The Threat of International Isolation

Spearhead Analysis – 02.10.2017

By Shirin Naseer
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Pakistan is surrounded by an increasingly hostile neighborhood. It seems as though all four of its neighbors are losing patience with Pakistan’s current security policy on tackling the spread of Pakistan-based militant groups in the region.

China and Russia, both allies of Pakistan, while not naming Pakistan in the declaration called out Pakistan-based militant groups, namely Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) among other internationally banned outfits, when discussing mutual “regional security concerns”.

The BRICS declaration credited the Afghan government’s policy, which has repeatedly painted the Afghan government as the primary and sole victim of terrorism, for its success. During the BRICS Declaration, China conspicuously signaled its concerns regarding the rise in terrorist activities emerging from Pakistan. For several Pakistani foreign policymakers this was startling. Traditionally China has been at the forefront in efforts to defend Pakistan.

Earlier in September, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif admitted Pakistan needs to undergo a “paradigm shift” in its foreign policy in order to deal with emerging regional security and economic challenges.

Many analysts argued this may be indicating a failing foreign policy. It is extremely important for a state to be able to convince other states of its nation’s narrative. Pakistan seems to have failed to do so. It is being viewed with suspicion from all neighboring countries and perhaps also stands in risk of facing international isolation.  

Considering President Trump’s recent US Afghan strategy, the desire to engage India is clear. India will be taking up 116 “high impact community developmental projects” in Afghanistan. India and Afghanistan have also agreed to “strengthen security cooperation”. New Delhi will be extending “assistance for the Afghan national defence and security forces in fighting the scourge of terrorism, organized crime, trafficking of narcotics and money laundering.”

For the Indo-Pak relationship however, last month’s UN General Assembly session was enough to highlight intensifying tensions.

The Assembly session opened with a diplomatic face-off between the two regional rivals. India’s PM Narendra Modi dispatched India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to take his place during the session. Swaraj went on to blame Pakistan for giving the world “terrorists”. From Pakistan, PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi first took to the podium urging an international investigation into Indian atrocities in Kashmir, and warning of escalation along the Line of Control (LoC). Abbasi attacked India on ‘state-sponsored terrorism’.

India responded calling Pakistan ‘Terroristan’, and accusing it of nurturing and exporting terrorism globally. Swaraj deemed Pakistan “the pre-eminent export factory for terror.” She dismissed the UN resolution declaring Jammu and Kashmir a disputed territory, whilst pressing the international community to isolate Pakistan. Two-thirds of Swaraj’s speech was dedicated solely to attacking Islamabad and pushing forward India’s anti-Pakistan rhetoric.

A Chinese daily severely criticized Swaraj for blaming Pakistan for harboring terrorists, saying it is “politically imbecilic and unsophisticated” to think that Islamabad exports terrorism. The newspaper deemed Swaraj’s speech at the UN a reflection of India’s “arrogance” and “bigotry” towards Pakistan.

Following Swaraj’s speech, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi fired back saying India is using terrorism as a state policy. She also slated the idea that Pakistan is avoiding bilateral talks with India. During her speech Lodhi went on to share photographs of victims of pellet gun attacks purportedly taken in held Kashmir. One of the photographs attracted a lot of controversy when observers pointed out that it was actually a picture of a Palestinian girl injured by strikes in Gaza. Indian media outlets were quick to cash in on Lodhi’s big blunder. This revelation was used to accuse Lodhi of seeking to divert attention from “Pakistan’s role as the hub of global terrorism”. At the UN India actually exposed its hatred for Pakistan that flows from its hatred of all non-Hindu minorities in India especially Indian Muslims and increasing intolerance that characterizes India under PM Modi.

This exchange between India and Pakistan was an undeniable confirmation of the dangerously deteriorating ties between the two neighboring countries. Pakistan seeks the appointment of a UN Special Representative on Jammu and Kashmir. It also wants India to be declared a terrorist state. Coincidentally, India wants the same fate for Pakistan. India by refusing talks with Pakistan has made its intentions clear. It is obvious that it wants to deal a death blow to Kashmiris under the cloud of a possible conflict by repeated violations of the LOC cease fire and the fabricated stories about a Baluch separatist movement that is actually quite insignificant.

As US engagement with an anti-Pak India increases and the Indo-Afghan relationship grows, it is likely that the trajectory of bilateral relations with two of Pakistan’s neighbors (Afghanistan and India) will continue to move south for Pakistan. It is encouraging that Pakistan is moving to sustain and revive the relationship with the US.

Islamabad’s preference of Saudi Arabia’s interests over Iran’s and the many points of contention emerging from growing Iran-India relations over the Chabahar port, has led the Pak-Iran relationship to also be markedly tense. This is an area that needs attention. The revival and implementation of the Iran-Pakistan Pipeline is in Pakistan’s economic interest and this venture will also have a positive impact on Iran-Pakistan relations.

Even China could be losing patience with Pakistan. For the Belt and Road Initiative peace and stability in Afghanistan is vital. China needs peace in its neighborhood and so does Russia. Pakistan needs to view CPEC in a broader context to counter Indian opposition.

Pakistan has no doubt lost a lot in terms of blood and money in the war against terrorism. But losing its respect and global isolation will be the highest casualty of all. The risk of alienation far outweighs any benefits. Pakistan’s foreign minister confessed that a decades-old policy of supporting religious extremist terror groups has radicalized Pakistani society. He admitted that Pakistan must put its affairs in order, given that the “entire world is pointing fingers towards us.” Following the BRICS summit, the Chief of Army Staff stated that Pakistan recognizes it needs to be trusted and respected by the international community. The conduct of ‘military diplomacy’ is a positive development and the recent meeting between the COAS and the Afghan President should open the way for better Pakistan-Afghanistan relations.

As long as Pakistan continues to be blamed for support to non-state actors that threaten regional peace it will continue to be viewed with suspicion and face global isolation. The FM’s statements indicate that Pakistan is ready to convince the world that it is not harboring terrorist groups that threaten regional stability. Pakistan through its Operation Radd ul Fassad is already taking action to ensure internal security. This has to continue in tandem with the National Action Plan. Pakistan must continue to revisit its security calculus and present a narrative that convinces the world that it does not intend to rely on proxies.

In resetting its foreign and security policies Pakistan must factor in India’s new aggressive policy against Pakistan. Frequent violations of the cease fire on the Line Of Control is one facet of this policy. The other indications are support for Baluch dissidents in self-imposed exile abroad, the reenergizing of a clandestine radio station in Baluchistan, sponsoring seminars abroad to malign Pakistan and its military  over so called fabricated atrocities in Baluchistan and invitations to Baluch ‘dissidents’ to visit India. India’s opposition to the CPEC is already well known as is its stated policy of destabilizing Pakistan and isolating it internationally. Lately there have been reports of Indian contacts with the TTP and its affiliates in Afghanistan. India’s efforts to bracket Baluchistan with the totally different Kashmir dispute may seem farcical but need to be aggressively countered and those in league with India must be exposed.