G Parthasarathy

Imran’s futile quest to undermine India

G Parthasarathy | Updated on November 16, 2020

Skewed approach | Pakistan PM is getting isolated even in the Islamic world   -  Bloomberg

While Pakistan’s tactic to unite the Arab world to discredit India has backfired, it’s finding an ally in China in this endeavour

National attention is now primarily focussed on meeting the security challenges posed by China. India has, however, for long faced a “two-front” threat, posed by Pakistan and China. These two countries have also worked in tandem in countries like Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar to undermine India’s relations with these neighbouring countries.

There have been several instances of such cooperation between Pakistan and China in the recent past. The most notable being with Myanmar, which has for long been dependent on Chinese assistance for arms supplies. Pakistan is now endeavouring to complement Chinese military assistance to Myanmar, by offering to provide Chinese designed JF-17 fighters, which it manufactures, to Myanmar. But such cooperation by Pakistan on commercial terms is of limited utility unless it’s reinforced by the political, economic and strategic weight of the donor, which Pakistan lacks.

Pakistan’s major problem, which renders it incapable of contributing to economic projects abroad, has been its continuing and growing balance of payments deficits. This necessitates frequent intervention by the IMF and of continuing doles from oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar. Pakistan’s economic shortcomings include relatively small rates of savings and investments, rendering it incapable of raising funds for economic growth and development.

Moreover, Pakistan’s exports declined from an already insufficient $22.46 billion to $20.94 billion, last year. These foreign exchange imbalances, combined with inadequate inflows investment, inevitably lead to relatively low rates of investment and growth. This, in turn, leads to the need for doles from oil-rich Arab countries.

During this quest for greater support against India from Islamic countries, Imran Khan committed a serious blunder, by backing a proposal for setting up a new Islamic grouping. This proposal was initiated by the ambitious Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Malaysia’s then 90-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

In his hurry to win encomiums for uniting the Islamic world, Imran Khan forgot the age-old rivalry and animosity between Turkey and the Arab World, and particularly Saudi Arabia. An infuriated Crown Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia made no secret of his displeasure, at Pakistan’s ill-advised move. Prime Minister Imran Khan had no choice but to send his all-powerful Army Chief General Bajwa to Saudi Arabia, to reiterate Pakistan’s high respect and regard for the Saudi Royalty.

In a clear manifestation of Saudi displeasure, Bajwa could not get a meeting with Crown Prince Salman. The highest official he met in Riyadh, when he went to explain Pakistan’s position, was the Kingdom’s Deputy Defence Minister. There are, in the meantime, indications that the Saudi Government is in touch former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, now in virtual exile in London.

Sharif is facing charges of financial irregularities levelled by the Imran Khan Government. The Saudi monarchy has held the Sharif family in high regard for over four decades now. Under Saudi pressure, Musharraf was forced to exile Nawaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia, after he had arrested and framed serious charges against Sharif. Imran’s vendetta against Sharif will only further strain his relationship with the Saudi Monarchy and its allies, in the Arab world.

Wrong partnerships

Pakistan also pays a heavy price when it turns to countries like Turkey and Malaysia to promote its interests in the Islamic world. Despite protestations of its love for Islamic countries, Pakistan has found that its ambitions to undermine India have been adversely affected, with a number of Islamic countries choosing to back India in multilateral forums. Pakistan is now finding that it cannot undermine Indian interests significantly even in its own South Asian neighbourhood.

Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan are primarily driven by its desire to ensure that the Taliban again rules Afghanistan, unchallenged. The ISI can then again use the soil the Taliban ruled earlier, to base anti-Indian terrorist groups like the Harkat ul Mujahideen, as it has done in the past. Given the ethnic composition of Afghanistan, however, Taliban rule would widen ethnic divisions. This would not be welcome to Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours, as it would have adverse implications for stability in the entire region.

In an unprecedented gesture, the UAE invited India as an honoured guest to a meeting of Foreign Ministers of the 43-member Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) held in Abu Dhabi, last year. Imran Khan vigorously objected to the decision of the UAE, and withdrew Pakistan’s participation in the Conference.

The UAE made it clear that it had no intention of satisfying Imran Khan’s wishes about not inviting India to the OIC Summit last year. It went ahead with its unprecedented gesture of inviting and honouring India’s External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, to address the meeting of 43 Islamic countries.

A sullen Imran Khan boycotted the Summit, only further isolating himself and Pakistan in the Islamic world. Pakistan’s participation in the OIC meetings is now confined to making noises on Jammu and Kashmir. Imran’s personal fondness for Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan have also not exactly endeared him to the leaders of the Arab world. He appears to have not done his reading of the history of occupation of Arab lands, by Turkey’s Ottoman rulers.

India-China conflict

There have always been queries about whether Pakistan would intervene in an India-China conflict across their borders. These queries arise from the fact that China has built up Pakistan’s conventional military capabilities with a vast range of weapons systems, ranging from tanks and armoured personnel carriers, to fighter aircraft and frigates. China has also enhanced Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capabilities, with nuclear- tipped missiles that can hit targets, ranging from Delhi to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

China is now set to enhance Pakistan’s maritime naval capacities, with the supply of frigates and submarines. Moreover, China has become more supportive of Pakistan’s position on Jammu and Kashmir in the recent past. Pakistan is, however, unlikely to be undertake any military misadventures now, especially given India’s present capabilities and its close ties with both the US and Russia.

Differences with Pakistan will continue. Channels of communication were kept open with Pakistan in the past, even amidst tensions, when Atal Bihar Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh held the office of Prime Minister. This practice may, however, be difficult to sustain with a Prime Minister as inept and opinionated as Imran Khan.

The writer is a former

High Commissioner to Pakistan

Published on November 16, 2020

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