India has convinced Afghanistan of Pakistan’s designs, has hammered out a favourable BRICS declaration, and may well strengthen the US-India-Japan axis while discouraging Moscow’s inclination towards Islamabad.
All this indicates a foreign policy that has come of age.
It was not long ago that India’s role in Afghanistan was diminished to the extent of making it irrelevant to the peace making process except for occasional reconstruction activities. Be it the Afghanistan Conference in London, where the Pakistani establishment had almost convinced the West (read US) that peace is not possible without the so called moderate Taliban and that they are the champions to facilitate this moderation; or be it the initial inclination of Ashraf Ghani towards Pakistan in 2014 and his famous visit to the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi that cemented Pakistan’s greater role in Afghanistan, thereby isolating India. Further, involvement of China and tilting of Russia towards Pakistan paved the way for eliminating certain Taliban figures from the UN sanction list.
We have since then come a long way. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani changed his stand within a year so much so that if we now google his name, the search will churn out results like ‘Ashraf Ghani slams Pakistan’. When US President Donald Trump reprimands Pakistan for sheltering terrorists in backyard, Islamabad tilts away from US and falls into Beijing’s lap. But after BRICS summit in Xiamen, Pakistan is forced to admit that even China may withdraw its support for stands on issues that are no longer globally acceptable. Complete isolation of Pakistan is no longer a distant hypothesis.
India’s foreign policy makers can pat themselves on the back for having played a big role in bringing this shift. Just a few days before the BRICS summit, India and China were engaged in a standoff at Doklam that had the international community worried. Irrespective of Chinese media’s provocations over Kashmir and Ladakh, New Delhi did not mellow down, nor did it escalate the problem, but resolved the dispute peacefully through diplomatic channels, which was considered a victory for New Delhi. While last year’s Goa summit of BRICS could not arrive at a consensus over naming Pakistan-based terrorist groups, in its declaration in Xiamen, the Indian diplomats could negotiate to hammer out a declaration that named the groups.
This, despite the fact that the Chinese Foreign Ministry officially signalling India that ‘Pakistan’s terrorism is not an appropriate topic to be discussed at BRICS’ just two days before the summit kicked off. It would be very difficult for China to block the move to designate Masood Azhar a UN terrorist in the coming months, now that Jaish-e-Mohammad has been named a terrorist organisation by all BRICS countries, including China, a move that has upset Pakistan so much that it officially rejected the BRICS declaration.
It would be naive to assume that China has abandoned its ally as it has strategic interests in Afghanistan through Pakistan and economic interests in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as was evident with Pakistan Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif’s trip to Beijing soon after BRICS. But it’s still a message that it may no longer tolerate its jihadi proxies. Islamist groups pose a threat to China strategically as Afghanistan repeatedly urges Pakistan to keep a check on those groups, especially the Haqqani network. They also fear extremist contagiousness in the western province of Xinjiang, which is battling insurgency motivated by religion. A peaceful Pakistan without terrorist groups is in the best interests of China for a successful conduct of trade on CPEC. But Chinese alliance with Pakistan and possibly Russia would not weaken, given that US alliance with India and Japan are on the rise. The chessboard for this global Game of Thrones is Afghanistan.
There is tremendous pressure on Pakistan to curb its jihadists groups. A few civil society members have tried to persuade the Pakistani government in vain. International pressure from US was shrugged assuming Chinese support but when Trump’s statement to be no longer silent on safe heavens in Pakistan was multiplied by BRICS statement, Islamabad had little choice but to reflect on these in a three-day conference for bringing a ‘seismic shift’ in its foreign policy. Clearly there are indications - it may tilt more towards Russia, China, improve its relations with Islamic nations and may resort to soliciting international attention to Kashmir as it raked up the issue on the floor of the ongoing United Nations General Assembly.Options before Pakistan are few. Either it may swallow the bitter pill and get rid of terror groups once and for all or it may face sanctions. The enormous complexity of the task to eradicate the evenly distributed groups in the establishment and the tremendous fear of backfire has coupled with the absence of willpower to let go of leverage against India and Afghanistan. So it may also opt for a third route – rehabilitation, which is an enhanced package of ‘good terrorist bad terrorist’ strategy. There are indications that easing terror outfits into political organisations has been already initiated. Jamat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Sayeed announced his political outfit Milli Muslim League, and his proxy has contested NA120 by-election seat in Lahore bagging the third position. Another terrorist, Fazlur Rahman Khalil has also plans of floating his party.
What should India do? We should make as much noise as possible against these murderous mercenaries entering the mainstream. Let us use every forum – UNGA, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), BRICS, international media to bring to attention the fact that if terrorists are included in the mainstream, Pakistan may soon be another Afghanistan and a threat for global peace. We should also leverage the fact that Pakistan is economically vulnerable, at the verge of seeking International Monetary Fund bailout and may devalue its currency by as much as 8 per cent.
This would compel it to knock the doors of US and China for aid and in return accept their terms. We should milk this opportunity to put rein in these forces. We also should give more life to US-India-Japan axis and discourage Moscow’s inclination towards Islamabad. Our increased involvement in Afghanistan is also vital to keep Pakistan engaged on both fronts. Pakistan regards its terror groups as assets and would give it up only when it becomes so vulnerable, which can possibly be only through complete isolation, and India is successfully reaching that goal. This is not only in the interest of India but also the whole world.