India-Pakistan relations: Does New Delhi need to tweak its Pakistan policy?


There is absolutely no doubt that in recent years some countries have begun to take serious note of terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil. Even erstwhile allies of Pakistan cannot ignore the role of Pakistan’s deep state in promoting terrorism in India

US warnings to Pakistan

If one were, to begin with, the instance of the US. During his address to the US nation, on August 21, 2017, Trump warned Pakistan to stop extending support to terrorists operating from the Pakistan-Afghan border. Days later, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also said that Pakistan would lose its Non-NATO status if it did not rein in on terrorists. If this were not enough, the US shut down Habib Bank operations in New York, while also slapping a fine of over 200 Million USD for its inability to comply with laws aimed at fighting money laundering, terrorist financing, and other illegal financial transactions.
US has of course extended support to India’s resolution for ban JEM and Jaish-E-Mohammed Chief Masood Azhar which has continuously been blocked by China.

GCC countries and China revising their approach towards Pakistan

It is not just the US, with which India has built a strong partnership over the past two decades, but even erstwhile allies of Pakistan. GCC countries have changed their approach towards terrorism, and do not back Pakistan as was the case in the past. The extradition of a dreaded terrorist, Abu Jundal one of the handlers of the 26/11 attacks is a clear instance of the same, though the reason cited is US pressure on the Saudis. During PM Modi’s visit to the UAE too, there were references to Pakistan in a joint statement which stated:

‘The two nations reject extremism and any link between religion and terrorism. They condemn efforts, including by states, to use religion to justify, support and sponsor terrorism against other countries. They also deplore efforts by countries to give religious and sectarian color to political issues and disputes, including in West and South Asia, and use terrorism to pursue their aims.’

More recently, Pakistan was taken aback, by the inclusion of terror groups operating from Pakistan such as in the BRICS declaration which categorically stated:

‘We…express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH, Al-Qaida and its affiliates including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani Network, Laskar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP, and Hizb-ut-Tahrir,”

It would be pertinent to mention, that in the BRICS declaration in 2016, China along with Russia had refused to mention any such groups operating from Pakistan.

It is not just terrorism, even in Afghanistan, there is a desire by the US to play a greater role, as was expressed by President Trump in his August 21st Speech. While it was believed, that the President was alluding to Indian troops on the ground, US clarified that India’s presence in Afghanistan was purely economic.

Reactions in Pakistan

Trump’s speech and the BRICS declaration have come as shocks to Pakistan. The Pakistan Foreign Minister, Khawaja Asif spoke about the need for Pakistan to change its world view given the churning taking place at the regional level. Asif also visited Beijing.

During Asif’s visit, Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, while speaking at a Press Conference praised Pakistan’s role in the war against terror stated, “Pakistan is an important participant in fight against global terrorism,” Wang also made a mention of Afghanistan, “China wants improved relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan’.

There is absolutely no doubt that China-Pakistan partnership is deep, but Beijing also realizes that it cannot annoy India given its economic interests and the 1.3 Billion Market which the country offers. Similarly, China has economic and strategic interests in Afghanistan; it cannot burden the responsibility as the US is shouldering in Afghanistan.

Is New Delhi’s current approach

Regarding terrorism, New Delhi can be satisfied to an extent, though chest thumping is unnecessary.
The question which saner minds in New Delhi need to ask is a one prong policy enough. Seeing reactions to the BRICS declaration, as well as Trump’s speech, what was evident was the singular focus only on terrorism and Pakistan.

Here it would be important for India to carefully follow the reactions to recent snubs of Pakistan.

While the Pakistan Army Chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa during his speech at Pakistan’s National Defence Day referred to Kashmir, saying:
‘The welfare of millions of people of these two countries is linked with permanent peace. Instead of insulting Pakistan and using force against Kashmiris, it is in India’s favor to seek resolution of the dispute through diplomatic and political means’.

This is not the first time that the army chief has given such signals. In the past too, the Pakistan army has given such signals, but there has been no real shift in their policy on the ground.

Saner voices in Pakistan

What New Delhi does need to pay attention to is the growing number of voices which are beginning to question Islamabad’s myopic approach towards India.
Post the BRICS Summit declaration; some columnists yet again alluded for Islamabad to move away from its zero sum approach towards its neighboring countries. While some analysts have been arguing for long, this was even more visible recently.

Khurram Hussain in a column for Dawn stated:

.. within Pakistan, as a matter of official policy, violent militant groups have been nurtured, trained, supported and nestled within the general population for use as assets in an underground geopolitical game that we have tried to play in the region.China has added its voice to the list of those countries pointing out that the presence of militant groups in Pakistan is a problem.

Hussain’s views were echoed by a Senior journalist, Imtiaz Alam, an advocate for closer ties with India for nearly two decades. Alam in a column for The News argued that it is time for Pakistan to move away from the policies of Zia-Ul Haq, and follow the Chinese advice of having good relations with neighboring countries.

Sane voices in Pakistan are often dismissed in India, as having no influence on the overall discourse. There is some truth in this, and it is also not off the mark to believe that even civilian governments have not shown sufficient teeth in taking on the military.

Most of Indian media washes out the sane commentary in Pakistan and gives exposure to retired generals and hawkish journalists who then are meant to represent the whole of Pakistan. With minimal people to people links between both countries as a consequence of the strained relationship views are getting hardened on both sides. New Delhi should also think of broadening its approach, by looking at reviving people to people contact and more robust economic ties, at least through the Wagah-Attari land crossing to begin with. The Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj has through social media facilitated medical visas for some Pakistanis, and this has created a positive impression.

While it is true, that India has numerous domestic and foreign policy priorities, and there is a situation of political flux in Pakistan, New Delhi should seriously explore out of the box options for reaching out to Islamabad. The all-weather friendship between Islamabad and Beijing is here to say, especially given the mutual economic interests, but at the same time, there is enough discomfort in Pakistan, both with militancy as well as the supine approach towards Beijing. New Delhi needs to cash in on both. Focussing on exposing Pakistan’s hand in sponsoring terrorism is important, but India’s Pakistan policy needs to also take into account stakeholders in Pakistan who are not averse to a good relationship with India. Apart from this, if India focusses excessively on Pakistan in multi-lateral fora, it is hyphenating itself with Pakistan, something which the outside world stopped a long time ago.