Thursday, August 20, 2015
Daily Times Editorial Aug 21, 2015
Our neighbourhood If one were to glance at the state of Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours and the effect these are having on its diplomatic friendships further abroad, one could be forgiven for some alarm. On August 19, a flurry of diplomatic activity dictated the state of play. First the Afghan Ambassador was summoned to deliver a protest against the “hate campaign” emanating lately from Kabul and the firing by Afghan forces on August 16 and 17 that killed three FC personnel. In turn, our Ambassador in Kabul was summoned to lodge a protest against Pakistani artillery fire across the border into Kunar province that killed eight policemen. This state of blame and counter-blame represents a negative turn in relations after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reached out to Pakistan to facilitate a political settlement of the Afghan conflict. But recent attacks in Afghanistan, including a truck bombing in Kabul that killed 50, soured this initiative and persuaded President Ghani to blame Pakistan’s hand behind these attacks despite it hosting the first round of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Murree. President Ghani has since focused on the continuing safe havens enjoyed by the Taliban on Pakistani soil from where, Kabul alleges, they orchestrate their attacks inside Afghanistan. Pakistan has condemned the attacks, ascribing their authorship to “spoilers and detractors”, but this has not proved sufficient to allay Kabul’s concerns and complaints. On the same day, a busy Foreign Office (FO) also summoned the Indian High Commissioner (HC) to complain about the continuing violations of the ceasefire along the Line of Control and Working Boundary. The FO said at least two civilians were killed and four injured in the unprovoked firing. On the same day, the Pakistani HC in India was summoned to lodge complaints of a similar nature against Pakistani unprovoked firing. Meantime the Hurriyet Conference Kashmiri leaders have been invited to a reception by the Pakistani HC to meet National Security Adviser (NSA) Sartaj Aziz on August 23, the very day he will be having a meeting with his Indian counterpart. It may be recalled that last year India cancelled foreign secretaries’ talks after a similar invitation to the Kashmiri leaders riled New Delhi. Although this time it seems the NSAs meeting will proceed, the agenda for the meeting is still undecided. The meeting was supposed to discuss terrorism, but now it seems it will be an open agenda, which means either side can raise its concerns. Whether that will mean the two sides talking to or at each other remains to be seen. Lest anyone think this toing and froing of ambassadors being summoned is the only development of note, it should be registered that the US administration has refused to certify to Congress that Operation Zarb-e-Azb has damaged the Haqqani network, thereby blocking the next tranche of the Coalition Support Funds to Pakistan. This development will cast a shadow over Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington in October. Pakistan’s relations wit the UAE have soured somewhat after we refused to lend ourselves to the Yemen conflict at the request of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. India’s PM Modi has been quick to exploit this cleavage by visiting the UAE (the first Indian prime minister to do so in 34 years) and swing lucrative deals with the Gulf state. India also enjoys an opening with Iran through the Chabahar port that will give access and an alternative route out to landlocked Afghanistan, freeing it of its dependence on Pakistan to some extent. This brief survey would not be complete without mentioning that our all-weather friend China, despite its continued commitment to Pakistan’s welfare and development, harbours concerns about the Uighur movement that has found support amongst the terrorist movements in Pakistan’s tribal border regions. Islamic State (IS) is another worry for the region and the world, and continuing conflict in Afghanistan, combined with IS’s ingress into the region, could spell spillover troubles ahead for Pakistan too. All this points to Islamabad’s parlous relations with most if not all its immediate neighbours and even its distant friends. If one factor were to be identified to explain what is common to all these travails, it is the hangover of Pakistan using proxies to project power and conduct foreign policy in the region. A decisive break with this past, the induction of a full time foreign minister, and efforts to settle matters with neighbours and friends, near and far, is the only way Pakistan can avoid falling into the pit of isolation, a state no country can afford in today’s interconnected world.