Significant South Asian diplomatic switch as 2017 ends & 2018 dawns

Dr. Javid Iqbal

IN the closing week of 2017 national security advisors (NSAs) of India and Pakistan—Ajit Doval and Lt Gen Nasser Khan Janjua met at a neutral venue in Bangkok. The meet was recorded as a happening against the run of events. The relation between two major powers in South Asia continues to be tense. The speculation on either side of the divide is going on whether NSA’s meet would lower down the rhetorical hype. LoC is hot and militancy related incidents continue to occur with regularity in Kashmir. On LoC each side accuses the other of violations, while militancy related incidents are attributed to Pakistan aiding and abetting the militancy. The local element is largely neglected.
On the very first day of the New Year—2018, US president—Donald Trump’s tweet related that Pakistan has given Washington “nothing but lies and deceit”. Trump tweet obviously reflected on Pakistan ducking on what is expected of her in combatting terrorism. Pakistani response was measured though by no means submissive. Post 9/11 in 2001 as the US Secretary of State-Colin Powell told President Musharraf—if you are not with us, you are against us, Pakistan buckled. In 2017/18 Pakistan response amounts to—devil may care! US call, ‘’Do More’’ has virtually turned to ‘’No More’’. Days before the Trump tweet spokesman of GHQ Rawalpindi—Major General Asif Ghafoor in fact said so.
Two events—Indo-Pak interaction in Bangkok and Trump tweet to Pakistan and its outfall are apparently separate happenings, yet events occurring in the region weigh upon each other, the extent though may vary. Kashmir and Kabul have been related in recent decades by geo-strategist and analysts to an extent, where impact of one is felt on the other. It was the Afghan war of 80’s that resulted in armed resistance in Kashmir in 90’s. May a militant in Kashmir were Afghan trained. Kashmir militancy resulted in the Indian charge of cross border instigation by Pakistan. While Pakistan gained the strategic depth it craved for, as Af-Taliban took over the reins of power in 90’s, post 9/11 at the turn of century, Indian diplomatic foray in Kabul increased with every passing day. Foothold in corridors of power in Kabul is what India and Pakistan vied for. US tailored and backed Kabul regimes failed to take control of country fully, as resurgent Taliban gained territory, controlling large swathes of land, as much as 40 percent.
In a divided Afghanistan, apart from US, other powers are vying for space. With Afghan regime providing India with a firm foothold in Kabul, Pakistan is feeling hard-pressed on its western front, apart from restive eastern front. The strategic squeeze is further complicated by US asking Pakistan to act against Af-Taliban and Haqani group, alleged to have safe sanctuaries in Pakistan. With over two million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, it might be difficult to spot the insurgents, hence Pakistan has been publicly asking for actionable intelligence. But, many analyst concur that moving against Af-Taliban might not be an option for Pakistan for strategic reasons. Given Af-regime’s proximity to India, Af-Taliban controlling large chunks of Afghan territory could be a strategic asset for Pakistan. Two, any move against Af-Taliban, if ever contemplated, might throw Pak-Taliban in their lap, adding to Pakistan’s woes. Hence, Pakistan might be in no position to oblige US, even if it wants to.
Given the stakes involved in Afghanistan, added to restive LoC and challenges in Kashmir, what could have prompted Doval-Janjua meet in Bangkok? In a situation, where other players like China and Russia are weighing in the Afghan equation, India might be feeling compelled to keep its options open. Hence Doval-Janjua were seen in huddle in Bangkok, ever while Sushma Swaraj was subjecting Pakistan to censor in parliament on how Kulbhushan Jadhav’s mother and sister were treated during their Pak visit. The Bangkok meet may not significantly change LoC or Kashmir situation in near future, though Indo-Pak interaction at any level could be a positive omen. Keeping the diplomatic window to Pakistan might be a part of strategy devised in Delhi, in order to keep its options open. Various moves are on display on diplomatic chessboard.
China is seen to be in a diplomatic overdrive to improve Pak-Af regime relationship. And, Russia has a channel open to Af-Taliban, taking it as a bulwark against emerging ISIS. There are reports that ISIS raged against Af-Taliban might be palatable for US, however for Russia the very idea of ISIS gaining foothold in the region is abominable. Russia could also be wary of strategic relationship developing between US and India, though Russian stakes in India continue to be high. It is widely believed that a prime objective of Indo-US strategic tie-up is to hold China in check in a situation where Sino-Pak ties are on an upswing.
Trump tweet was immediately followed by China complimenting Pak efforts in combatting terrorism. Chinese backing and to an extent Russian stance contributes to Pak resolve to stand up-to anything US might throw at her. In a changed 2018 scenario to the one witnessed post 9/11 in 2001, Pakistan feels it could do without US aid. In any case the aid provided for Pak partnership in combatting terrorism has dwindled from 849 million dollars in 2012 to 322 million in 2016. Holding back the expected 255 million dollars is something Pakistan could do without.
—Courtesy: GK
[Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

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