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Does Pakistan realize its compulsions?

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By K.N. Pandita

With financial crunch tightening its stranglehold with each passing day, Islamabad is re-evaluating some fundamentals of its domestic and foreign policy with which country’s economic stability is closely liked.

The apprehensions of Pakistan being listed in FATF, because of not too satisfactory a performance in cutting financial channels of various terrorist organizations, could prove of serious disaster.

A few moves noticed on the regional chessboard of politics are indicative of the necessity under which Pakistan will have to manage its affairs in near future. Foremost is the long drawn fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s dubious role. Washington seems to have lowered its tone about curtailment of the activities of Haqqani group in Afghan fighting. It means that Pakistan has discouraged if not fully dismantled safe haven for the Afghan warriors on her, soil particularly in Quetta.

Resumption of talks among the stakeholders in Afghanistan with Pakistan playing a notable role is matched by the faint indication shown by the IMF czars in agreeing to send its fresh delegation to Islamabad for carrying forward the dialogue for about 9 billion-dollar loan package with new perspective and maybe some new conditions.

The issue of listing Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Azhar Mas’ud by the Security Council had taken a new and alarming turn for China which stalled the passing of a resolution three times so far. Three big powers of the SC, the US, UK and France have brought a resolution for general debate and the resultant majority vote which obviously would have gone against China. Caught on the wrong foot, China had of late given an indication that it would advise Pakistan to let Azhar be listed by the SC. (As I am writing these lines the news flash has come that the SC has unanimously listed Azhar as international terrorist).

In a statement given to the press recently, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman had said, “We support the listing issue being settled within the 1267 committee through dialogue and consultation and I believe this is the consensus of most members. Second, the relevant consultations are going on within the committee and have achieved some progress.”

This is the Chinese way of retracting from its known stand. A change of tactics on the part of three permanent members of the SC seems to have had its desired impact. As Chinese spokesman Geng noted that the matter needed to be settled within 1267 Committee, Beijing has remained averse to dealing with the issue in the UNSC where proceedings are public as compared to the sanctions committee, which operates under secrecy.

Senior Pakistani officials disclosed to Dawn that China could lift its technical hold leading to Azhar’s designation, while developments in this regard are likely to be shared by the Foreign Office with the media at a special briefing.

This background development trivializes a statement of Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi given simultaneously that if India could provide substantial evidence of the involvement of JeM in Pulwama attack, it would strengthen Pakistan’s hands in filing a prosecution case in a court of law. India has done the right thing of presenting the plethora of evidence to the SC and not to Pakistan whose behavior is already known in such matters.

In yet another simultaneous development, Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, on a two-day visit to Pakistan, met Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Zubair Hayat, Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa, Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood, and several other key officials. Her visit coincided with the trip of US Special Envoy for Afghan Peace and Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and the two together held a few meetings.

While Afghan peace talks formed the key of Ambassador Wells’ visit, the issue of Pakistan’s financial crunch and borrowings from IMF and other lending agencies besides the Azhar Mas’ud case and importantly Indo-Pak situation also came under discussion at these meetings. Her comment to the journalists at the US Embassy in Islamabad was, “We would encourage the parties to move forward with the designation (of Azhar). It reaffirms the centrality of UN and UN role in designating terrorists. We believe designation process should be technical in nature, even assessment of evidence and countries moving forward to ensure that.” It has to be noted that last time (third time) when China vetoed the resolution against Azhar, her representative had touched upon the “technical” aspect and the commentators and experts lost no time in remarking that such matters did not entail any technicality. It seems that the US has given China a face-savor.

Pakistan newspaper Dawn has carried parts of the statements of Ambassador Wells given in the course of her interaction with Pakistani officials. These statements give an insight into the lines along which the interaction between the American and Pakistani officials has taken place recently. Of course, we are aware that after a spell of heightened spat, the more pragmatists among the senior echelons in both the countries had counseled for a balanced approach to relationship considering peace and normalcy as the primary requirement for enduring settlement of regional issues. The US embassy in a statement said Amb Wells in her interactions in Islamabad underscored the importance of all actors in the region taking steps to advance security, stability, and cooperation in South Asia.

The Assistant Secretary, who holds the charge of South and Central Asia, was categorical in laying the onus on Pakistan for stabilizing peace in the region by “detailing the steps it had taken to prevent the terrorist groups from fund raising and organizing.” This is the crux of the logjam in Indo-Pak talks and the US has, thus, recognized that dismantling the terrorist camps and snapping their funding sources are justifiable conditions for a constructive and meaningful dialogue between India and Pakistan. The reverberation of this line of thinking is also discernible in the press statement of Pakistani foreign minister to which we have alluded in the beginning of this write up.

Interestingly, the US has shifted the issuance of a verdict on whether or not Pakistan has done enough to contain terror syndrome in that country to the observations of the FATF which are expected to come soon and which will decide where Pakistan stands. FATF report will show to what extent Pakistan has implemented measures that have resulted in cutting of the trail of financial support to the terrorist organizations.

When Ambassador Wells was asked about the status of relationship between India and Pakistan and the possibility of the two countries making a resolve of overcoming their differences, she was emphatic in stating that “it depended on the steps taken by Pakistan government to demonstrate its seriousness in implementing the (National Action) plan.”

Again for the first time, Washington conceded in no ambiguous terms that “use of force was the prerogative of the state and those militant groups could not use Pakistani soil. The action against terrorist groups needed to be sustained.” This very significant sentence is the candid recognition that India was within its rights to strike at the terrorist camp somewhere in the forests of the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa adjoining the territory of Jammu and Kashmir State which legally belongs to India.

Reverberations of this re-alignment scenario shaping in close proximity of Kashmir are already in the air. As a result of the state unleashing a minimum of its might in literal sense of the term, the militants in Kashmir valley are on the run. This takes away the air from the sails of the separatists and ambivalent politicians who are frantically fraternizing with the secessionists while campaigning for parliamentary election. In their election campaigns they have been turning ire on Prime Minister Modi knowing it very well that people in the valley have lost faith not only in the regional political leadership but are also doubtful whether propagandist material like Article 370 and 35-A have brought them more harm than good. A Kashmiri has to rethink whether his lot with one carrying the begging bowl slung to his neck is desirable and in the interests of this progeny. Pakistan’s Ziau’l Haq had said that Pakistan would bleed India in Kashmir. The truth is that it is Kashmir that has bled Pakistan to its last drop and thrown a beggar’s scrip round her neck.