Heart Of Asia Conference In Amritsar: Opportunity Or Exercise In Futility? – Analysis


By Lt Gen P.C. Katoch*

The SAARC summit scheduled in Islamabad in November 2016 was shunned by all SAARC countries forcing Pakistan to sheepishly ‘postpone’ the meet but blame India for ‘influencing’ other member nations to stay away.

This despite Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina going on record to say: “It is over the situation in Pakistan that we decided to pull out from the SAARC summit in Islamabad. Terror from Pakistan has gone everywhere, which is why many of us felt frustrated by Pakistan. India pulled out because of the Uri attack, but for Bangladesh the reason is totally different… One of the other main reasons of my government for SAARC pullout was the hurt felt over Pakistan’s strident criticism of the war crimes process in Bangladesh in which a dozen Jamaat-e-Islami leaders, accused of brutalities during the liberation war in 1971, have been hanged or indicted.”

Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s de-facto foreign minister, humorously referred to by a cross section in India as the zombie lookalike of Abdul Basit, Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi, had announced well in advance that he will attend the next Heart of Asia Istanbul conference in Amritsar scheduled in first week December which will be co-chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Why Sartaj Aziz is clubbed with Abdul Basit is because both by their actions and statements encourage terrorism, particularly against India. With the Pakistani military taking away the NSA hat from Sartaj Aziz’s head, which he wore in addition to being the foreign affairs advisor to prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Sartaj has made extra efforts to endear himself to the military-ISI. This has proved beneficial to him – enjoying being de-facto foreign minister, even as Nawaz Sharif is shaky with the Panama papers expose.

Pakistan surely realizes that the next Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar provides an opportunity to mend fences and open dialogues afresh. But when was the Pakistani military interested in opening ‘meaningful’ dialogue with its neighbours? The military-ISI holds Pakistan by the jugular and this equation is unlikely to exchange in the foreseeable future. Nawaz Sharif may be choosing the successor of army chief Raheel Sharif but latter is retiring of his own volition despite being the most powerful man in Pakistan. The military-ISI will continue to rule Pakistan directly or indirectly given its past history, aptly described by Hein G Kiessling well documented book ‘Faith, Unity, Discipline: The ISI of Pakistan’.

As for democracy, writing in Dawn, Huma Yusuf described the Pakistani state by saying, “In the absence of the activism of democracy, you are left with the fatalism of patronage. A nation that obsesses over external threats is one that values patronage, because patronage means protection from what may come. Valuing patronage is in some ways the antithesis of voting in a democracy: rather than shape your future, you seek protection from it. Ironically, patronage also nullifies the future possibility of democracy because it reiterates the importance of that which is local kinship, ethnicity, language, sect over what is national. As long as we seek protection from an external enemy, we will seek patrons, even if they come in uniform and it is thus that history readies to repeat itself.”

In 2013, the India-Pakistan dialogue broke down because of the incident of beheading of an Indian soldier by Pakistan’s cross-border actions. The beheading was reportedly carried out by one Anwar Khan from POK hired by the ISI for rupees five million. Later, Pakistan’s vernacular media reported Musharraf felicitating Anwar Khan at a function and gifting him rupees one lakh. Concurrently, Naik Sule Kandan was televised on Pakistan TV bragging over the killing of Captain Saurabh Kalia and his patrol during the Kargil conflict to Pakistani parliamentarians; there being stark evidence that these personnel were tortured for days with eyes gauged out and burnt by cigarettes before their mutilated bodies were returned to India.

Presently, not only have incidents of ceasefire violations by Pakistan gone up exponentially including targeting villages and killing civilians, but Pakistan has again indulged in cross-border attacks and beheadings of soldiers on two occasions in the recent past. The timing of these incidents preceding the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar conveys rogue obduracy of the Pakistani military while playing the card of Pakistan itself being a victim of terror. The fact remains that Pakistan’s foreign policy with its attenuated strategy of terror is evolved and controlled by the Pakistani military over which Nawaz Sharif has no lien.

It may be recalled that just before the general elections in India, Choudhary Nisar Ali Khan, Interior Minister of Pakistsn, announced (probably with the ISI holding a gun to his head) that Mr Narendra Modi, if elected as India’s Prime Minister would “destabilize” regional peace, interestingly he also virtually announced to the world that Dawood Ibrahim was indeed his house guest. Now, Sartaj Aziz has announced Pakistan setting up a high-level committee to formulate ‘a doable and sustainable’ policy to highlight the Kashmir issue globally and as per Dawn “reaching out to Indians who are opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘extremist policies’. This committee is to consist of senior officials from the ministries of defence, inte­rior and information, the mili­tary operations directorate, ISI and IB. Obviously, the unstated aim would be to destabilize India as much as possible through increased terror, radicalize J&K, and make more noise in the international arena about Kashmir. Pakistan has already been linking the situation in Afghanistan with Kashmir without any basis at international forums.

It is in the above deliberately orchestrated hostile environment, that Sartaj Aziz will be strutting into the Heart of Asia summit in Amritsar representing his rogue country. He obviously is confident that unlike the undiplomatic and hostile reception that was meted out to Home Minister Rajnath Singh during latter’s last trip to Islamabad, India will not reciprocate similarly when he arrives in Amritsar via New Delhi or directly. Whether Abdul Basit will be passing on new Indian currency notes to Sartaj Aziz and brief him the finer points for faking them is another issue. However, the ISI certainly has reacted to the hit on the fake currency because of demonetization by directing terrorists in the Kashmir Valley to loot banks concurrent to continuing burning schools.

Whether the US administration will change its stance towards Pakistan when the new President assumes office remains a question mark but Pakistan has certainly become more aggressive having become a satellite state of China, latter backing Pakistan all the way, terror included. China has already demonstrated it will compensate Pakistan should the US withdraw its aid. The fact that the LeT is currently training some 400 Uighurs at one of its terrorist training facility on behest of China speaks volumes about the nexus. It would be interesting to watch what Sartaj Aziz has to say at the next Heart of Asia Summit, and the Chinese representative backing Pakistan among the peace homilies.

*Lt Gen P.C. Katoch is a veteran Special Forces officer of the Indian Army. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to [email protected]

South Asia Monitor

To create a more credible and empathetic knowledge bank on the South Asian region, SPS curates the South Asia Monitor (www.southasiamonitor.org), an independent web journal and online resource dealing with strategic, political, security, cultural and economic issues about, pertaining to and of consequence to South Asia and the Indo-Pacific region. Developed for South Asia watchers across the globe or those looking for in-depth knowledge, reliable resource and documentation on this region, the site features exclusive commentaries, insightful analyses, interviews and reviews contributed by strategic experts, diplomats, journalists, analysts, researchers and students from not only this region but all over the world. It also aggregates news, views commentary content related to the region and the extended neighbourhood.

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