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Opinion

March 28, 2018

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On the diplomatic front

The year 2018 has witnessed a new low in the diplomatic relations between Pakistan and India. This has left us wondering: what lies next?

Concerned over the harassment of Pakistani diplomats and their families, Islamabad temporarily recalled Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Sohail Mehmood for consultations. The diplomat returned to Delhi just in time to hoist the national flag at the Pakistani embassy on Pakistan Day. Lest it be overlooked, New Delhi has declared Islamabad a non-family station for Indian diplomats, and they cannot tolerate that Pakistan has not reciprocated by recalling the families of its personnel in India.

Indians, for their part, have been expressing displeasure over similar problems faced by their diplomats and have made it known that Pakistan has delayed the high commissioner’s admission to the Islamabad Club – a privilege routinely enjoyed by envoys in the capital. Beyond these irritants lies the wreckage of the overall highly troubled relations between the two countries. One wonders if things could worsen, as they did in 2002 when in the midst of border tensions India downgraded diplomatic ties to the level of charge d affaires, asking Pakistan to do likewise.

Since coming to power in 2014, the Modi-led BJP government has pursued three planks of its anti-Muslim agenda. Its supporters have systematically persecuted Indian Muslims. Secondly, heightened repression was unleashed against Kashmiri Muslims. And thirdly, confrontation across the LoC was stepped up as cross-border firing was reported almost daily; besides, Modi also vowed to isolate Pakistan in the international community. To top it all, Indian ministers and generals continue to frequently hurl threats of teaching Pakistan a lesson by carrying out surgical strikes and even launching a war against our country.

Both India and Pakistan have never shied away from expressing hostility towards each other. However, India was emboldened first after Obama co-opted it as a strategic partner against China, and more recently by Trump after he expressed affection for Modi and his country. Simultaneously, the Trump family is expanding its business holdings in India. It is about time we gave up the nostalgia for our great friendship with the US. A flashback to an important external dimension to the struggle for the creation of Pakistan reveals that the superpower was not enamoured by the Muslim’s demand for a country of their own. Now declassified, the documents pertaining to that period showed that America was not in favour of India’s partition and for that matter of Pakistan’s creation. It is not surprising that 70 years later the US’ preference for India is only gaining momentum.

It is a matter of conjecture as to why the superpower was in favour of a united India. The US diplomats and opinion leaders were in sync with the Indian National Congress, which might have influenced their view of the Muslim League. Besides, it probably seemed normal to them to forge political and economic ties with an undivided India.

Quaid-e-Azam had met the US head of mission in New Delhi to impress upon him the rationale of the partition and the possibility of a strategically placed (Muslim) country that would have affinity for a Muslim Middle East. Once independent, Pakistan was deprived of its share in India’s assets forcing the nascent country to seek massive assistance from the US. This too was denied because of Washington’s oversensitivity for India. It was only after the onset of the cold war that the US embarked on setting up a network of alliances which included Pakistan.

This development was greatly resented by India, resulting in the straining of ties with the West. India opted for the policy of non-alignment but it actually allied with the Soviet Union. Things were going well in favour of Pakistan. But then came the great turning point: the India-China war of 1962 that was seized by the West – led by the US – to embrace India as a long-lost relative. The West lavished praise on India as being a vanguard against the communist China, offering massive economic and military assistance to India. Pakistan without a doubt understood that the US was committed to India’s security and issued a warning to Rawalpindi to not take advantage of India’s difficulties by intervening in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

The inference one could draw from that episode and the subsequent developments was that India was America’s first preference, except when Pakistan was needed in dire situations. President Jimmy Carter, an admirer of India who had nothing but disdain for Pakistan, woke up to the fact of life after the Soviets invaded and occupied Afghanistan in 1979. Come 1989 and America went back to its permanent friend India.

The last point in this narrative is that the Pak-US-India triangular relationships have become much more complicated after 9/11. Indian strategists decided to portray Pakistan as the epicentre of terrorism. Although Pakistan has been helping US-led operations in Afghanistan and has to live with intense drone activity, America is still gung-ho about its partnership with India, even flaunting its intentions to help the latter become a great power.

The election of Donald Trump, a white supremacist and an anti-Muslim person, as the US president has made the challenges of Pakistan-India relations more daunting. He proudly expresses his preference for India and hostility for Pakistan. If Trump’s impulses were to be followed, the US would be in direct confrontation with some countries and possibly at war with one or two others. One year’s stay in the White House may have taught him that discretion is the better part of valour, but do not hold your breath over that.

Nearer to home, Pakistan-India relations have reached a dead end. Is this the way to conduct ties between a billion and a quarter human beings, who represent one-fifth of mankind? Modi and Doval have wrecked what was left of India’s ties with Pakistan. It is to be hoped that our civil and military leadership will rise to the challenges posed by the India-US dynamic and astutely plan their policies against this double adversity.

Email: [email protected]

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