Pakistan’s diplomatic setbacks A self-inflicted quagmire and India’s strategic successes First Post 23 Aug 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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Pakistan’s diplomatic setbacks: A self-inflicted quagmire and India’s strategic successes First Post 23 Aug 2023

          Asraf Jehangir Qazi, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to US, India and China writes in The Dawn, ‘Pakistan’s relations with India are hostile, largely due to India. Its relations with Afghanistan are strained because of strategic short-sightedness. Its relations with Iran are dubious because of US diplomatic and economic leverage over Pakistan. Its relations with China are stable but static because of its structural inability to avail of transformation opportunities. Its relations with Russia remain undeveloped due to Pakistan’s elite deference to the US and India’s continuing influence in Moscow. Its relations with the US, despite its elite deference, have declined because of its diminished strategic relevance as well as India’s rising strategic profile in Washington.’

          In one brief paragraph Qazi sums up Pakistan’s diplomatic failures while praising India’s success. Pakistan’s diplomatic shortcomings are due to its own follies but adopting a policy of denial it blames India and its deteriorating strategic relevance. Indirectly Qazi has given credence to the Indian diplomatic cadre which worked as per plan and isolated Pak from almost all its supposed allies. Qazi, however did ignore a few realities.

          The cardinal rule that Pakistan ignored, in recent years, was believing that there are free meals, solely because the country was strategically located and possessed nuclear weapons. Yes, free meals were provided as long as the US or Russia was in Afghanistan. Pakistan would have continued to gain financially and diplomatically with US presence in its neighbourhood, but assumed that strategic depth was more beneficial than US funding.  

It began arming, protecting and backing the Taliban against the providers of free meals. The end result, no strategic depth and no free breakfast. Today, it is ignored from both sides (US and Afghanistan) and it has only itself to blame. 

Qazi also bypasses Pakistan’s relations with its Middle Eastern friends. Earlier the UAE and Saudi Arabia provided Pakistan funds to overcome their financial problems (which led to Pakistan forgetting to bring about structural reforms to its economy). With India’s Middle East diplomatic outreach, these nations prefer to invest in India as also enhance trade ties with it. In Pakistan, they seek strategic assets, including airports and docks, as collateral for future provision of loans. 

India providing food and medical aid to Afghanistan has ensured that anti-India groups do not find easy space in the country but anti-Pak groups do. There are calls by AQIS (al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent) but these are limited to online radicalization. Currently, there is no country in the globe in such a dire diplomatic predicament as Pakistan, where almost every neighbour is an enemy or with whom relations are deteriorating.

On Afghanistan, Qazi was right. He writes, ‘Why out of Afghanistan’s six neighbours, only Pakistan, which has fenced almost its entire border, complains of terrorism?’ This is a question which Pakistan needs to ponder. Afghanistan also has members of other terrorist groups on its soil including the ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement) which operates in Xinjiang against China, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan-focused Jamaat Ansarullah, amongst others.

However, the Kabul regime has either subdued these groups or relocated them thereby reducing threat to its neighbours, less the anti-Pak TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan). Such a scenario is more a result of Pakistan’s flawed policies and belief that the Kabul dispensation would grovel before it and accept their diktat. It forgets that Afghanistan is an independent nation, which needs nothing from Pakistan and will never be subservient to it.

Pak needs to look inwards on its own follies, rather than point fingers at others. For two decades, it blamed India for funding and arming the TTP as also the Baloch. Now it has none to blame. Its yearly dossiers, presented with much fanfare to the UN Secretary General and all others accusing India of backing terrorist groups are now a global joke. Dossiers against Afghanistan are not even worth the paper on which they are written.

On ties with India, for which Islamabad blames Delhi, it is time the Pak leadership re-considered its own perceptions. India and Pakistan are today vastly different. India is an economic and military powerhouse, while Pak struggles to survive. Talks between nations can never be held ransom to terrorist attacks or reversing internal decisions, as Pakistan demands.

To enhance ties, nation’s need to give and take. For Pakistan’s struggling economy to revive, trade and peace with India are paramount. Expecting India, which currently can ignore Islamabad, to accept pre-set terms and conditions is immaturity. Unless Islamabad climbs down from its high horse, it will continue expending much needed funds for defence rather than development.    

Pakistan’s deepening ties with China have led to the west being suspicious of its intent. Its ties with Russia have stagnated, not due to Indian influence, but due to its own inabilities and confusion on which club to join. It forgets that it is beholden to China, implying that it is a member of the anti-west group.

India, a nation with a growing economy and military power, can choose its own strategic path which will be globally acceptable, but not Pakistan. Demanding from the US that it be treated equally as India is living in utopia. Forgetting its rightful place and living in an illusion is a major cause for its diplomatic failures. Believing that possessing nuclear weapons is a sign of strength is a misnomer, which Pakistan fails to realize.

Another factor for Pakistan’s diplomatic quagmire is that the nation had either fixated foreign ministers or immature one’s, Qureshi being an example of the earlier and Bilawal Bhutto of the latter. India, on the other hand, appointed experienced and dedicated foreign ministers, who exploited India’s strengths, pushed the nation’s global agenda forcefully and compelled the world to take note of India’s concerns. Unless Islamabad reads the tealeaves and corrects its flawed outlook, it will continue being a global entity with no voice.      

Qazi also forgets that it takes two hands to clap and no nation seeks to join hands with beggars, terrorist sympathizers or those who face internal instability, forget influencing the regional environment. Pakistan must first rise above the ashes of its own internal quagmire before it seeks global recognition. Piggybacking on China, to whom it is beholden will only make the world ignore it.