Trump’s Afghan Ball Game & BRICS Warning Not Enough to Isolate Pak

BRICS declaration may have caused jitters for now, but Pakistan is far from being isolated globally.

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 Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif adjusts his necktie during a joint press conference at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.
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Trump’s Afghan Ball Game & BRICS Warning Not Enough to Isolate Pak

Donald Trump’s televised speech to the nation on his administration’s Afghanistan policy, in which he accused Pakistan of providing militants, operating on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, support evoked strong reactions from the civilian and military leaders.

Shahbaz Sharif, Punjab (Pakistan) Chief Minister and brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, expressed displeasure at Trump’s statement.

The exaggerated comments being made in the national and international discourse regarding the US aid to Pakistan are tantamount to rubbing salt into the wounds of Pakistanis suffering terrorism, poverty, and backwardness.
Shahbaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister

He went to the degree of saying that Pakistan should stop accepting any sort of assistance from the US.

It is time for Pakistan to politely and gratefully close the chapter on the US assistance, so that the bilateral relationship can be freed from the shadow of repeated contemptuous taunts.

Trump's Afghan Strategy Comes Under Attack

Pakistan’s troubles don’t end at Trump’s speech. The BRICS declaration also criticised terror groups which have been targeting India, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM)

The declaration read:

We strongly condemn terrorist attacks resulting in death of innocent Afghan nationals. We, in this regard, express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH, Al Qaida and its affiliates, including ETIM, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, TTP, and Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Post the US President’s speech, relief for Pakistan came from Iran, Russia, and China. While China’s support for Pakistan did not come as a surprise, Russia and Iran too, firmly defended Islamabad.

Russian Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov criticised Trump’s new Afghan strategy.

Pakistan is a key regional player to negotiate with. Putting pressure [on Pakistan] may seriously destabilise the region-wide security situation and result in negative consequences for Afghanistan.
Zamir Kabulov, Russian Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan

Similar views were echoed by Iran as well, which asked the US to end interference in the domestic affairs of other countries. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi lambasted Washington’s “opportunistic strategies and unilateral policies, coupled with its interventions, have only intensified chaos and tension and spread terrorism and extremism across the region.”

Also Read: Trump’s Speech Was Good News for New Delhi – Here’s Why

Differences with Iran

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif also decided to make a damage control visit to China, Russia, and Turkey, and cancelled his scheduled visit to the US. According to the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, he will hold detailed discussions with these countries on the new US policy pertaining to Afghanistan and South Asia.

Islamabad would do well to remember, however, that these are all short-term reactions. Iran may have come to Pakistan’s rescue for the time being, but it has had differences with Pakistan. Tehran has been accusing the Pakistan Army of supporting militant groups which have targeted Iran.

In May itself, the Iranian Army Chief Major General Mohammad Baqeri had warned of entering Pakistani territory and hitting militant bases, after ten Iranian border guards were killed by Sunni militant groups operating from Pakistan.

“We expect the Pakistani officials to control the borders, arrest the terrorists, and shut down their bases. If the terrorist attacks continue, we will hit their safe havens and cells, wherever they are,” Baqeri said.

It would also be pertinent to point out that both Iran and India have strong ties in the economic and strategic sphere. Iran has provided assistance for Phase 1 of the Chabahar Project which will provide India’s access to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Russia a Long-Term Ally of India

While the Pakistan-Russia defence relationship may cause some discomfort in New Delhi, there is a realisation that India-Moscow ties are time tested in the strategic and economic sphere. In 2017, both India and Russia celebrated the seventieth anniversary of relations.

According to Sergei Chemezov, the CEO of Rostec, India import’s defence equipment and supplies of around $2 billion every year. Russia and India signed an agreement to build two new reactors for the Kudankulam nuclear power station in Tamil Nadu, with Russia agreeing to provide a loan of $4.2 billion to India for its construction.

Options for Pakistan

Pakistan in the short run has no option but to remain in the Chinese camp – at the cost of annoying not just businesses, but non-Punjabi provinces which feel that the CPEC project is benefitting Punjab. Islamabad already shares a robust relationship with Turkey which is closely involved in Pakistan, and Erdogan shares a strong relationship with PML-N, especially the Sharifs.

Pakistan will also try to exploit the anti-US sentiment in countries like Iran and Russia, as is evident from the visit of the foreign minister.

Even with the US, Islamabad will publicly make noises, but neither will Pakistan let go easily, nor will the State Department give up any time soon. Whenever there have been talks of reducing military aid, the State Department has vehemently argued against such a move.

Overtures by the civilian government to India can not be ruled out, a clear indication of this was the statement of the newly appointed Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who stated that Pakistan wants to work closely with India. Though off course, nothing can be expected till the next elections in Pakistan in 2018.

Pakistan Not Isolated Yet

To conclude, Pakistan is far from being isolated, but in the long run, it needs to come up with a foreign policy which is more representative of public opinion. Apart from changing its approach towards India, Pakistan also needs to reduce its dependence upon China, and look at other alternatives for its economic growth.

The BRICS declaration also reiterates the point that Beijing, while turning a blind eye to terror groups targeting India, has to take cognisance of terrorism, since it has begun to bear the brunt of the same. GHQ thus needs to move away from its zero-sum approach.

(Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India. He can be reached @tridiveshsingh. Sandeep Sachdeva is an independent policy analyst. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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