Foreign policy pronouncements By Arif Nizami

A litany of statements purported to be taken ‘out of context’ has become the hallmark of the PTI government. Starting from the prime minister downwards a number of faux pas have been made in the sensitive domain of conduct of foreign policy.

Only a few months back advisor on commerce Abdul Razak Dawood in an interview with the Financial Times made the sensational claim that the government was considering suspending CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) for a year. The worthy advisor who had held the same portfolio under Musharraf soon backtracked. He had to eat crow by lamely claiming that he had been quoted out of context.

Some PTI stalwarts including Dawood himself had been privately expressing the same sentiments about the efficacy of CPEC. Luckily owing to timely damage control, relations with Beijing were not inexorably damaged.

Now foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has explained that the prime minister’s remarks in a recent interview endorsing Narendra Modi’s candidacy in the ongoing Indian general elections were taken out of context. Khan on the eve of the elections had remarked: “perhaps if the BJP- a right wing party- wins, some kind of settlement (of the Kashmir issue) could be reached.”

In this context it would be far more prudent if Islamabad treads more carefully while commenting on internal matters of its immediate neighbours

According to the PM’s reasoning a Congress–led government in New Delhi will always be apprehensive of a backlash from the hard-line opposition if it tries to mend fences with Pakistan. This is extreme form of naiveté. It quite erroneously assumes that as soon as Indian elections are over Modi is overly anxious to offer an olive branch to Islamabad.

Admittedly the last BJP government headed by the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee had made serious attempts for resetting relations with Pakistan. The Indian prime minister in February 1999 embarked on his ‘bus yatra’ to Lahore to start a new era of friendship.

At the time Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister. These serious efforts for a detente between two historic adversaries were nipped in the bud by the Kargil misadventure.

The then army chief General Pervez Musharraf had other plans. He and some of his senior generals were extremely unhappy over Vajpayee’s visit. Hence, they effectively sabotaged it.

Vajpayee’s visit and Kargil also proved to be the beginning of the end for Nawaz Sharif as prime minster. On July 4 the same year on American Independence Day holiday Sharif’s dash to Washington to meet President Bill Clinton resulted in a much-needed ceasefire on Kargil heights.

But this also engendered a feeling amongst the military hierarchy that Nawaz capitulated in front of Clinton, thereby squandering away the strategic benefits of the Kargil putsch. However, Sharif always claimed that Kargil was an unmitigated disaster.

Shireen Mazari now the minister of human rights in Khan’s cabinet, at the time heading the Institute of Regional Study penned a book titled: ‘The Kargil conflict, 1999: separating fact from fiction.’ It was an apologia for Musharraf’s strategic blunder.

Thankfully twenty years down the line such a wanton adventurer and risk taker does not head the military. And the civilian and military leadership are on the same page perhaps for the first time in at least since the past two decades.

There seems to be a genuine desire not only for good relations with our adversarial neighbour but also to have better trade ties and connectivity. However, it simply does not make sense to pine for Modi’ s re-election when according to the foreign minister Qureshi in the coming weeks there is a clear and present danger of another attack by India.

It is indeed ironical that the PTI supporters while in the opposition referred to Sharif’s closeness to Modi, used to chant, “Modi ka jo yaar hai ghaddar hai ghaddar hai (Modi’s friend is a traitor)”.

Post Pulwama, the Indian Air Force violating Pakistan’s air space and throwing bombs over Balakot ostensibly on a terrorist camp was a major escalation. It is another matter that there were neither terrorist camps located at the site nor was there any collateral damage. Modi’s government, so adept at spreading fake news on electronic and social media instead showed a clip of Pakistan’s massive 2005 earthquake to hoodwink the world.

This incident was a major escalation between two nuclear-armed belligerent neighbours that got the world worried. It was the first time since1971 that India had overtly violated Pakistan’s air space. The message from Modi was loud and clear: having nuclear bombs is no guarantee that India will not use modern conventional arms against Pakistan even if it meant violating international borders.

In this context it would be far more prudent if Islamabad treads more carefully while commenting on internal matters of its immediate neighbours. Only recently Khan annoyed the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani by proposing a caretaker government in Kabul.

Kabul was so miffed that it temporarily recalled its ambassador to Islamabad. The excuse proffered that Pakistan’s prime minster was only referring to a Pakistan style caretaker government to hold elections, was not considered good enough. Naturally like Pakistanis resent the Indian attitude to treat their country as their backyard the Afghans on all sides of the divide felt perhaps the same way about Islamabad.

So far as Modi is concerned, he is neither an Atal Bihari Vajpayee nor an L K Advani who despite being proponents of Hindutva are known as statesmen in their own right. Modi however is considered as the butcher of Gujrat Muslims when he was chief minister of the state.

As prime minister his government has consistently adopted a hostile policy towards Pakistan and Muslims in particular. In this context the BJP government’s scorched earth policy in occupied Kashmir is well documented.

The massive scale of human rights violations in the valley has alienated even former quislings like Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. There are serious moves by the centre to alter the so-called special constitutional status of the state.

There have been seminal moments when battle hardened hawks at the helm of affairs took positions quite contrary to their ideological bent to inexorably alter the course of history. The best example is Ronald Reagan who after famously branding the former Soviet Union as “the evil empire” in 1983, five years later visited the country for a successful rapprochement. Much earlier in 1971 president Nixon opened up the world to China by sending his national Security Advisor Henry Kissinger to Beijing on a secret mission courtesy Pakistan.

But Modi is no Nixon or Reagan. To expect from him to embark on a road to friendship with Pakistan is like hoping that the recently re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to present the Palestinians with their homeland. He is expected to do just the opposite with Donald Trump’s backing and support, annexing their settlements.

Of course, there cannot be two views that whoever is ushered-in as a result of the Indian general elections Islamabad will have to engage New Delhi for a meaningful dialogue on all issues including Kashmir. The Indian government’s present position of no talks with Pakistan cannot continue forever.

 

Source : https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2019/04/14/foreign-policy-pronouncements/?fbclid=IwAR053Gm_SdJj2yUldvgDewxEFP4gZH42tU8P9Ap9R1ZwZav0xfjEQvgYCPU

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