Ominous Omens

Spearhead Analysis – 03.07.2017

In a transparently and apparently appeasing step the US declared Syed Salahuddin the Kashmiri leader of Hizbul Mujahideen– an organization fighting to end Indian occupation of Kashmir— a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) just before the Indian Prime Ministers two day official visit to Washington. Syed Salahuddin is not a global terrorist because he has never operated outside his homeland and that too after having tried to work within the political system. By this action the US has deliberately blurred the line between a freedom struggle and terrorism and the implication of this is that it will be seen as an endorsement of the Indian position on Kashmir and the policy of using force including rights violations and atrocities to crush the indigenous Kashmiri struggle that inevitably draws sympathy and moral and diplomatic support from all Kashmiris and Pakistan. When linked to the improvement in Indian intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities this could lead to a reckless action against what India might consider a legitimate target after a terrorist event or a false flag orchestrated event meant to give an excuse for such action. The Indian policy of repeated cease fire violations on the Line of Control (LOC) is creating an environment that could well lead to conflict situations.

How India handles the revolt in Kashmir and the relationship with Pakistan will determine the future course of events. Hopefully the US will use its strategic relationship with India to push for dialogue and away from confrontation with Pakistan. The visit of US senators led by John McCain is a positive sign and it is good that he has urged India and Pakistan to talk to each other. Pakistan on its part having stated its concerns through a Foreign Office statement needs to make sure that India gets no excuse to escalate the situation and that the US understands the reality of the situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir. The fact that the joint statement after the Trump-Modi meeting specifically mentions Pakistan in the context of cross border terrorism, sanctuaries, shelters and support should also lead Pakistan to ensure that India gets no exploitable opportunity and that there is full exposure should India attempt to create one— as was done in the case of the captured Indian spy whose network sought to destabilize Pakistan through a range of activities that included acts of terror—a fact that needs to be brought to US attention. The dangers of the US moving to further appease India and the anti-Pakistan lobby in Washington are all too real so a worst case scenario should also be considered.

Apparently the US and India found convergence in their views on the Afghan situation and China. President Trump, however, did not mention the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and nor did he fully endorse the Indian position on Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan beyond thanking India for its support of Afghanistan. Pakistan needs to seize on this opening by seriously addressing US concerns and by continuing the outreach to Afghanistan through the Quadrilateral forum and the environment created by the Chinese Foreign Minister. A good cooperative bilateral relationship with Afghanistan is an objective that should continue to be pursued on all possible tracks. While the US policy on Afghanistan, and perhaps Pakistan, is likely to come in July several indicators suggest an augmented US/NATO troop strength in Afghanistan that will require logistical support. If the end state sought by the US is political mainstreaming of the Taliban, an end to the presence of terrorist organizations on Afghan soil and stability, then Pakistan has a role to play and it must review its policy in the interest of future US-Pakistan relations as well as Pakistan-Afghanistan relations even as it acts to secure the border and its internal situation. The bilateral relationship with the US has implications beyond US aid because of US influence on international financial institutions. The US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue needs to move on new and more significant tracks especially because President Trump may be looking at an improved relationship with China. Senator John McCain has clearly pointed out the centrality of Pakistan for stability in Afghanistan

The fact that India is buying unarmed US Maritime Surveillance Drones and may also be offered C17 aircraft and Apache attack helicopters and that an Indian airline Spice Jet has a huge order for Boeing aircraft is proof that the way to President Trump has to be paved with dollars for the US economy and jobs for Americans. Saudi Arabia and the UAE understood this. The sale of F15 aircraft to Qatar in the midst of its isolation by Saudi Arabia and the UAE plus the fact that the US President did not shy away from mentioning the trade deficit with India and reminding the Indian PM that the US needed unhindered access to the Indian market are actions that prove that US appeasement has limits and in fact may not be appeasement at all. There is also the matter of the discord on climate change. Pakistan needs to factor all this into its foreign policy considerations besides ensuring that together with China the relationship with Russia also becomes a significant part of Pakistan’s foreign policy. Also in Pakistan’s interest is the outreach to Iran and the Arab countries. The visit to the Foreign Office by the Prime Minister and his emphasis on the relations with Russia and China are good steps that need to be followed up with action.

It would be realistic to understand that Prime Minister Modi has received the assurance he wanted– that the tailored US-India Strategic Partnership will continue just as the earlier India specific US-India Civilian Nuclear Agreement is continuing and that India can bank on US support in its quest for membership of UNSC and other organizations. Pakistan, instead of protesting must make its own case for what it wants. Prime Minister Modi’s coming visit to Israel may be more productive given the long standing Indo-Israel defense collaboration and Pakistan’s Israel policy. With India its largest arms client, Israel netted its biggest-ever defense contract in April when New Delhi awarded Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) contracts totaling almost $2 billion. IAI will supply the Indian Army with medium-range surface-to-air missiles (MR-SAM), air and missile defense systems, and a long-range SAM (LR-SAM) air and missile defense system for India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, the Vikrant (still under construction). These systems are groundbreaking air and missile defenses that provide the ultimate protection against a variety of aerial threats. An IAI subsidiary, ELTA Systems, also supplied an Integrated Underwater Harbor Defense and Surveillance System (IUHDSS) commissioned by the Mumbai-based Western Naval Command in February. This state-of-the-art system integrates radar, advance sensors, electro-optic cameras, and sound navigation and ranging systems (SONARs). Its sensors have been strategically deployed around the harbor to provide comprehensive real-time situational awareness for monitoring and analysis. It is capable of detecting, tracking, identifying, and generating warnings for any underwater or surface threat. India buys military hardware worth an average of over $1 billion from Israel every year. More arms deals are expected to be announced during Modi’s Israel visit.

If there is some kind of US-India-Afghanistan policy to collude in undoing Pakistan, as is being propagated by some quarters, then there is all the more reason for Pakistan to reach out to all three countries plus Iran to thwart any such plans. President Trump has moved to a reliance on the military to give muscle to his foreign policy and the possible consequences of this should be noted. Finally, Pakistan’s status as a nuclear weapons state makes it responsible for ensuring political stability, economic sustainability and a clear governance and decision making structure besides internal security and stability. Above all there is a need to understand that Pakistan’s interests should take precedence over all political and personal interests.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual).