Old enemies, same story

Another challenge for Pakistan’s foreign policy is to muster international support against India

While Pakistan targets Indian intelligence agency RAW’s networks on its soil relations with the eastern neighbor remain tense. India is not showing any flexibility on the Kashmir issue and has in the recent years adopted an aggressive and threatening tone towards Pakistan.

Pakistan has launched a new diplomatic initiative to win back its old friends — Saudi Arabia and the UAE — and exposing India after the Brussels-based EU DisinfoLab’s reports about India’s covert activities to malign Pakistan. The recent developments are unlikely to bring the two rivals to the negotiation table.

According to the highly informed sources in the Punjab Counter Terrorism Department, a joint operation by the CTD and the ISI thwarted a plan for a terrorist attack in Lahore on December 10. Two people arrested in the operation have said that they got their directions from Indian officials based in Afghanistan. “We have also arrested three people involved in four grenade attacks in Rawalpindi who revealed that they were working for the Afghan intelligence agency and the RAW,” a CTD official says.

This shows that India has stepped up its efforts to create unrest in Pakistan. Earlier, in November 2020, in a joint presser, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Inter-Services Public Relations Director General Maj-Gen Babar Iftikhar had said Pakistan had unquestionable proof and shown letters, details of bank transactions, audio recordings and other evidence of Indian involvement in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. They had said that the evidence was part of a dossier against India that would be taken to the United Nations.

The DisinfoLab’s document titled, The Indian Chronicle unearthed Indian efforts to spread anti-Pakistan propaganda across the world. “Pakistan has been long telling the international community about India’s plans and intents. The findings of the report endorse our claims,” said Qureshi.

On the other hand, India has been accusing Pakistan of sponsoring non-state actors to carry out sabotage in India and Indian Occupied Kashmir. The DisinfoLab’s report has brought a sigh of relief in Islamabad.

Another challenge for Pakistan’s foreign policy is mustering international support against India. Islamabad’s recent tilt towards China, Iran, Turkey and Malaysia has pushed its old allies US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE closer to India.

Now, Pakistan has kicked off a fresh campaign to win the friends back. This is likely to be an uphill task because of China-US, Iran-US, China-India, Turkey-Saudi and Iran-Saudi tensions. As a part of the campaign, Qureshi arrived in the UAE on Thursday.

Some highly influential Pakistani clerics, known for their proximity to MBS have also been tapped to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia.

President Trump had offered Pakistan mediation between the two countries. Let’s see if President-elect Joe Biden makes an offer to de-escalate the tension between the two nuclear-armed states.

However, Advisor to Prime Minister for Interfaith Harmony Allama Tahir Ashrafi says the impression that Saudi Arabia is displeased with Pakistan is false. He tells TNS, “I say it on record that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are enjoying a great relationship these days. Prime Minister Imran Khan and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman treat each other like brothers.”

Ashrafi says the repayment of Saudi loan for Pakistan was a part of the original agreement and in any case a minor thing. “Loans should not be seen as an issue because our relations with Saudi Arabia are above such considerations.”

However, some foreign policy experts are of the opinion that the Modi government has gained confidence after India’s military deals with the US and expansion of trade ties with the UAE and the KSA.

A major concern for Pakistan is the US-India intelligence deal signed during a visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper to India in October 2020. Under the arrangement, called Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation, the US will share advanced satellite and geographical data for long-range navigation and missile targeting with India. This will give India access to the data bank of US military satellites.

An expert on foreign policy and conflict, Dr James M Dorsey, tells TNS, “The US-India pact is not an immediate security threat to Pakistan as I doubt that India would do anything against Pakistan even with the capability of using the US satellites.”

He says, “in the current tension between Pakistan and India, the US will not take sides. Instead, the US will try to de-escalate the tension.” The US may play an important role for normalisation of Pakistan-India ties if the two countries agree.

President Trump had offered to mediate between the two countries. Let’s see if President-elect Joe Biden makes an offer to de-escalate the tension between the two nuclear-armed states.

For its part, Pakistan cannot displease China and Turkey and will have to take care of their interests before making a major diplomatic move.

Late Dr Mubashir Hasan, the former federal minister and a pioneer of people-to-people contacts between Pakistan and India, had once said that the solution to Pakistan-India conflict lay in the hands of the two countries’ leaders, dialogue, and people-to-people contact.

The author is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and researcher. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher

Old enemies, same story