Two important events stirred the imagination during last week: the Chief of the Army Staff’s address at the September 6 ceremony held at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and the foreign minister’s press engagement at the conclusion of the three-day envoys’ conference held in Islamabad.
Two statements, two mindsets, two prospects, not necessarily mutually contradictory, but not complementary either: one stressing strongly on the need for the world to acknowledge Pakistan’s sacrifices in the ongoing war on terror and the other heralding the advent of a “new paradigm” which would be in consonance with “our relations and conditions and after making necessary adjustments” in line with the recommendations of the envoys’ conference.
Standing on the crossroads of its relations with a number of countries and caught up in the fast-shifting realities of the region, what are the options that Pakistan can exercise in chiselling a sustainable course for the future — a course that would put it in the comfort zone of continued productive and enduring engagement with countries of South-Asia as well as with the rest of the world?
Two statements, two mindsets, two prospects, not necessarily mutually contradictory, but not complementary either — one stresses strongly on the need for the world to acknowledge Pakistan’s sacrifices in the ongoing war on terror and the other heralds the advent of a new paradigm
Unfortunately, but predictably, Pakistan has received a number of setbacks in the recent past. President Trump’s pronouncement of a new approach in the larger South-Asian region heralded a set of damning developments that must have jolted our policy-making morons leading to the convergence of the empty-heads into a huddle over three days. The resolve to henceforth make and follow policies “in conformity with our relations and conditions” makes one wonder whether the policies followed so far have not been so, and whether those were not geared to advancing Pakistan objectives? That is a virtual indictment of the entire coterie of the empty-heads vested with the responsibility and powers for securing Pakistan’s interests. Beyond consuming lavish lunches, dinners and teas and flaunting enhancing riches, mostly illicit, I wonder whether there was anything on the table by way of serious engagement to extricate Pakistan out of an extremely difficult situation?
In his policy pronouncement, President Trump accused Pakistan of providing safe havens to terrorists who are fighting the US and Afghan forces. He went on to announce the replacement of the “time-based approach” with a “conditions-based” one, meaning that there would be no prior timetable given for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. He also proclaimed a change of approach in dealing with Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations that pose a threat to the region. He emphasised that “I’ll not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will”.
The gravity of the adverse proclamation had barely begun to sink in when some further bad news came from the BRICS platform. At the conclusion of the meeting in Xiamen on September 4, while reaffirming the need for cessation of violence and an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace”, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa said in a statement: “We express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/Dae’sh, al-Qaeda and its affiliates including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Hizb-ul-Tahrir” – a virtual bombshell, more so because Pakistan’s most celebrated ally was among the countries issuing the warning!
This may not be the first time China has taken up with Pakistan the need for fighting the terror groups indiscriminately, but this definitely is the first public rebuke, thus signifying a major shift in the way China looks at the evolving situation in the region. But for our empty-heads in the FO, one could see this coming for a long time, and there were tangible reasons facilitating its predictability.
China has been investing heavily in the region with Pakistan being the major beneficiary of that largesse. A host of infrastructure and energy sector projects are in the pipeline of completion which will significantly boost its prospects of taking off economically. This comes as part of China’s commitment to the larger region where it has laid out a vast repertoire of similar assistance programmes for other countries including Afghanistan. Understandably, China has been extremely eager to secure this initiative.
Concurrently, China has been expanding its political influence in the region. It has now become a major player in the quest for peace in Afghanistan which is also critical to consolidating its economic gains. It is in this context that it needs the support of other countries, India being one of them. While its expanding political arena can work to Pakistan’s advantage in the medium- to long-terms, there are responsibilities that accompany that prospect. Eliminating terror without discrimination is the most important component therein.
In spite of being the major victim itself, Pakistan’s anti-terror policies have been a subject of contentious debate for a long time. President Trump’s recent proclamation is only a reiteration of that divide which has now been further fuelled by China entering the arena of critics. No measure of reiteration and reaffirmation of its close and strategic ties with Pakistan can hide the lurking pressure urging Pakistan to move away from its traditional policy which lies in tatters. It need to do this not for China or the rest of the world. It must understand the dangers that continued presence of these militant organisations pose to its own long-term security.
The choice Pakistan has to make is between bringing about the requisite policy shift itself, or letting others do it. While the former may be a sane option that countries often pursue in securing and consolidating their security and strategic interests, the latter may come with consequences which may be both embarrassing and difficult to cope with.
Let’s not forget an old dictum: credible nations are recognised by the wisdom they display when confronted with a crisis situation. This wisdom lies in Pakistan untangling itself from the spreading hydra of terror.