The equation is quite even as far as allegations and suspicions go. Pakistan is at pains to convince the world that the intermittent violence it experiences is inflicted by groups, which can be termed instruments of terrorism and instability. Groups such as the TTP, Jamaatul Ahrar, the Islamic State, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Baloch Republican Army stand out as some of those instruments.
Outsiders like India, Afghanistan and the US look at the Haqqani network, the Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad in more or less the same way i.e., as instruments of terror using Pakistani territory against neighbors.
The latest such pronouncement came from US Secretary of State John Kerry, making it clear to Islamabad that it needs to act against groups such as the Haqqani network and LeT that are suspected of operating from Pakistan to launch attacks against its neighbors. Kerry said this on August 31 in a press stakeout at New Delhi, using the occasion to also appreciate the pain that Pakistan has endured at the hands of terrorists. He more or less repeated the same words that constitute the essential part of the official Washington narrative and which underscores the Indo-American-Afghan convergence on the issue. Kerry did concede Pakistan’s “progress in the fight against extremism in recent months” but also underlined that it “has work to do in order to push harder against its indigenous groups that are engaged in extremist activities” and represent a threat to the neighbors.
India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, too, think alike and have gone even further in speaking about countering terror with terror. Most of what we see today seems to flow from a deadly tit-for-tat contest of gaining influence in the region. At the same time, commercial interests trump oft-propagated virtues such as morality and principles. The brutal handling of Kashmiri protests and the near indifference to it from almost all G-20 countries reflects their quest for preserving commercial interests in India. And this of course provides India enough space to have the last laugh. This same attitude helped Sheikh Mujeeb carve Bangladesh out of Pakistan, with the anti-Pakistan Awami League government in Bangladesh still receiving magnanimous support from India. The Bangladeshi government continues to bash Pakistan and its supporters at every opportunity. The controversial war crimes trials are the most glaring example of digging up the past and keeping anti-Pakistan sentiment alive.
Taking advantage of Pakistan’s past foreign policy blunders and the erstwhile support for militant groups in Afghanistan and Kashmir, India has successfully created a huge political constituency in Afghanistan. The narrative sprouting from this puts the entire blame for Afghan ills on Pakistan. Elsewhere, as an active member of BRICS, India continues to exploit China’s ambitious global economic and trade cooperation agenda. At the same time, Indian leaders have publicly expressed their displeasure over the CPEC and term it as the Pakistan-China nexus, a derogatory characterization of the multi-billion dollar undertaking.
And now, New Delhi and Washington have signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, which allows the two allies to use each other’s military facilities for checking China’s growing influence in Asia and in the fight against terrorism. Both are also finalizing two other foundational agreements to expand their strategic cooperation. Curiously, India and Afghanistan will be part of the trilateral dialogue that US will hold in Washington later this month – as if they were all direct neighbors. Viewed in this context, Pakistan faces the unavoidable specter of an ever-growing Indo-US-Afghan alliance that requires us to do more in the anti-terror fight. We also need to clean up our image that became tainted because of our alliances with or support for non-state actors.
Any analysis of Pakistan’s current security quagmire bereft of this aspect of the deadly triangular proxy war is like condemning and executing the wrong person — do these groups really possess the wherewithal to force the state of Pakistan into submission and impose their way of life on the country? Certainly not. Neither are they stronger than the state, with even mainstream apologists of these terrorists having hardly secured any national power through elections. The only way to fend off adverse alliances and retain friends like China is to institutionalize a whole-of-government approach on domestic and foreign policy issues.
This article was first published in The Express Tribune. Click here to go to the original.