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With little options to counter India’s Kashmir move, Pakistan in a spot

M Ramesh | Updated on August 09, 2019 Published on August 09, 2019

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan   -  REUTERS

With little international support, Imran Khan's rhetoric question gets no response

Speaking at a joint session of Parliament on August 6, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan threw a rhetorical riposte: “What do you suggest I do?” The rhetoric was born out of frustration.

The Leader of the Opposition, Shehbaz Sharif, had just hauled Khan over the coals for having claimed victory during his recent US visit, close on the heels of which India made the big move on Kashmir.

Stressing that he was only eleven months in office, while the opposition had spent years there, Khan thundered a poser: “Kya mein Hindustan par hamla kar doon? (Should I attack India?)”

That neatly sums up Pakistan’s predicament, embedded in which lies its confusion over how to respond to India’s Kashmir policy.

Pakistan has expelled Indian High Commissioner to its country, recalled its own High Commissioner to India and has cut off the (negligible) trade between the two countries. This templated reaction was born out of a need to be seen as doing something. Beyond these, Pakistan has little scope for any action.

A military option is out of the question. Nor is a diplomatic offensive feasible, as no country other than Turkey has supported Pakistan. Not even China. China did criticise India, but, as Mushahid Ullah Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League points, the criticism was more over Ladakh than Kashmir. It doesn’t help that Pakistan is reviewing the CPEC projects, under the pressure from IMF, whose help is indispensable to Pakistan.

Other countries have given a pro-forma — like, both sides should be restrained, blah, blah.

Pakistan has but one lever. The US, believing that Pakistan has some influence over the Taliban, expects it to help settle things in Afghanistan, so that American troops could go home. However, if Pakistan makes US’ backing for Kashmir a condition for providing assistance in Afghanistan, the Americans would see it as Pakistan asking for its pound of flesh.

Much table-thumping has been going on in Pakistan that ‘blood-letting in Kashmir and peace in Afghanistan is not possible’, but the political rhetoric notwithstanding, Pakistan cannot afford not to help the US in Afghanistan.

That leaves Pakistan with the only option — of reviving the jihadists. This is possible, but tough. The US has already warned Pakistan to “refrain from any retaliatory aggression, including support for infiltrations across the Line of Control...”

A jihadi redux, whether with Pakistan government’s imprimatur or not, will mean disaster for Pakistan’s economy. Last year the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the inter-governmental body that seeks to curb terror financing, placed Pakistan on a ‘grey list’ of countries whose laws do not adequately deal with money laundering and terrorist financing. Pakistan agreed to a 10-point action plan at the time to strengthen its anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism regime — but has failed to satisfy the FATF.

In June, Pakistan saved itself from being downgraded to the ‘blacklist’, by getting the support of China, Turkey and Malaysia. However, the FATF warned Pakistan to complete is action plan soon. Pakistan cannot afford a jihadi attack that could be traced to its soil. Next time, no country will agree to be its cat’s paw.

Pakistan is out of options. That is why when Imran Khan asked the opposition ‘what do you want me to do’, he got no answer. Instead, he got a tongue-in-cheek reply from Mushahid Ullah Khan: “Why ask us; go, ask the same people whom you always do.” He meant the military establishment.

Clearly, Pakistan has painted itself into a corner. It must do something, but there is nothing to do.

Published on August 09, 2019
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