G Parthasarathy

Pakistan losing global sympathy

Updated on: Jun 08, 2011

Post-Osama, Russia and China are giving Pakistan the cold shoulder. While the US reworks strategies in the region, India should seize diplomatic opportunities.

The US Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton, recently asserted that “the US had absolutely no evidence” that “anyone in the highest levels of the Pakistan Government” knew that Osama bin Laden was hiding less than a kilometre away from the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad. This statement, however, does not come as a surprise.

The Americans had asserted for over a decade that they had no evidence that General Zia ul Haq was acquiring nuclear weapons, as they needed his support to “bleed” the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. They are today adopting the same approach towards ISI complicity in global terrorism, because they fondly hope that Generals Kayani and Shuja Pasha will cooperate in eliminating terrorism in Afghanistan.

That said, Ms Clinton's observations were not uncritical of Pakistan. She reportedly warned her Pakistani interlocutors, including President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and the ubiquitous Gen Kayani, that “there can be no peace, no stability, no democracy, no future for Pakistan unless the violent extremists are removed”. She averred that “in solving its problems, Pakistan should understand that anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories will not make Pakistan's problems disappear”.

Ms Clinton had told the Pakistani leadership that they would take “very specific actions”, warning that the US would act unilaterally if the Pakistanis balked. The “specific actions” she alluded to were immediate operations to eliminate Al Qaeda leaders Ayman al Zawahiri and its military commander, Libyan terrorist Afsya Abdel Rehman. The other two persons against whom “immediate action” was demanded were Taliban military commander, Sirajuddin Haqqani and long-term ISI asset and terrorist leader Ilyas Kashmiri, who was finally killed by a US drone strike.


Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Omar falls in a special category. He has been designated as being wanted, in order to determine “whether he can be part of a political reconciliation in Afghanistan”. Pakistan's assistance has been sought to facilitate this effort. The Americans have established direct and indirect contacts with Taliban leaders close to Mullah Omar and expect Pakistan to facilitate this process.

But it is doubtful whether Mullah Omar will accept the American position that he abide by the Afghan Constitution and renounce violence and links with the Al Qaeda and its affiliates. Significantly, Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Hafiz Mohammed Saeed is evidently not on the list of high-priority targets for the Americans.

The omission of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed has serious implications for India, as it sends a signal to the ISI that India-centric terrorist groups are not of primary importance to the US. Pakistan appears to have seriously miscalculated Beijing's response to its advocacy of a closer Sino-Pakistan alliance to undermine US strategies in its neighbourhood. American annoyance on this score was evidently conveyed to the Chinese during the bilateral strategic dialogue in Washington on May 9-10. The fallout was almost immediate, when Prime Minister Gilani visited Beijing on May 16.


While the Chinese were willing to pander to Pakistan's quest for “parity” with India, by agreeing to expedite the delivery of 50 JF-17 fighter aircraft and launch a satellite manufactured in Pakistan, they are also reported to have advised Gilani to “remove irritants” in relations with Washington and New Delhi. Perhaps the biggest setback for Pakistan in its efforts to demonstrate to the Americans that China would bail them out in the face of American assertiveness, was China's rejection of its proposal that it should immediately take over the strategic Gwadar Port located near the entrance to the Persian Gulf.

The Chinese made it clear that they could consider this offer only after Pakistan's existing contract (valid till 2047) with the Singapore Ports Authority expired.

In a more direct snub to Pakistan, China's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Jiang Yu, categorically rejected an assertion by Pakistan's Defence Minister, Mr Ahmed Mukhtar, that he had asked China to build a naval base in Gwadar. Jiang stated that she had not heard of any such proposal being made during Mr Gilani's visit.

Clearly, the Chinese are in no mood to give credence to American allegations, that China's growing naval expansion is fuelling concerns across the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Regions. President Zardari fared no better than his Prime Minister, during his visit to Moscow on May 11-13. President Medvedev and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed the American operation in Abbottabad as morally and internationally justifiable.


What the Pakistanis fail to recognise is that while the Russians do have concerns about a US presence in Central Asia, they are nevertheless providing logistical support for the American presence in Afghanistan and making military supplies available to the embattled Karzai regime. Interestingly, the Kazakhstan Parliament approved a proposal on May 19 to deploy armed forces in Afghanistan, to join NATO forces there.

Moreover, Nikolai Bordyuzha, the Russian Secretary-General of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (comprising Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) stated that foreign troops needed to stay in Afghanistan, with the Editor of Russia's influential Global Times asserting that Russia and neighbouring countries were not interested in a hasty withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

India should realistically recognise that the Americans are not going to expend time and effort to eliminate India-centric groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The American end-game in Afghanistan is just starting and we need to be proactive in seizing diplomatic opportunities.

(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)

Published on November 13, 2017

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