Imran Khan's Pulwama grandstanding shows Pakistan buoyed by Saudi prince’s endorsement of its line on terror

  • Futile for India to look for “major wins” in little gestures

  • Pakistan feels it is in a position to cock a snook at India

  • The Gulf state has undermined New Delhi’s efforts

Amid nationwide outrage after the Pulwama terror strike, Union Minister Arun Jaitley told the media after emerging from a Cabinet Committee on Security meeting that India will go all out and ensure that Pakistan is diplomatically “completely isolated” from the international community for its direct involvement in the gruesome attack, of which India possesses “incontrovertible evidence.”

Diplomatic isolation of Pakistan isn’t a new Indian effort. It is an ongoing process, but Pulwama triggered an urgency in Indian attempts to meet all foreign envoys and explain to them Pakistan’s perfidious role and bear upon India’s recalcitrant neighbour the collective pressure of the global comity of nations. Diplomatic steps could be more effective than bombing of terror infrastructure within Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, but such efforts rarely work as they run the risk of squaring up against the foreign policy positions of other sovereigns that are driven solely by respective self-interests.

 Imran Khans Pulwama grandstanding shows Pakistan buoyed by Saudi prince’s endorsement of its line on terror

Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan with Saudi Arabia crown prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday. Reuters

Unless there is a convergence of interests and strategic imperatives, complete diplomatic isolation of Pakistan will always remain a mirage. India was reminded of this reality afresh when the joint statement between Pakistan and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) was released on Monday following the conclusion of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MbS) two-day visit to Pakistan.

Before we parse the text of the joint statement, it is worth taking a look at the ambient noise around MbS’ two-day visit of India commencing on Tuesday. Reports in Indian media quoting “sources” claimed that Saudi Arabia has been so sensitised of Indian position on Kashmir and Pakistan’s role in sponsoring terror on Indian soil that “they don’t buy the Pakistani narrative on Kashmir anymore.”

In fact, so evolved has been KSA’s position on Kashmir due to India’s recent diplomatic efforts, that it now considers Kashmir to be a “bilateral issue between the two South Asian countries.” Sources also claimed, according to another report, that the KSA-Pakistan joint statement to be issued after talks between the two sides “is likely to have strong reference about terrorism and ways to deal with it.”

In this respect, much has been made in India of Saudi crown prince’s decision to fly back to Riyadh from Islamabad for a day and then fly to New Delhi. An Indian diplomatic source claimed it as a “major win” for India since MbS showed sensitivity to Indian sentiments in the aftermath of Pulwama attacks. Taking a direct flight from Islamabad to New Delhi would have shown insensitivity and ‘hyphenation’, it is being claimed. Media reports say KSA acted upon an Indian request and promised to make MbS’s arrival a “standalone visit”.

It is for India to claim “major victories” from little gestures if it prefers to stay deluded. The reality is that far from “isolating Pakistan”, it has failed to convince Saudi Arabia of its position on terrorism and if the KSA-Pakistan joint statement is of any import, then the pivotal Gulf state has bought into the Pakistani position on terrorism hook, line and sinker and endorsed its narrative on Kashmir. It is not only a diplomatic blow to India — that is getting ready to lay out the red carpet for MbS the very next day — but also an unequivocal foreign policy failure.

The joint statement said, among other things, that “the Saudi side lauded Pakistan’s important positions in the Islamic world and its efforts for regional peace and security.” Incidentally, just a day before the Pulwama attacks on Thursday by Pakistan-backed Jaish-e-Mohammed that left 42 CRPF dead in a vehicle-borne IED blast, Iran accused Pakistan of masterminding a suicide bombing attack on Wednesday that killed 27 Revolutionary Guards.

Revolutionary Commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari was quoted as saying on State TV that these terrorists were “supported by Pakistan’s security forces,” in a reference to Jaish al-Adl which claimed responsibility, and warned Pakistan that if it does not “punish them, we will retaliate against this anti-revolutionary force, and whatever Pakistan sees will be the consequence of its support for them.”

The irony of the joint statement notwithstanding, it further solidifies Pakistan’s (and China’s) position on listing of JeM chief Masood Azhar as a designated terrorist under the 1267 Committee of the UN Security Council by “underlining” the “need for avoiding politicisation of UN listing regime”, words that seem to have been lifted from China’s justification behind thwarting India’s efforts on this count.

To add to India’s sense of outrage at Pakistan’s role behind Pulwama, of which New Delhi claims to possess “incontrovertible evidence”, the statement said: “Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan reiterated their commitment to continue combating extremism and terrorism and expressed their deep appreciation for the achievements and sacrifices made by the two sides in the war against terrorism.

“They also applauded the martyrs who sacrificed their lives in order to confront this serious scourge and called on the international community to shoulder its responsibilities to join all international efforts to combat global terrorism.” Pakistan’s argument, that it has made sacrifices while combating terrorism, is the language of subterfuge aimed at masking and justifying its role behind perpetrating jihad and using Islamist terror as a tool to achieve foreign policy objectives. It is not surprising that it would want these words to be inserted into the “joint statement”, but Saudis’ endorsement of this line is a clear indication that far from having an “evolved” view of India’s position on terrorism, the Gulf state has undermined New Delhi’s efforts.

It won’t please India, again, to note that KSA-Pakistan statement “praised” the “openness and efforts of Prime Minister Imran Khan for dialogue with India and the opening of the Kartarpur crossing point and the efforts exerted by both sides, stressing that dialogue is the only way to ensure peace and stability in the region to resolve outstanding issues.” It is inconceivable that the Saudis are unaware of India’s position on talks — that it cannot go together with terror — and if that be the case, then it is another instance of India’s failure to “isolate” Pakistan. If the joint statement sounds like a resounding slap on India’s face just ahead of crown prince’s visit, then it is likely the result of an ideological alignment between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that is based on the concept of “Islamic Ummah”, of which the joint statement makes a pointed mention.

It is for India, therefore, to convince the crown prince that the economic realities of the new global order dictates that India’s market power will create enough opportunities for a close economic relationship between the two nations, and may serve as the pivot for a greater strategic and security alignment. Such an alignment, in the long run, will outlive the utility of Saudi’s ideological alignment with Pakistan. This calls for sustained diplomatic effort and a clear-headed policy initiative, and it is futile to look for “major wins” in little gestures such as MbS’ decision to fly home to Riyadh befoe visiting Delhi.

At the other end of the spectrum, the crown prince’s successful visit where he endorsed Pakistan’s lines on key issues and promised deals worth $20 billion seems to have emboldened the Pakistan prime minister who finally broke his silence on Pulwama to deliver a short speech for international and domestic consumption. The short video message stayed true to stated Pakistani position of denial over each terror attacks that emanates from its soil. An “earnest” Imran was seen playing the ‘good cop’ in a recorded clip replete with jump cuts and close-ups, indicating that it has been heavily edited, most likely by his bosses in the army.

Imran called for “actionable proof” from India on Pulwama, promised to launch a probe, took a dig at India’s blaming of Pakistan as “electoral compulsions” and even warned India that any attack will result in retaliation and may escalate to a level over which no one may have any control: a likely veiled threat of use of nuclear weapons. The last we heard similar words from a Pakistani prime minister was from Nawaz Sharif post Pathankot terror attacks. Sharif is now in jail for exceeding his brief. There is no reason to take Imran’s grandstanding seriously except for one crucial point. It came right after MbS departed from Pakistan’s shores: a likely indication that Pakistan feels that it is in a position to cock a snook at India’s efforts to “isolate it”.

Updated Date: Feb 19, 2019 21:47:35 IST