Friday, May 8, 2015

Daily Times Editorial May 9, 2015

FO’s warning In his ‘opening innings’ as Foreign Office (FO) spokesman, Khalilullah Qazi told a weekly press briefing that Pakistan had warned India to refrain from interfering in its internal affairs. He went on to state that Pakistan has provided proof in this regard to India on many occasions, including the secretary-level talks in March this year. Whether this statement was prompted by the rare public criticism by the army on Tuesday that accused India’s RAW intelligence agency of whipping up terrorism in Pakistan is not known. But the fact that the army’s criticism carried the imprimatur of the Corps Commanders’ conference raises the question whether the FO is following the military’s lead in this regard. Qazi did admit, however, that he was not aware of any fresh proofs against RAW. Nor did he comment on a question whether the matter was being raised with New Delhi again. The FO spokesman dilated on the Dawood Ibrahim issue by referring to the admission by India’s Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Chaudhary that India was not aware of his whereabouts as a vindication of Pakistan’s oft stated position in response to accusations from time to time by New Delhi that he had taken refuge in Pakistan. Further, that reservations expressed by the UN regarding the release of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the main accused in the 2008 Mumbai attacks case, had been addressed, given that Pakistan had implemented the UN resolutions by banning his group, the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Regarding the reconciliation process in Afghanistan playing out in Doha, the spokesman reiterated Pakistan’s formula of supporting an Afghan-led and -owned dialogue process for peace and stability in that country. He welcomed the recent PPP delegation’s visit to Kabul, arguing that such political contacts would be helpful in promoting bilateral ties. Pakistan has fraught or difficult relations with all its neighbours with the notable exception of China. With India, both countries seem perennially bogged down in a mistrustful, suspicious engagement with each other, often being reduced to a tit-for-tat game rather than serious diplomacy. The FO spokesman’s remarks cannot be viewed as anything but a continuation of this long standing practice. There is no gainsaying the possibility that in response New Delhi’s South Block will once again castigate Islamabad over infiltration by militants into Indian Held Kashmir or rake up the Mumbai attacks case all over again. And so this tired and predictable script rumbles on, seemingly without end or hope of some positive developments. Both countries are guilty of disproving the old adage that in politics, there are neither permanent friends nor enemies. In the Pakistan-India case, it seems permanent enemies is what they have decided on or been pushed into by a combination of history and inimical lobbies on each side. Of course the real sufferers in this danse macabre are the people of Pakistan and India, whose ruling elites are wedded to the continuation of tension and conflict for one reason or another, and if none from the past suffice, the innovative minds in both countries’ establishments have proved more than equal to the task of inventing new reasons. This perpetual stand-off reduces the economic and fiscal space for both countries to tackle the poverty and deprivation of their peoples, traps them in an unending arms race (including the deadly nuclear one) and foregoes the obvious advantages of peace and normalisation between the two neighbours while being open to continuing dialogue on the vexed issues that divide them. In other words, a normal diplomatic engagement geared towards finding solutions to problems rather than one based on permanent enmity. Things are not much rosier to the west with Afghanistan, despite the sweet sounding phrases about supporting peace and stability in that country. So long as the Afghan Taliban continue to enjoy our ‘hospitality’, it is to be expected that Kabul will harbour resentment and suspicions about us, given the history of our interventions in that unfortunate country. With Iran, our relationship is precarious to say the least. Cross-border issues, hamstrung cooperation because of the lingering threat of international sanctions and the sectarian play in the Muslim world and our region have all combined to render relations with Tehran shadowed by deep and dark clouds. It is in the interests of any state to be at peace with its neighbours, particularly Pakistan, located as it is in an unstable region. Can the FO grope its way towards some such policy paradigm?

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