Failing to Isolate Pakistan

By Tahir Ahmad.

After the Uri attack India has embarked upon a diplomatic bellicose of isolating Pakistan alleging it a terror sponsoring state. Such an adventure has started when in the background certain pressing issues grabbed the attention of international community; a humanitarian crisis erupted when India attempted to suppress Kashmiri people with pellet guns and other available means against peaceful demonstrations held by the people of the Indian Occupied Kashmir. This was joined by the United States’ frustration with Afghan insurgency putting responsibility on Pakistan to such extent that lawmakers in the US congress moved a bill to declare Pakistan, a state ‘sponsoring terrorism’. This attitude is joined by the president of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, who holds Pakistan responsible for the present situation in Afghanistan.

From the issue of transit route to the return of refugees, and the exacerbating militancy in Afghanistan, Pakistan is considered directly or indirectly having its ax grind in Afghanistan. In the meanwhile India claimed to have launched surgical strikes inside Pakistan against the terror hideouts which were promptly rejected by the Armed forces and the government of Pakistan. India successfully managed to persuade members of the SARRC to pull out the 19th Summit scheduled in Islamabad on 15-16th November this year. Emboldened by Indian stance, Ashraf Ghani is using this situation for maximum extractions from Pakistan. The situation did not calm down instead worsened when British PM Theresa May visited India to review its relations with India.

In these circumstances the incumbent PML (n) government is under scathing criticism for not having a coherent foreign policy. The absence of a foreign minster form the cabinet portfolio makes this claim substantial. Against this backdrop, the visit of the Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan took place, which is a ray of hope to find a friend internationally. It was further strengthened by the operationalization of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a project considered to be a game changer in South Asia. Similarly, a conversation between the US president elect Donald Trump and PM Nawaz Sharif is released to the public. This news coincides with the statement of the representative of Russia in the Heart of Asia Conference supporting Pakistan. The concluding report praised Pakistan and Iran’s effort hosting the Afghan refugees.

Both positive and negative developments in a short period of time points towards a changing order in the region reinforced by the changes occurring globally.  This changing order is connected to Pakistan for several reasons which not only undermines Indian efforts to isolate Pakistan but also offers new choices of future alignments. In this regard the growing interests of China, Russia and Iran are no less than a counter to the hawkish diplomatic onslaught of the India, Afghanistan, and for that matter the US as well.

Such a paradox can be explained by examining the push and pull factors happening at the global and regional level. Globally the growing tension between China and the United States in the Pacific region, and the expansion of the European Union and NATO influence that prompted Russia to use military might against Georgia and Ukraine are the two push factors that bring China and Russia closer to each other.  China’s dependence on the Straits of Malacca and the level of development in its North compels it to look for a diversity of trade routes and supply of energy resources. So its engagement with Russia, the Central Asian States and Pakistan are meant to overcome that challenge. On the global economic front, the currency warfare between China and the imposition of economic sanctions against Russia by the West are such factors that compel these two states to search an alternative monetary system. Push factors further bring them a chance of opportunity to benefit from each other strength both economically and geo-strategically.

In the economic realm the active engagement of Russia with Central Asian States, and initiation of mega projects by China are the steps that can be regarded to bear long lasting impacts for the future of the world order.  These are further strengthened by the presence of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Central Asia Regional Economic Programme (CAREC), Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, and China’s infrastructure investment bank. These forums offer diplomatic fora for resolution of conflicts, regional connectivity through transportation and trade routes, and security through a security bloc.

Pakistan has a role to play in these developments by offering a shortest strategic outlet to the Arabian Seas, Iran and Afghanistan. With China, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has already been operationalized and is in the process of development. This corridor provides a connection to the networks of roads built under CAREC project wherein Russia, China and the Central Asian Republics can trade with East Asia, Middle East and Europe. Iran has also shown interest in CPEC which is a strategic shortest land route to the farthest states of Middle East and Central Asia. Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, bilateral trade opportunities after removal of sanctions is another significant element that can help Pakistan develop strong economic and strategic relations.

In the domestic market Pakistan is hoping to benefit from Chinese investment in energy sector and infrastructure development related to CPEC. Russia on the other is keen to invest in Pakistan Steel Mill and energy sector. Recently, it has signed an agreement called North-South Pipeline project based on build, own, operate and transfer basis. This project will have terminals at Karachi and consumptions centers near Lahore. Besides, investment the defense cooperation between China and Pakistan is a taken for granted matter which does not require details. However, the Russian Pakistan defense cooperation is worth mentioning here. In November 2014, Russia Pakistan singed bilateral defense cooperation agreement with a view to strengthen military-to-military relations. The sale of Mi-35 attack helicopter is sign of forging defense relations. Even when the Indo-Pak standoff continued Russia and Pakistan held military exercises.

Russia and China has supported Pakistan’s bid to become the full member state of the SCO. Under SCO the problem of separatism, terrorism and extremism are the core recognized issues. Pakistan is facing these problems with more intensity for the last sixteen years.  Albeit enormous losses in the war terror, Pakistan’s role is considered central to fighting extremism and terrorism not only in Afghanistan but also in the region. In the regard the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group to deliberate peace in Afghanistan is central. The situation in Afghanistan though volatile is no less than Achilles heel for peace and economic development in the region.

Without peace in Afghanistan neither economic development of SCO countries nor peace in Pakistan can be materialized. The issue remains that whether it is the incompetence of Pakistan to help Afghanistan established firm writ over its territory or it is the internal problem of Afghanistan. With regard to Pakistan, the terrorist safe heavens in the tribal areas is one but an apple of discard which the Pakistan army claims to have been cleared in the wake of Operation ZarbeAzb. In the Eastern Afghanistan, the stronghold of Afghan Taliban and the TTP presence questions the credibility of the Afghan National Army and the NATO forces, which are confined to urban centers leaving the rural areas to mushroom terror outfits. Some of them are carrying out terror activities inside Pakistan the term two way traffic can be used for such a situation.

Pakistan has allegations regarding Baloch insurgents who are getting support from India via Afghanistan and Iran. Moreover, India has made huge investment in Afghanistan in terms of human capital and infrastructure development. India supports both Iran and Afghanistan to establish trade routes to bypass Pakistan. Besides that the US pressure on Pakistan is something that would pose a challenge to policy makers in Islamabad. The reason is that Pakistan receives military as well as economic aid form the United States and its allies, loans form the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

With this great amount of help coming from the West, should we assume that Pakistan has an alternative in the shape of China, Russia, and Iran? This requires us to ponder on the question that whether the new changes brings the formation of Classical Cold War Blocs or it’s a new sort of world order. In the former case, one bloc was joined at the cost of the other. However, there were some statesthat remained non-aligned. In case of Pakistan, the situation in Afghanistan and the interests of major powers would not allow it to remain neutral or get neutrality.  Should we assume that Pakistan can leave the United States, or can China and Russia offer the kind of help and assessment the US and its allies offer? Although 46 billion dollars CPEC is considered to dwarf the US assistance to Pakistan, the nature of transactions that come from China, Russia and China are different. Russia and China offer projects on build, own and operate basis which involves investment and transfer of technology. This does not include loans to Pakistan’s governmental expenditures and developing of human resource in various institutions. So the two sides operate at quite different levels with different procedures.

From such perspective, the major powers engagement with Pakistan may not be at the cost of losing one for another. Instead, diverse strategic interests are bringing the major power play to the region from which Pakistan can equally benefit. Instead of head on collision, Pakistan can get the confidence of its allies in countering terrorism and peace building in Afghanistan. The issue of terrorism is a multilateral issue which requires global efforts but this issue poses challenges at two fronts, the Afghan problem and the Indian claims. With the former Pakistan has exhausted both military and peace efforts which are yet to receive any adulation form Kabul and its allies. The reason is that Pakistan military is deployed in tribal areas and is carrying out operation throughout the country which has resulted in the displacement of millions of people. These people need help to resettlement, the infrastructure rebuilt and business restored followed by political reforms and installation of civil government. These efforts are time consuming which the US, Afghanistan and its allies find difficult to wait. With India Pakistan had proposed Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism (JATM) but every meeting of JATM ended in deadlock because India wanted to include the insurgency in Kashmir in the definition of terrorism.  Using Uri types of attacks for diverting the attention of the international community form the real issue, the mantra of isolation is a diplomatic bluff for maximum extractions. States are not isolated by speeches and statements but by abandoning institutions and treaties that regulate economic and military engagements. Using such a yard stick, Pakistan’s treaties and agreements at various multilateral and bilateral fora have increased over the last few years not reduced. So in the future what Pakistan requires is to focus more on counter rhetoric and restore the confidence of the US and its allies.

About Author.
Tahir Ahmad is a Research Associate and a Ph.D Student with International Relations, School of Politics and IR Quaid i Azam University Islamabad.

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