By Lt Gen P.C. Katoch*
When Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh speaking at the recent SAARC Home and Interior Ministers Conference in Islamabad stated, “if we are to rid ourselves of terrorism, we will have to genuinely believe that attempts to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists are misleading”, he was echoing what Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had said in the past months. In fact, at home and during the NATO Summit in Warsaw in July 2016, Ghani pointedly accused Pakistan of making and maintaining this questionable distinction and for taking no actions against terrorists sheltered in the Pakistani territory.
That India sent its Home Minister to the SAARC Home and Interior Ministers Conference despite Pakistan stepping up violence in the Kashmir Valley is creditable, since Bangladesh was represented by a junior minister because of deterioration of Bangladesh-Pakistan relations particularly after the recent terror attack in Dhaka. The happenings at the conference were somewhat predictable with Pakistan adopting an anti-India resolution post the killing of Burhan Wani, declaring him a martyr, observing July 20 as a ‘Black Day’, Nawaz Sharif harping on Kashmir being the core issue; anti-India demonstrations at Wagah border, Nawaz Sharif announcing he will send medical aid to Kashmiris, anti-Rajnath demonstrations organized during his arrival in Islamabad and the like.
That the behavior of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s interior minister, would be reckless too was expected since Pakistan appears to have outsourced its foreign policy spokesperson tasks to terrorists like Hafiz Saeed (LeT), Azhar Masood (JeM) and Salahuddin (HuM), latter even threatening a nuclear war as if Nawaz Sharif has transferred the nuclear button to him or he is carrying a uranium rod tucked up somewhere. Aside from the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorist bit, Rajnath Singh had said: terrorists should not be eulogized as martyrs; strongest possible steps should be taken against countries supporting terrorism; South Asia is deeply affected by terror as witnessed recently through terrorist attacks in Pathankot, Dhaka, Kabul; mere condemnation of terrorist attacks is not enough; implementation of the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism and its Additional Protocol crucial in fighting terrorism, and; ratification of the SAARC Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, amongst other things.
Following the SAARC Home Minister and Interior Minister’s Conference was a three-day conference of Pakistani envoys in Islamabad, where on the concluding day Nawaz Sharif told the diplomatic corps about the “desire of freedom is running in the blood of Kashmiris”. What he failed to qualify is the that his reference to Kashmir was limited to the Srinagar Valley which constitutes just 7% of territory of J&K and has less than 15% of the population. Kashmir, which Pakistani politicians, armed forces and the terrorists keep harping on alike, includes parts that have been illegitimately occupied by Pakistan (PoK) where the recent elections were horribly rigged and protesters were seen burning Pakistani flags openly. Interestingly, last year’s envoys’ conference in Islamabad focused on connectivity, regional issues and development, whereas the focus of this conference this time was on ‘violence’ in Kashmir which Pakistan itself is complicit in stoking.
It is well understood that Nawaz Sharif is under great pressure after being mired in charges of corruption, including the Panama Leaks. The desire to save his premiership, especially in the face of posters that had appeared in major Pakistani cities urging the army chief to take over, appears to have taken hold of him so much so that he is not desisting from making repeated, needless shots at India.
At the SAARC Home Minister and Interior Minister’s Conference, Nisar Ali Khan harped on the use of excessive force to suppress protests in Kashmir. He further stated that the issues between countries are not resolved through finger pointing or indulging in blame games, and countries need to sit down for dialogue to bring about real change and that no country should suppress freedom struggles while camouflaging them under the guise of terrorism. He pointedly said that the Kashmiri freedom struggle is sanctified by United Nations resolutions. Since he was speaking after HM Rajnath Singh, Nisar did not expect to be countered. But then with reference to use of excessive force, the attending delegates are fully aware Pakistan has been consistently using aerial and artillery bombardment in Balochistan and FATA against its own population, in addition to the genocide in Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan.
The Shia population in Gilgit-Baltistan has been reduced from 70% to 50% through institutionalized killings and forced demographic changes. Nisar’s call for countries to sit down and resolve issues through dialogue is laughable considering the innumerable times both India and Afghanistan have tried to do so, only to be stabbed in the back by Pakistan. Nisar’s reference of UN to Kashmir was also laughable because the UN resolution asked Pakistan to withdraw from POK before any plebiscite was to be held, and instead Pakistan beefed up her forces and changed the demography of POK. More importantly, the 1972 Indo-Pak Simla Agreement categorically stated that the all issues will only be discussed bilaterally, so the question of UN or international mediation does not arise.
The final words of former Afghan President, Hamid Karzai before demitting office were, “no peace will arrive unless the US or Pakistan want it”. He may have been referring to Afghanistan but what he said is relevant to South Asia. Pakistan continues to follow its state policy of terror and the US administration keeps on looking the other way. But a third factor has entered the scene – China. George Friedman (Stratfor) wrote about the emerging US doctrine in October 2012, summarizing it as: US does not take primary responsibility for events, but which allows regional crises to play out until a new regional balance is reached; move from military domination to more subtle manipulation – allow events to take their course, and; doesn’t mean US will disengage from world affairs – while disengagement is impossible, controlled engagement, based on a realistic understanding of the national interest, is possible.
China has been studying and adopting the ways of the West right from the Gulf War days, switching to hi-tech war and the like. Not that China has not been adept at firing the gun from someone else’s shoulder – notice Deng Xiaoping’s policy of nuclearizing Pakistan and North Korea so they should fire nukes at US and allies not traced back to China. But what China is doing now is to allow Pakistan to shape the region in sync with China’s national interests: destabilize Afghanistan to throw the US-NATO out while its own economic interests remain safe; destabilize India and confine it to South Asia, keeping its economy in check; while seeking opportunities to grab more territory in conjunction with Pakistan.
With PLA deployed in POK-Pakistan, Gwadar coming up as PLAN’s SSBN base and China-Pakistan nuclear nexus extending into the Indian Ocean, Pakistan is sitting cozy in China’s lap, emboldening it to behave in a much more roguish manner than previously.
*Lt. Gen. P. C. Katoch is veteran of the Indian Army. He can be reached at: [email protected]