lowering of our guard. And we must keep speaking out on Kashmir. And let’s hope the PM makes the most of his appearance before the UN General Assembly.