By F. Z. Khan
Next two weeks are being seen significant for the region, which are being regarded as diplomatic victories for Pakistan. Russia, joined by China, is set to host six-nation talks on Afghanistan in an unprecedented development where Pakistan and India are also participating to discuss options for seeking a peaceful end to the lingering unrest in the war-torn country. The talks involving host Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and India are scheduled to be held in Moscow in mid-February.
Much of the credit goes to Pakistan’s diplomatic initiatives started during President Zardari’s administration, and continued by the current dispensation, as Russia, which for years opposed the Afghan Taliban, has recently changed its position and now sought direct talks between Kabul government and insurgents. It also hosted a trilateral meeting in December last year involving China and Pakistan. The support to peace efforts by two key international players is seen as diplomatic victory for Pakistan.
Already, warships from the navies of 36 countries, including China, Turkey, Russian, Australia and America, have arrived at Karachi port for a multinational naval Exercise ‘AMAN-17’ started on February 10, which is a biennial activity proudly structured and organized by Pakistan. In words of Taj M Khattak, the participation of these countries in the maneuvers is “a testimony to acknowledge Pakistan Navy’s centrality in regional maritime arena and reposing of confidence by such a large number of nations” in Pakistan’s capabilities to play lead role in promoting cause of peace on one of the most important oceans of the world. This also negates the impression that Pakistan is drifting into international isolation.
Islamabad’s latest initiatives for achieving peaceful environment especially on the Afghan border, as well as forging a lasting peace with Kabul, indicate Pakistan government and its security establishment’s pragmatic approach towards conflict resolution. In the aftermath of last month’s bombings in various cities of Afghanistan, Kabul had cast aspersions on Pakistan, which were likely to create further misapprehensions. Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa was the first to break the ice. His phone call to the Afghan President and offer to extend all kind of cooperation in fight against terrorism helped lower the tensions.
This was followed by diplomatic activity on part of Pakistan Foreign Office as Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz also called Kabul, dignitaries visited the GHQ and the Afghan government sent an invitation to Gen Qamar Bajwa to visit Kabul. The initiative wisely taken by the Chief of Army Staff helped in toning down Afghanistan’s anti-Pakistan rhetoric. Above all was Pakistan’s message of peace to Afghanistan, which the Director General ISPR loudly sent across, through his maiden press briefing at Rawalpindi. Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor took account of these events, and said Pakistan was not involved in terrorist incidents inside Afghanistan and would not allow its soil to be used for such acts. “While several terrorists were killed in the Zarb-e-Azb operation, many fled to Afghanistan due to weak border system. However, new posts and border mechanism have been built along the Afghan border to check illegal crossing.”
Pakistan time and again has felt and expressed deep grief and sorrow over brutal terror incidents but more painful is the fact that instead of appreciating Pakistan’s emotions of sympathy and sorrow, the government of Afghanistan has been blaming Pakistan for a hand in the attacks. Instead Pakistan fears that Indian RAW is using the Afghan NDS for creating wedge between Kabul and Islamabad. Given Pakistan’s unprecedented cooperation during the last four decades with Kabul and Afghan people, logically Afghanistan must have been closer to Pakistan, but practically it has now gone under influence of India.
In this backdrop must be seen Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s 20-minute phone call to US defense secretary James Mattis on February 10. The secretary, according to ISPR press release, lauded the sacrifices and resilience of the people and armed forces of Pakistan while appreciating the role of Pakistan Army in battling the scourge of terrorism. Gen Bajwa congratulated Mattis on assuming his new responsibility and hoped that the latter’s vast experience in the field would be great value to the region. Matti, who served as head of the US Centcom, frequently travelled to the region, including Pakistan, and is well aware of the security dynamics of this part of the world. In his confirmation hearing before the US Senate, he underlined the need to remain engaged with Pakistan. And during his talk on telephone with Gen Bajwa, “both reaffirmed their commitment towards the common goal of peace and stability in the region and discussed measures towards that end. Both also agreed on continued engagement at multiple levels,” as the ISPR press release reads.
While appreciating General Bajwa’s timely engagement on both military and diplomatic levels with the world leaders, in coordination with the government, analysts and security observers are attaching great significance to Pakistan’s initiatives towards achieving peace in the region. This comes in the wake of India’s continued provocations on the Line of Control and International Boundary, as well as Indian Army Chief’s threatening statement of ‘surgical strikes’ inside Pakistan under the Cold Start doctrine. The Corps Commanders conference held on February 10, the top brass expressed the concern over Indian violations on LoC and WB, saying, it is a threat to regional peace.
Amidst Indian hostility on the borders, the reports of India building ‘secret nuclear city’ are further disturbing, which will pose a direct threat to the entire region. The secret nuclear city is being built in south India to produce thermonuclear weapons, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria expressed his concerns, during a press briefing, citing an investigative report of the Foreign Policy magazine. “Indian defence build-up, both nuclear and conventional, is a direct threat to Pakistan and the region at large,” he said while responding to media reports that New Delhi had recently signed defence deals woth Rs 200 billion to procure weapons and other equipment.
According to a newspaper report, the perils of such an uncalled for defence build-up should be seen in the backdrop of Indian defence minister’s statement on reviewing the ‘nuclear no-first use’ and admission by the Indian army chief about their ‘Cold Start doctrine’, which confirmed Pakistan’s claims and justified our credible minimum nuclear deterrence. Pakistan urged the international community to take note and check India’s rapid expansion in conventional and nuclear weapons.
Pragmatic approach on part of Pakistan, wisely and timely engagement on government and military levels with the world capitals, on the sidelines of vibrant economic activity in the background of building China Pakistan Economic Corridor, it is hoped that Pakistan will emerge triumphant in many ways. Baron’s Asia, a financial magazine of America, in its recent article “Forget India, profit from ‘quiet rise’ of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh’ has urged the Trump administration the three countries with a combined 390 million people represent what Morgan Stanley chief global strategist Ruchir Sharma calls “the quiet rise of South Asia” as opposed to India which has “flattered by spasms of hype for years”.
While overshadowed by their larger neighbour, the trio is enjoying fast-paced growth, embracing much needed reforms, and look set to enjoy a demographic dividend over the long term. “A substantially higher economic growth rate than in many other economies globally, coupled with fantastic demographics that will continue support growth for many years ahead”, the article mentions that Pakistan is the flag-bearer of the positive changes taking place in the South Asian nations.
On the other hand US Commission on International Religious Freedom (US CIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal government commission, noted that religious tolerance has deteriorated in India since 2014, noting forced conversion of Christians to Hinduism by Hindu extremists, and torture of Muslims cattle traders by Indian army and armed Hindu groups. The Commission that advises the President and US Congress has strongly criticized persecution of minorities including Muslims and Christians in India and recommended to the Trump administration to link trade, aid and diplomatic interaction with India with religious freedom and human rights.
Further gearing up of diplomatic and political move on part of the government of Pakistan will be helpful to meet the challenges facing the country. Political leadership has to join hands together towards achieving common goals on foreign policy matters.
The author is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad. He tweets @EffZeeKay