Pakistan’s uneasy relationship with extremism puts it in danger of diplomatic isolation from the international community.
After the US Congress’ decision to disallow the financing of F16C/D Block 52 multirole fighter planes to Pakistan through the US Foreign Military Financing Program over concerns of inadequate action against the Haqqani network, the idea of a diplomatic isolation of Islamabad has emerged as a new buzzword in Indian diplomacy.
It also marks the beginning of a new strategic thought among the Indian foreign policy mandarins. In the past, Pakistan has been quite proactive and successful in internationalizing the issue of Kashmir, but it was always felt that there was never an appropriate and systematic counter-strategy pursued by India, except for the formal press releases of its Ministry of External Affairs.
However, after the cancellation of the F16 deal, it is felt that India has finally come up with a strategic shift and is being tactful and vigorous in implementing it. In fact, the cancellation of F16 sales to Pakistan was seen as the accomplishment of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)—India’s secret service—by the intelligence circles after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to strengthen ties with the United States.
But what exactly is meant by the diplomatic isolation of Pakistan?
A precise and fairly generous definition of the concept could entail the following actions: economic sanctions against Pakistan by the US, the European Union (EU) and other major powers; having Pakistan designated a terrorist state by the United Nations (UN); a ban on sales of weapons, nuclear fuel, armaments and other critical military equipment; a ban on all kinds of development aid; reprimanding Pakistan for providing shelter to terrorist organizations; passing of resolutions against Pakistan in US and EU representative bodies over its excesses and human rights violations in Baluchistan and for cross-border terrorism; and major powers turning a cold shoulder to its pleas against India on the issues of Kashmir, Baluchistan and ceasefire violations on the border.
If one considers all the actions mentioned above as a template for the more or less ideal definition of diplomatic isolation, then it needs to be categorically stated that a complete isolation of Pakistan is not possible—not even in the wildest dreams of India’s foreign policy pundits.
In fact, the contention here is that an absolute diplomatic isolation of Pakistan is an impossibility in the current geopolitical situation. Pakistan has a highly strategic position that is of immense geopolitical importance for all the world’s major powers. US compulsions are well known because of its military’s presence in Afghanistan. In fact, American dependence on Pakistani supply lines, routes, military and air bases has a long history going back to the Afghan War against the Soviet Union.
Chinese ambitions to get access to a warm-water coast have landed them in a $46 billion mess, popularly known as China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC). The major part of CPEC lies in the restive province of Baluchistan where a separatist movement has kept the state uneasy for the last 60 years. After the murder of Akbar Bugti in 2006, the Baluch freedom movement has gained momentum. Baluch people have opposed CPEC, and lately the incidents of violence have increased. There is a possibility of further clashes between Pakistani armed forces and Baluch rebels, which may threaten the safety of CPEC.
Russian interest in the Af-Pak region can be traced back to the early 1900s when it clashed with Britain over the control of Iran and Afghanistan. Further, Pakistan’s support for extremist ideology and the Taliban in northern Afghanistan is an important cause of rising Islamic extremism in Central Asian republics, which is one of the leading causes of concern for Russia with its own history of Islamic fundamentalism.
Even for its arch rivals like India and Afghanistan, it is not feasible to completely isolate Pakistan because of geographical proximity. Besides, the impact of the global non-state actors based in Pakistan and the wave of radicalization sweeping the country will have its repercussions in India. To counter the growth of extremism in India, it would have to engage Pakistan in some manner that could be a good mix of coercion, dialogue, diplomacy and occasional strong-arm tactics. A stable and functioning Pakistan is needed to prevent another Middle East in India’s backyard.
And, finally, Pakistan’s behavior in the last 70 years of its existence shows that the country does respond to international pressure, as became evident during the Kargil conflict. However it has been a difficult task to ensure that in the long run it does leave the window open for solutions short of absolute isolation.
Hence, given the situation, it is entirely unrealistic to imagine that the US and the EU would initiate any stringent economic sanctions against Pakistan. It is also quite far-fetched to think that Pakistan would be declared a terrorist state by the UN. While US Congressmen Ted Poe, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, and Dana Rohrabacher recently introduced the Pakistan State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act, its passage seems highly unlikely in the face harsh geopolitical realities, at least in the immediate future.
In fact, it is safe to say that Pakistan appears to be forging new alliances in light of new geopolitical realities. Lately, ties between China and Pakistan have strengthened, and China has openly supported Pakistan against India on the issue of getting Masood Azhar, leader of Jaish-e-Muhammad, declared a terrorist in the UN counter-terrorism bodies. Further, Pakistan’s ties seem to be improving with Russia, which can be seen in the recent joint exercise by the Pakistani and Russian militaries.
Following Iran and Turkmenistan, Russia has also decided to use the Gwadar port, and its intention to be the part of China-Pak Economic Corridor and cultivate strategic ties with Pakistan is becoming more and more overt. And Pakistan still holds an important place in America’s strategic calculus, despite the fact that it knows well that Islamabad has been in cahoots with the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. Lastly, it still has strong supporters like Turkey.
A closer look at the history of Pakistan’s diplomacy over the last 60 years will reveal that the country has been a smart player that has always been efficient in leveraging its strategic location in wooing, squeezing or blackmailing the global powers. When American journalist Margaret Bourke-White interviewed Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and its first governor-general, in 1948, Jinnah said, “America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America.”
Bourke-White observes: “Russia, confided Mr. Jinnah, is not very far away. This had a familiar ring. In Jinnah’s mind, this brave new nation had no other claim on America’s friendship than this—that across a wild tumble of roadless mountain ranges lay the land of Bolsheviks.”
Hussain Haqqani, an expert commentator and former Pakistani envoy to the US, opines in his seminal work, Pakistan: Between the Military and the Mosque, that it is also the strategic compulsion of Islamabad to rely on the great powers as Pakistan got the disproportionately large share of the army at the time of partition, which needs to be maintained through foreign aid. Secondly, Pakistan perceives India as a bigger power representing an existential threat, and to counter it the Pakistanis need a continuous supply of weaponry and large sums of money.
During the 1980s, Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) took advantage of Central Intelligence Agency-funded operations in developing its capabilities in covert war and its strong foothold in Afghanistan. Today, when Americans seem to be distancing themselves from Pakistan, the Pakistanis are playing their same old game by wooing the Russians and Chinese.
Tough Times Ahead
While Pakistan is far from total isolation, this does not mean that the picture is all rosy. Pakistan is definitely in for tough days ahead as far as its credibility among the international community is concerned.
In South Asia, Pakistan faces almost near-to-perfect isolation, which was evident in the recent cancellation of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in the country. Afghanistan and Bangladesh have stated their anti-Pakistan positions on cross-border terrorism in unequivocal terms. Further, after the detection of Osama bin Laden’s presence near the Pakistan army compound in Abbottabad and its involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Pakistan has lost its credibility.
After the detection of Osama bin Laden’s presence near the Pakistan army compound in Abbottabad and its involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Pakistan has lost its credibility.
One might not come across the official acceptance of Pakistan as a terrorist state at multilateral forums, but on unofficial levels there is a profound realization that Pakistan is a nursery for terrorism, supporting non-state actors indulging in cross-border terrorism. Further, the global spread of Islamic extremism has opened the hitherto unseen chapters of Pakistan’s traditional role in nurturing terrorist organizations.
The recent warming up of Pakistani-Russian ties has more to do with President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions of reasserting Russia as a global power and India’s proximity to the US, enabling the latter to have a powerful ally in Asia, than any natural bond or common interests with Pakistan. Russia itself has been the victim of Islamic extremism, and its position of zero-tolerance on the issue of terrorism is evident.
In this friendship, it is Pakistan that will always need to prove its innocence. Pakistan cannot expect any support from Russia, at least in the events like the 2008 Mumbai attacks, on the Pathankot air force base or on an army base at Uri. Further, it seems highly unlikely that Pakistan will get Su-35 and advanced missile defense technology from Russia. Moscow has had a long history of defense partnership and a friendship with India. The bonds of history are strong, and the Russians are unlikely to arm Pakistan against India.
Even Pakistan’s best friend, China, would be diffident in defending Pakistan in its misadventures like the Kargil war. China can block India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) or veto on the issue of Masood Azhar, but nothing beyond that. Pakistan has no reason to feel happy if it is counting on China to shield its jihadi activities. Further, China itself faces the menace of Islamic extremism in Uighur province, which again has strong links to Pakistan.
Americans now realize that Pakistan was using US dollars to arm the Taliban, who were killing US soldiers. Some members of Congress have recognized that the long-term interests of the US are in aligning with India. Congressman Rohrabacher raked up the Pakistani excesses in Baluchistan after Prime Minister Modi expressed India’s sympathy for the Baluch freedom fighters.
And, most recently, the Tashkent declaration of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) nations made no reference to Kashmir, whereas it spoke at length on issues in North Africa and Palestine. This signals a major shift as the last four OIC declarations made explicit reference to Kashmir. This is a clear result of recent proactive Indian overtures on trade and counterterrorism issues with OIC nations, and this also marks the erosion of Pakistan’s traditional support base which must be alarming for Pakistan.
Finally, the question arises as to what extent has India managed to isolate Pakistan. The answer to the question is best illustrated in the news published by state-run Global Times of China, which clearly stated that India successfully used BRICS (aka Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to outmaneuver Pakistan. In diplomacy, reading between the lines is critical, and any expert observer will understand the real implications and significance of the language and tone of the Global Times speaking volumes of India’s clout, albeit in a not-so-happy manner.
India’s recent military forays into Pakistan-administered Kashmir, popularly known as surgical strikes in military jargon, were supported by the US, the EU and Russia under Article 51 of UN. India’s surgical strikes have been recognized by the world community as strong and determined action against terrorism based on zero-tolerance policy toward terrorism.
India has been hugely successful in making Pakistan realize that it could be an international pariah state in the future. A vigorous perusal of this strategy will certainly give a tough time to a trouble-making neighbor.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: KeithBinns
For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.
In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.
We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost money.
Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.
Support Fair Observer
We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.
Will you support FO’s journalism?
We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.