Wednesday, September 6, 2017
By Suhasini Haidar
His book details ‘missed opportunity’ to solve Sir Creek dispute.
In the book, “How India Sees the World: Kautilya to the 21st Century”, Mr. Saran records the crucial meeting of the CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security) on the eve of India-Pakistan Defence Secretary-level talks in May 2006, where the draft agreement, that had been approved by the Army and other stakeholders, was to be discussed. However, he said two crucial players, the-then NSA MK Narayanan and then Army Chief General J.J. Singh made last minute interventions to cancel the proposal. “When the CCS meeting was held on the eve of the defence secretary–level talks, [Mr.] Narayanan launched into a bitter offensive against the proposal, saying that Pakistan could not be trusted, that there would be political and public opposition to any such initiative and that India’s military position in the northern sector vis- à-vis both Pakistan and China would be compromised. [Gen] J.J. Singh, who had happily gone along with the proposal in its earlier iterations, now decided to join Narayanan in rubbishing it,” Mr. Saran writes.
According to Mr. Saran both Indian and Pakistani armies had agreed to authenticate the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL), and sign an annexure with maps marking exactly where Indian and Pakistani troops held positions. As a result, Mr. Saran says, Indian troops, who occupy the heights of Siachen would be able to mutually withdraw and be spared “extreme cold and unpredictable weather in inhospitable areas, [where] their psychological isolation was just as bad as their physical hardship.” Mr. Saran’s revelations are significant as it is the first time that an Indian official of the time has accepted that agreements on Siachen and Sir Creek, often called the “low-hanging fruit” of the Comprehensive bilateral dialogue between both countries, was a reality. In 2015, former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri has written about the agreements in his memoirs “Neither a Hawk nor a Dove”, with an account of the Pakistani side of those negotiations.
During the book launch on Wednesday, General (Retd) J.J.Singh, who was also in the audience, asked Mr. Saran whether it would have been possible, in fact, to “trust Pakistan”, and ensure Pakistani troops wouldn’t return to occupy positions in Siachen. “In matters of international diplomacy, it is a convergence of interests rather than trust that counts,” Mr. Saran replied. The book also records what Mr. Saran calls a “missed opportunity” to solve the Sir Creek dispute in Kutch, with the solution crafted by the Navy to divide the creek between India and Pakistan according to the “equidistance” principle. When asked by Mr. Menon whether the opportunities to resolve the long-standing issues with Pakistan still existed, Mr. Saran said, “Opportunities are perishable. When they aren’t seized, they don’t return.”
The book launch was attended by a number of diplomats and politicians including Minister of Law and Justice, and Information Technology Ravishankar Prasad and former Vice-President Hamid Ansari.
The BRICS nations have expressed concern about Pakistan-based militant groups like LeT and the Haqqani Network. It is a diplomatic defeat for Islamabad, which heavily depends on Beijing's support amid a global isolation.
Pakistan's foreign policy in a nutshell: As long as China is backing us, we don't have to worry about the United States or the rest of the world. And that was exactly the official reaction after US President Donald Trump announced his Afghanistan policy last month, criticizing safe havens for Islamist terrorists on Pakistani soil.
While the Islamic country's politicians and government officials refuted Trump's claims that Pakistan was supporting militant groups near its border with Afghanistan, they heaved a sigh of relief when Chinese officials came to their support against Trump.
Therefore, it was quite natural for Islamabad to expect that the BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – would not criticize Pakistan-based militant groups during their recently held summit in the Chinese city of Xiamen.
But after Trump's censure, Xi Jinping's China, too, expressed its worry about the jihadi groups that many experts say are Pakistan's proxies in the region.
"We, in this regard, express concern about the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, 'Islamic State'(IS)..., al Qaeda and its affiliates, including the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir," the BRICS leaders said in a joint declaration.
A 'message to Pakistan'
Islamabad thus faces a diplomatic dilemma. The BRICS declaration is a victory for the Indian and Afghan stance that Pakistan-based terror outfits pose a serious threat to regional security.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif is planning to visit China and Russia in the coming days to garner support for his country in the wake of Trump's criticism. The BRICS statement makes his task more difficult.
"The declaration is a clear message to Pakistan that the international community, including China and Russia, are not ready to tolerate Pakistan's jihadi proxies. We must not forget that Islamist groups also pose a threat to China, which is battling a religiously motivated insurgency in its western Xinjiang province," Dr. Aman Memon, an international relations expert at the Islamabad-based Preston University, told DW.
"The situation is equally alarming for Russia, which is wary of Islamists in Central Asian states," Memon said, adding that it was high time that Pakistan reviewed its policies regarding jihadi groups.
New Delhi accuses Pakistan of using jihadi proxies to mount attacks inside India, including India-administered Kashmir. Islamabad denies these allegations.
In February, China blocked a proposal by the US to designate Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar a global terrorist. New Delhi accuses JeM and Azhar of masterminding several terrorist attacks on Indian soil, including a deadly assault on an Indian airbase in Pathankot in January 2016. Pakistani investigators say Azhar and his associates had no links to the attack.
Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is another militant group based in Pakistan which New Delhi blames for cross-border attacks including the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that killed 166 people.
Washington has long been demanding that Islamabad relinquishes support for the Haqqani Network, a Taliban ally based in Pakistan's northwestern Waziristan region near Afghanistan.
Now that China has officially expressed its concern about JeM and LeT, the pressure on Pakistan to act against these groups is likely to build.
"The influence of India in Afghanistan is a reason behind Islamabad's support for these militant groups, but after the BRICS declaration Pakistan will come under tremendous pressure to review its policy," Memon said.
BRICS statement not detrimental
Experts, however, say that China will keep its leverage over Pakistan, and that it won't isolate Islamabad completely.
Ye Hailin, an expert at the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, believes hostility between the regional powers could be counterproductive in defeating terrorists.
"As a mediator between Pakistan and Afghanistan, China has always tried to do its best. China's strategic interest in the region is to defeat terrorism," Ye told DW.
China is already part of a Quadrilateral Coordination Group - comprising Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States - that was established to end the protracted Afghan crisis. The grouping has not achieved a significant breakthrough so far, with Islamabad and Kabul at loggerheads over the militancy issue, and the Beijing and Washington relationship lacking in trust.
Experts say that China has invested heavily in Pakistan, and that is why it wants peace in at least those areas where its "Belt and Road Initiative" project is being implemented. China has built a port in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan as part of its nearly $60-billion CPEC project to establish overland and sea trade routes to reach Middle Eastern, European and African markets.
China also wants to minimize India's influence in the region by supporting Pakistan, a policy that experts don't think will drastically change in the near future.
"I think China took Pakistan into confidence over the BRICS declaration. The LeT and JeM have been banned by Pakistan. The Haqqani Network no longer has any presence in Pakistan. We have been cooperating with the US over the Haqqani threat," Amjad Shoaib, a retired army general and defense analyst, told DW.
"People should not read too much into the BRICS declaration and Sino-Pakistani ties," Shoaib added.
Engagement with international community
Nonetheless, the BRICS declaration could force Pakistan not to take a collision course with the US.
Pakistanis are confident the international community will continue to rely on its "assistance" in the war in Afghanistan. Washington has so far cooperated with Pakistan, knowing the sanctions or unilateral aerial attacks on the militants' hideouts in the country could further destabilize the nuclear-armed nation with strong anti-West sentiments.
During his tenure, former US President Barack Obama increased drone attacks in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, but he continued to engage with Pakistani authorities in order to retain leverage within the country. The flipside to it, analysts say, is that Islamabad has continued with its own strategy for Afghanistan: minimizing New Delhi's influence in Kabul and waiting for complete US withdrawal from the country.
At the same time, some Pakistani analysts say it is in the interest of Islamabad to also keep the Trump administration on its side.
"I think there is no point in getting excited over Trump's Afghanistan policy speech. Pakistan should engage with him [Trump]. He is sending more soldiers to Afghanistan and for that America will need Islamabad's help," Pakistani researcher and defense analyst Aisha Siddiqa, told DW.
At the same time, Indian and Pakistani peace activists urge their countries to tread cautiously and not become party to either the US-Chinese rivalry or the global powers' strategic interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia.
It’s probably also safe to say that two years later, most Pakistanis were proud — even if that pride was mingled with other, more complicated emotions — when Yousafzai, an activist for girls’ education, became at 17 the youngest person ever to win a Nobel Prize and her country’s second Nobelist since the Muslim-majority country was founded in 1947.
Beyond that, the young woman’s story has become so distorted by a bewildering list of honors and accomplishments, and a parallel litany of accusations and suspicions, that it is almost impossible to generalize about how she is viewed by her fellow citizens — except that they seem exhausted of hearing about her.
Two weeks ago, Yousafzai, who now lives in England, announced that she had been accepted to study at Oxford University (her tweet was politely couched in praise for her fellow winning candidates). The British press loved the story, but there were few mentions in Pakistan’s media. Reaction from Pakistanis on social media ranged from sincere and congratulatory to snide and envious.
“Well done, Malala,” one man posted on Facebook, praising her humanitarian efforts and success abroad but noting wistfully that many Pakistanis are unable to get ahead except by bribery and connections. “Time to shoot myself in the head for my next degree,” sneered another on Twitter, using an expletive to suggest she had done little to deserve it. Some called her a hypocrite and a fake. Some said her father, a rural school principal, was an agent for Israel and the CIA.
On Tuesday, police officials in Karachi reported that they had killed several suspected Taliban and Islamic State militants in a raid and shootout, including one who they said had been involved in the attack on Yousafzai. The news made headlines but drew little public interest. News reports seemed skeptical of the police claims. They included scant detail of the long-ago incident and no photos of Yousafzai. The coverage had a perfunctory, “old news” tone.
In a way, it is understandable that this young woman — who appears to have remained a gracious and modest individual despite her global celebrity — has nevertheless become a permanent lightning rod for the muddled grievances, conspiracy theories and thwarted ambitions of a struggling society where many people look to “foreign hands” to blame for their problems and may resent the limelight that comes to some, but only a few, of those who have suffered.
By some estimates, more than 30,000 Pakistanis have been killed in a decade of terrorism and conflict. Yousafzai survived and then went on to become a best-selling author, a winner of numerous international prizes and a U.N. Messenger of Peace. Time magazine named her three years running as one of the most influential people in the world, and in July she was listed as one of its most “influential teens” alongside Kylie and Kendall Jenner. She even had an asteroid named after her. Now she is going to Oxford to study philosophy and politics.
In an Aug. 18 essay in Pakistan Today, titled, “Why are Pakistanis upset at Malala getting into Oxford?” Syed M. Murtaza described an “umbrella” of “Malala hate,” an emotional phenomenon in which the outspoken young crusader has become a stand-in for everything many Pakistanis fear and resent — from drone strikes to Western freedoms. “It is commonplace in Pakistan to attribute everything Malala has accomplished … to a grand scheme by international powers that only seek to defame the country,” he wrote.
Actually, public opinion polls have shown that many Pakistanis admire and respect her, according to a 2014 report by Maham Javaid, a Pakistani-American journalist, published by Al Jazeera America. When Yousafzai was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, one poll showed 44 percent of people were pleased, 44 percent ambivalent, and 11 percent unhappy. But later, when her autobiography was published in 2013, some Pakistanis, especially religious clerics and conservative TV anchors, charged that she had defamed Pakistan and Islam. The book was banned in thousands of private schools.
The main problem, Javaid wrote, is that while many Pakistanis “stand behind her” and cheer her crusade, others “appear unable to distinguish between Malala’s brave resolve to fight for what she believes in and the Western accolades she has received for displaying this courage.” If Pakistan shuns Yousafzai, she added, “we Pakistanis will be the ones who lose yet another hero … Malala is a true champion, and Pakistan should hold on to her.”