The recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conference attended by the Prime Minister at Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, dominated headlines mainly because of the cold shoulder given to Pakistan. By Modi refusing to overfly Pak despite having been given clearance was another message of his unwillingness to engage with them.
Prior to the conference, there were umpteen messages floating from Pak to India on re-commencement of dialogue. They had hoped for a pull-aside between the two leaders, but it failed to occur. Their foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, in his congratulatory message to Jaishankar on being appointed as his counterpart had suggested talks. He has reiterated this on every occasion and in every forum. He has even stated that the only solution for a lasting peaceis talks.
In a similar manner, Imran Khan had twice approached Modi and each time stated talks. Modi had always replied vaguely, neither accepting nor discarding. Post the cold shoulder to Pak at the SCO, their tune changed. Pak leaders stated that India has still not got out of the election mindset and hence it is avoiding talks. They added that when India is willing for talks, Pak is ready.
In their senate, Senator Abdul Qayyum, a retired Lt Gen, criticised Prime Minister Imran Khan for making repeated attempts to speak with Indian premier Narendra Modi and said it amounted to national humiliation. He was observing the enhanced difference in military capability between the two countries and the impact on the defence of Pak with the present reduced budget.
For India, Pak remains just a pinprick, a nation with just the ability to support terrorism in the valley. Talks which only their polity demands have never succeeded historically, as their army, which controls the government from the backseat, is unwilling. Simultaneously, seeking talks and raising support to the ongoing terrorism in the valley in public forums is doublespeak, which no sensible government in India would accept.
India is an economic power, which every nation is desperate to engage. Its ability to spend on defence has senior functionaries from developed nations rushing to strike deals. Even close allies of Pakistan seek to engage with India and exploit its large market. Pakistan on the other hand is fighting a daily battle to survive economically. Its begging for loans from all and sundry and exporting donkey’s to China to repay loans has made it an international joke. Multiple pressures are being applied on the country in return for financial aid.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has placed strict conditions for granting of loans. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which is meeting in Orlando, US, is unlikely to remove it from the Grey List, while it may be saved from the Blacklist by its few remaining allies. As stated by Irfan Husain, a Pak strategist, in an editorial in the Dawn on 15th Jun, ‘Just to give an idea of how bad things are, the budget proposals announced recently allocate over half of government resources to defence and debt servicing.’
A few more comments of Irfan Khan convey the true condition of Pak. He states, ‘we are facing many political, economic, military and ideological problems internally. Externally, we are virtually isolated, relying on Saudi Arabia and China to bail us out. Instead of blaming outsiders for creating them, we need to confront our own demons.’ He also states, ‘in a security state like ours, it is not always national interest, based on logic and reason, that dictates decision-making. Instead, we have permitted a warped ideology, developed and pushed by the establishment, to take over the public discourse.’
Talking to Pakistan unless it changes its tune is meaningless as has been proved multiple times. Even the world acknowledges the Indian stand. PM Modi conveyed the Indian thought process to Pakistan’s strongest ally, President Xi Jinping, during his interaction with him at the SCO. The press release stated, ‘PM Modi conveyed that Pakistan needs to create an atmosphere free of terror and at this stage India does not see it happening. India expects Pakistan to take concrete action.’ Xi would have conveyed the same to Pak.
Even the US supports India. Their foreign office spokesperson stated post Imran’s offer for talks, ‘Pakistan needs to take practical steps to demonstrate that it is countering terrorist financing and extremists that are located on their territory.’ With the world supporting India in its stand implies that any action which India takes as a result of a terrorist strike, it would have international support.
The outlook of the two nations was also evident in the manner they addressed the SCO. PM Modi called for greater cooperation among the SCO countries in combating terrorism, promoting economy, alternate energy and healthcare as he outlined India’s commitment to peace and economic prosperity in the region. He hit out at Pak, when he mentioned countries sponsoring, aiding and funding terrorism must be held accountable.He also called for a global conference to combat the menace. India was the nation all members look upto as it has the economy to support weaker allies of the group.
Imran Khan on the other hand spoke of Pakistan being an attractive investment destination. He stated, ‘Our other endowments include a vast pool of skilled human resource, a large agrarian base, tremendous tourism potential, diverse mineral wealth, and a developed IT infrastructure.’ He added, ‘Enduring peace and prosperity in South Asia will remain elusive until the main dynamic in South Asia is shifted from confrontation to cooperation,’ clearly hinting at India, which was ignored.
The two addresses differ vastly as Modi’s talk was forward looking and supporting development, while Imran was seeking funds and investments, while attempting to mention talks. The importance of India to the organization was evident when the final statement did not include India in the list of nations supporting the Chinese Belt Road Initiative (BRI).
The SCO conveyed to the world in general and Pak specifically that India is firm in its belief that it would not engage with Pak unless there is a perceptible change in its approach to supporting terror. It was the magnanimity of PM Modi that he did not raise the issue of Pak’s atrocities on its own Baluchi population. Had he mentioned that it would have added to their embarrassment and shame. Pak on the other hand made a vague mention of Kashmir, when Imran stated as part of his address, ‘He said that Pakistan condemns terrorism in all forms including state terrorism against people under illegal occupation,’ clearly hinting at Kashmir.
In summary, India has overgrown Pak and has learnt to ignore it, while Pak seeks talks to gain some face-saving. It would take a few more such international cold shoulders, before Pak realizes its loss. Till then, international financial and economic pressure on Pak must continue relentlessly.
(The author is Retired Major General Indian Army)