Thursday, June 9, 2016
Business Recorder editorial June 8, 2016
Looming isolation The top civil and military leadership met at GHQ in the absence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to review Afghan policy and challenges to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Observers considered it an "extraordinary" meeting convened by COAS General Raheel Sharif. Although media reports said the meeting was prompted by specific concerns, it is not clear what these were. Nor did any details emerge after the conclave, except for a ritual bland statement by ISPR reiterating that hostile foreign intelligence agencies (meaning RAW and the Afghan NDS) and their "facilitators" would not be allowed to foment trouble, "core national interests" would be protected, and any negative outside influence would be countered. Make of that what you will. Significantly, neither National Security Advisor General (retd) Nasir Janjua nor Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar attended, leading to speculation that the meeting was focused on matters other than India and internal security. The meeting did reaffirm Pakistan's commitment to Afghan peace but emphasised border management to control cross-border movement, condemned the May 21 drone strike that took out Taliban leader Mullah Mansour as a clear violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and which affected Pakistan-US mutual trust and undermined the peace process. Nevertheless, the meeting reiterated that Pakistan remains committed to the Quadrilateral process. Chabahar port and the trilateral transit agreement amongst Iran, India and Afghanistan was perceived by the meeting as a security threat. There is little doubt that India has pushed this development to bypass Pakistan and replace its influence in these countries with New Delhi's. In fact Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been on a diplomatic offensive lately, visiting and displaying a nifty ability to wean Pakistan's friends like Afghanistan, Iran, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar out of Islamabad's orbit. The crowning achievement of Mr Modi's diplomatic offensive is the growing ties between India and the US. The Indian prime minister is in Washington currently, where he has succeeded in obtaining US President Barack Obama's support for India's efforts to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Mr Modi, once denied a US visa for his role in the Gujarat anti-Muslim riots in 2002 when he was chief minister, has achieved a remarkable turnaround in his personal acceptance and his country's success in persuading Washington to continue in the vein of the Bush Administration's civil nuclear agreement with India. The icing on this cake was the address by Modi to a joint session of the US Congress on June 8, where he received repeated standing ovations. At the same time, it was revealed that the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) has agreed to admit India after the deadline for the 34 country members' objections expired on June 6. Admission allows India to purchase high-end missile technology and state of-the-art drones like the Predator. It also helps India's case for joining the NSG as a 'responsible' nuclear state. Modi has invested heavily in visiting and lobbying countries like Italy, Mexico and Switzerland that had reservations regarding letting India join the NSG. Italy and Switzerland have withdrawn their objections and Mexico may well follow suit. Pakistan's hopes of stopping this development rest on China's support on the basis of weighing the issue in non-discriminatory scales (i.e. either both Pakistan and India are admitted, or neither). The paralysis of Pakistan's foreign policy in sharp contrast to India's activism prompted the Senate on June 7 to demand countering India's "aggressive foreign policy". Fine words, but little to back it up in practice. While Pakistan's relationship with the US comes under strain post-withdrawal and its friends are whisked away one by one from under Islamabad's nose, India has further fuelled the arms race by recently testing a supersonic interceptor missile. Poised as it is to enter the MTCR and possibly the NSG (if China changes its mind), India has ambitious plans to acquire a submarine-based second strike nuclear capability, a prospect that has set alarm bells ringing in Islamabad, which can so far only come up with the idea of moving a resolution (non-binding, mind) in the UN General Assembly to resist India's plans to nuclearise the Indian Ocean. The challenges for our foreign policy and our feeble response are truly cause for serious concern.