For academics who thought G20 was all about coordinating global economic agendas and policies, the notion was shattered by the visuals of US President Barack Obama exiting from the underbelly of Air Force One through a small set of metal stairs sans the red carpet. The host nation had its dredger and barges positioned in the South China Sea; North Korea provided the ballistics and Pakistan chimed in with its long term defence pact with China to complete the backdrop. It was in this setting that Prime Minster Narendra Modi decided to ‘fire-bomb’ Pakistan and its sponsors.
The question that is being asked is why at G20? It is simple- it was the largest gathering of Pakistan’s past and present sponsors, including by those who had designated Pakistan as a ‘frontline’ state in fight against terrorism, even as it continued, with impunity, to use terror as an instrument of state policy regionally and globally. These states even went to the extent of designating Pakistan as a ‘frontline state’ in the war on narcotics to ensure it continued to receive external financial, military aid and tariff-free exports. What was even worse was that all of this was happening when Pakistani proxies continued to kill western soldiers in Afghanistan; people belonging to those very countries from where Pakistan was receiving financial, and even moral, succour.
Then there are the current patrons locked in iron-tight embraces; some eyeing Pakistani nukes and some seeing Pakistan as the cornerstone to a solution to their internal security problems. This after having a blue fit on the global stage over some shoals and rocky outcrops, drawing dashed lines and then ignoring India’s claim to its legitimate territory through which an ‘economic corridor’ is being rolled out. Then there are some who have called upon India to view the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as ‘positive development’ as it would pull Pakistan out of its economic woes and that in becoming economically a stable country, it would miraculously shed its only leverage – state- sponsored terrorism. It is just old wine in a new China jug!
To be fair to India, it could possibly go to the extent of viewing the corridor as a positive development if only someone would underwrite a ‘positive outcome’ for India from this ‘positive development.’
Another reason G20 was the right forum because present in Hangzhou were members who were de-fanging the few meaningful outcomes such multilateral forums have produced, such as the FATF or the Financial Action Task Force. Controlling terror financing is one the few comparatively effective measures against terrorism and FATF did and was having an effect on Pakistan.
There was also this message from India to some of the members of this forum who would have found India’s diplomatic outreach to Pakistan deficient and asked India to walk the extra mile. Now it was India’s turn to ask them to ‘do more.’
On the policy front Modi has possibly indicated India’s approach to the China-Pakistan axis. First, to highlight to China and the world the duplicity of China’s ‘stated’ approach (as distinct from some western countries who do not bother with this pretence) on sovereignty, equitable rule-based global order and terrorism. Second is to highlight at every forum every misdemeanour of Pakistan and make it uncomfortable for China to own up its association and partnership with a country responsible for destabilising its neighbourhood and sponsoring terrorism elsewhere. This may not make a dent with some nations but will definitely strike a chord with countries directly affected by Pakistan’s actions – in South Asia, India’s neighbourhood.
There is a point about the China-Pakistan defence pact regarding which China’s reluctance was well known since the issue came up a few years ago. China’s decision to go ahead with it now, at least in principle, seems to be aimed at reassuring Pakistan on Gilgit-Baltistan and the Chinese commitment to the economic corridor. True to Chinese style of diplomacy, the announcement on the defence pact came from Islamabad even as India and China attempted a ‘reset’ in their relations at Hangzhou.
Lastly, as Kashmir continues to be roiled amongst other reasons, due to Pakistani interference, Modi has announced a hardening of India’s policy on Pakistan and its role in the resolution of issues plaguing the Kashmir valley. It will now take Pakistan appreciable political capital to effect a turnaround in Modi’s approach to India-Pakistan relations.
*Monish Gulati is Associate Director (Strategic Affairs) at Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent on: [email protected] This article was published at South Asia Monitor.