The thaw that never was


In the wake of positive diplomacy

It is indeed a positive development that the Imran Khan led PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) within a month of its induction is making all out efforts to end Islamabad’s regional and international isolation. The effort partly stems from the country’s virtual bankrupt economy and hence the urgent need for infusion of foreign capital to stem the rot before it is too late.

Perhaps also before deciding to talk to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) for a bailout our policy makers want to test the waters as to how much our friends can help us. That is why the prime minister’s dash to Saudi Arabia and the UAE and simultaneously the COAS (Chief of Army Staff) general Qamar Javed Bajwa visit to Beijing.

Superficially at least, things are looking up. After a long time the civilian and military leadership seem to be on the same page. Before embarking on its diplomatic putsch the PTI leadership had separate marathon sessions with the military leadership and the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) in order to evolve a seamless policy on foreign and security issues.

It seems that the military leadership is also reviewing its regional priorities. In fact the exigencies of a fast changing international matrix demanded a change. The India and Afghan policy was under review for quite some time at the GHQ (General Headquarters) of the military.

Interestingly although Pakistan claims the incident took place two days prior to the offer of talks the Indians insist that the bodies were discovered after the offer was made.

But former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not considered a proper conduit to herald a change, especially in the case of improving perennially frayed India-Pakistan relations. Hence it is no surprise that the Khan’s warm letter to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi — to resume bilateral dialogue stalled since the Uri incident in which 19 Indian soldiers perished — was initially met with a positive response by new Delhi.

Our foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was scheduled to meet his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj on the sidelines of the current UN General Assembly session on September 27. The Indians had pointed out at the outset that this was not to be construed as resumption of a structured dialogue.

Pakistan was hopeful that more fruitful talks would follow on the sidelines of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation). However these hopes have been dashed after New Delhi suddenly took a somersault and abruptly cancelled the talks announced just a day earlier

The excuse proffered was the killing of 3 cops in Jammu and Kashmir. Interestingly although Pakistan claims the incident took place two days prior to the offer of talks the Indians insist that the bodies were discovered after the offer was made.

India is ostensibly furious over the incident blaming it on “Pakistan based terrorists”, without providing any concrete evidence. To add insult to injury, it accused Pakistan and Prime Minister Khan of ‘evil designs. ‘

New Delhi also claims to be upset over the release of 20 special stamps by Islamabad to show its solidarity with the Kashmir cause. The stamps eulogizing the Kashmiri freedom fighter Burhan Wani whom the Indian forces gunned down accusing him of being a terrorist were issued much earlier in July.

Unfortunately the new government in its enthusiasm for a thaw completely ignored the ground realities. The Indian-held Kashmir is up in revolt against the scorched earth policies of the Indian security forces. The Modi government is simply unwilling to talk to the Hurriyat representing the Kashmiris, conveniently blaming Pakistan for a largely indigenous situation.

Unlike general elections in Pakistan, using the Pakistan card in the general elections is considered perfectly kosher across the border. Modi in the last Indian elections to his great advantage engaged in Pakistan and Muslim bashing. It would have been a pleasant surprise if he had decided to change his stripes in an election year.

The Indian prime minister however through informal channels had been sending positive signals to Pakistan including the military leadership for his willingness to improve ties. Even the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi during his recent visit to Islamabad implored with the Pakistanis the need to mend fences with New Delhi.

Beijing for almost a decade now, has been stressing that Islamabad should emulate its model for resolving regional disputes. It took almost a century to get Hong Kong back. But first it had to make itself economically strong, he reportedly reasoned.

Perhaps after a lot of introspection, the Pakistani leadership including the pragmatic COAS general Bajwa felt that the military had secured Pakistan’s borders by successfully destroying the command and control structure of the terrorists within Pakistan. Now was the time to transform Pakistan, a nuclear albeit economically impoverished power into an economic power as well.

Imran Kahn’s letter to Modi offered talks about enhancing trade between the two belligerent neighbours. Previously Islamabad has been unenthusiastic about resuming full-fledged trading ties. There has been resistance to this approach from powerful lobbies within the country.

An inflammatory statement by the Indian army chief suggesting “paying Pakistan in the same coin” that followed does not help matters much. In response DG ISPR Asif Ghafoor showed better sense saying that, “We [Pakistan Army] are ready for war but choose to walk the path of peace in the interest of the people of Pakistan, the neighbours and the region”.

Foreign minster Qureshi has expressed dismay on cancellation of the proposed talks. Earlier, being foreign minister during the PPP government, he should have known better.

When Kashmir is on fire why the sudden urge to resume dialogue with India? Resultantly Islamabad has a lot of egg on its face.

Unlike Hong Kong previously under British rule, in Kashmir there is an active insurgency. Hence putting the issue on the backburner is simply not an option for Islamabad.

The US ambassador to Pakistan John F Hoover recently made the surprising revelation quoting unnamed Pakistani sources that Islamabad was willing to allow landlocked Afghanistan transit trade. After India’s churlish attitude this is no longer an option.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi extended an olive branch to Kabul during his recent visit offering enhanced trade and economic ties. These positive developments could have proven to be a game changer for Pakistan provided there was a real change of heart on all sides.

Such initiatives in the past came to naught owing to a yawning trust deficit and adopting policies that proved to be anathema to regional co-operation. Unfortunately nothing has changed.

It is good news that Saudi Arabia is set to become the third partner in CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor). However realistically speaking Saudi Arabia’s security partner and mentor is the US whose leadership adamantly opposes CPEC. It considers China’s OBOR (One Belt One Road) a very real and direct threat to its strategic interests. To what extent can Saudi Arabia contribute to CPEC?

According to information minister Fawad Chaudhry Riyadh has agreed in principle to invest heavily in Pakistan once it is formally invited to join.

It considers China’s OBOR (One Belt One Road) a very real and direct threat to its strategic interests. So how will Saudi Arabia contribute to CPEC?

The information minister is known to get overly excited and engage in hyperbole in his not too infrequent utterances. Nonetheless it will be interesting to learn what Riyadh has offered to alleviate Pakistan’s economic woes and how far Islamabad has promised to go in return.

The Khan in an interview to a Saudi newspaper while extending wholehearted support to Riyadh in its ongoing military campaign against the Yemeni Houtis has lamented conflicts in the Muslim world. He has even offered to play a mediatory role in the Saudi Yemeni conflict.

Nawaz Sharif along with the then COAS general Raheel Sharif while visiting Riyadh and later Tehran tried his hands doing the same. But in the process he badly burnt his fingers alienating both Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the process.

Imran Khan earlier this month while presiding at the Youm-e-Shuhada ceremony at the GHQ pledged that Pakistan would not fight anyone else’s war. Hopefully this sensible policy will be maintained. It was evolved after taking the parliament on board during the Sharif era.

In fact it will be in the fitness of things if the prime minister takes the parliament into confidence about the government’s recent foreign policy initiatives, including his sojourn to Riyadh. Also the air needs to be cleared on CPEC that was vitiated by some of his ministers.