Pakistan – isolated in a changing world

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Arif Nizami

SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)

While the country is grappling with a political deadlock as a result of Imran Khan’s concerted campaign to oust Nawaz Sharif, everything else is virtually at a standstill. There is hardily a government to grapple with the endemic internal and external challenges being faced by Pakistan.

It will be unfair to say that it is merely the ‘go Nawaz go’ campaign taking its toll. Actually, years of malfeasance of our rulers, including that of the khakis, has taken its toll. Finally the chickens have come home to roost.

The case in point is Pakistan’s increasing isolation both internationally as well as in the region. The newly inducted Indian Prime Minister Narindera Modi’s just concluded visit to the US is one manifestation of this stark reality.

While his American hosts warmly welcomed Modi, Washington largely ignored the Pakistani prime minister, who was visiting New York to address the United Nation’s General Assembly session. For the international community Sharif had nothing new to offer apart from the usual platitudes in his address. Hence it was no surprise at all that he was speaking to a virtually empty hall.

In sharp contrast Modi, in his subsequent address to the UNGA, was able to gain a lot of traction. He also addressed at least two well-attended gatherings of NRIs (non resident Indians) and American businessmen in Manhattan. Sharif, on the other hand, hastily left for London after his UN address, avoiding meeting Pakistanis.

It is a sad commentary on PTI’s strategy as well – organising ‘go Nawaz go’ rallies against the Pakistani prime minister in New York. How does it serve Pakistan’s interest to wash our dirty linen abroad?

The manner in which Washington has endorsed New Delhi’s stance on terrorism should be worrisome for our policy makers. The joint US-India statement issued at the end of Modi’s visit to Washington directly implicates Pakistan.

Using unusually strong language it spoke of “joint and concerted efforts, including the dismantling of safe havens for terrorists and criminal networks, to disrupt all financial and tactical support for networks such as al Qaeda, Lashkar e Tiaba, Jaish e Mohammad, the D-Company and the Haqqani network.”

The manner in which Washington has endorsed New Delhi’s stance on terrorism should be worrisome for our policy makers. The joint US-India statement issued at the end of Modi’s visit to Washington directly implicates Pakistan

The Pakistani foreign office has put a brave face to sanctions imposed by the US the same day against certain terrorists and terrorist organisations ostensibly operating from Pakistani soil. According to the foreign office these sanctions are not binding on Pakistan.

It’s high time the ubiquitous Pakistani establishment outgrows its jaundiced thinking and smelt the coffee. The US, in the process of exiting Afghanistan, seems no longer in a mood to molly cuddle its erstwhile frenemy.

Soon it will not need Islamabad’s services for a NATO land route through Pakistan to Afghanistan. This does not mean that Washington will no longer be engaging Pakistan.

Nonetheless, Islamabad’s ability to play footsie will be considerably diminished. On the other hand sharing of intelligence and economic cooperation between Washington and New Delhi will manifestly increase.

After initial dithering Pakistan has welcomed the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) by Afghanistan and the US. Under the agreement 10,000 US troops will remain in the strife torn country in nine bases, many of them along the Pak Afghan border.

Washington has assured Islamabad that these troops will not engage in cross-border operations on the Pak-Afghan border. Nonetheless, drones will continue to fly from these bases to terrorists holed up in Pakistani badlands

It will be too early to predict that the Pakistani military is moving away from its long held, albeit obsolete, security paradigm based upon strategic depth. Nonetheless, along with ongoing Zarb-e-Azb, this sort of posturing should assuage some of the misgivings in Washington and Kabul.

Pakistani military is perhaps the only outfit that has successfully flushed out terrorists from the badlands. But most of them have escaped to Afghanistan where in the south bordering Pakistan the Taliban would ultimately make a concerted putsch to establish their control.

The west – increasingly embroiled in the Middle East to combat the extremely well organised and financed threat of IS (Islamic State) – are, in the process, extricating themselves from the region

For the time being the US brokered deal between newly elected Pushtoon president Ashraf Ghani and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah might stick. But the honeymoon between the traditional rivals, the Pushtoons and the Northern Alliance, is bound to be short-lived.

The former president, Hamid Karzai, perennially pointed an accusatory finger towards Pakistan for fomenting trouble in Afghanistan. Soon his successors will be doing the same thing.

The west – increasingly embroiled in the Middle East to combat the extremely well organised and financed threat of IS (Islamic State) – are, in the process, extricating themselves from the region. They would virtually leave Pakistan and Afghanistan to their own devices; history repeating itself after the exit of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the late 1980s.

The beleaguered Sharif government, cut down to its size, is hardly in a position to take substantive foreign policy initiatives. So far as the military under general Sharif is concerned, it is too early to predict whether it has changed its strategy or tactics.

PML-N spin-doctors have created the narrative that the Chinese President Xi Jinping bypassed Islamabad owing to PTI and PAT’s dharnas. They conveniently fail to mention in the process the fact that the Chinese leader’s visit to Pakistan had not been finalised and his ultimate destination was New Delhi.

According to some reports in the media, the private sector in China has cancelled some contracts with Pakistani entrepreneurs, including with a large textile conglomerate. Other investments including in the power sector have also been reportedly put on hold.

Obviously, uncertainty in Islamabad has weakened the resolve of Chinese investors like those of the rest of the world, to wait and see. Despite the hype of our leadership about Pak-China friendship being ‘as sweet as honey’, the Chinese private sector is no different from the rest.

Muslim unrest in Xinjiang province is also blamed upon Islamist groups operating from adjoining Pakistan. Although the largely Muslim Uighurs is a persecuted majority in the province, Islamabad and the Pakistani media largely ignore their plight.

Nonetheless terrorists operating from our badlands do foment trouble in the area. And like in the rest of the world, Islamabad is blamed for harbouring terrorists of all hue and colour.

Unless our establishment outgrows its flawed policy of making a distinction between the good and bad terrorist, Pakistan’s isolation will only grow in the fast changing world scenario.

www.shafaqna.com/english

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