Three-act diplomacy

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Lahore was the centre act in a three-act play which presented the case for Pakistan to abandon its strict adherence to anti-Indianism. Letting go of this ideology, which forms the core of the state’s foreign policy, and traditionally the defining part of Pakistani nationalism, has become an existential question for Islamabad. That the three-act Indo-Pak diplomacy also traversed December 16 might add further impetus to potential self-reflection. For, it was India-specific paranoia that blew-back on Pakistan in 1971 and 2014.

Before Modi’s ‘surprise visit to Lahore’ on December 25, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif joined Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Indian Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari to inaugurate the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, in the Karakum desert in Turkmenistan on December 13. The 1,814-km TAPI will run from Turkmen gas fields through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India, transferring 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year.

While it’s the volatility in Afghanistan that has long stalled the project, which was first initiated in the mid 1990s, the fact that work has actually begun on a pipeline promising transfer of gas from Pakistan to India is nothing short of groundbreaking. TAPI’s importance as a diplomatic binder can be gauged from its juxtaposition with the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline which was inaugurated a decade ago.

BTC and TAPI are virtual doppelgangers. BTC is almost identical in length (1,768 km) and was procrastinated over for years due to volatility in a country that it was going to traverse – Azerbaijan in BTC’s case. Work was escalated on the pipeline after stakeholders got oil and gas companies on board, which in turn ensured the security of the project, eventually leading to the collective security of the energy rich Central Asian states, while linking them to Turkey. Here’s a lesson for TAPI’s stakeholders: get global energy firms and a banking consortium on board – the likes of Chevron and Exxonmobil have already expressed interest – and they would ensure security.

Considering that security has been the prime Indo-Pak bone of contention – not to mention the main Afghan concern as well – a pipeline joining the states could be the best way to unite Islamabad and New Delhi into mutual security interests. That there was a 110-km India-Pakistan pipeline, joining Jalandhar to Wagah, proposed in 2013, also adds to the energy sharing potential in the region, which could lay the foundation of South Asian collective security.

The second act in this three-act play was of course Modi’s pit stop in Lahore. The visit itself mightn’t actually thrust open gates for Indo-Pak cooperation, but it has firmly restarted a productive dialogue process, which stalled following the Vajpayee years. It is evident that Modi, just like Vajpayee, envisions himself as a regional – if not a global – leader and pictures India as an international economic power. Focus on trade, and realising the massive potential both Indian and Pakistani markets add to one another’s economy, could lead to domestic fiscal growth for both states and in turn augment the aforementioned regional security.

Sorting out Kashmir issue in the near future would be both unrealistic and unnecessary for Indo-Pak ties. Notwithstanding the fact that treating it as a bilateral issue blatantly ignores the third and most important party to the conflict, after multiple failed attempts to ‘recapture Kashmir’ in the past seven decades, Pakistan’s security machinery might realise that like New Delhi, Islamabad’s immediate interests might actually lie in maintaining the status quo in Kashmir. Islamabad might finally accept that with so much to do to counter domestic militancy, relative stalemate elsewhere is exactly what the state needs right now. This is where the third, and the most pivotal act of this three-act play, takes centre stage.

On Monday, December 28, three days after Modi’s visit to Lahore, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) busted an ISIS-affiliated cell in Sialkot. The eight arrested militants were from Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and had pledged allegiance to ISIS and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in June this year, when they proclaimed the Islamic State of Daska, which is a small tehsil in Sialkot.

JuD, spearheaded by Hafiz Saeed, is the political wing of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) whose ‘magnum opus’ of terror were the Mumbai attacks in 2008. While LeT is banned in Pakistan, JuD, despite being added to the United Nation’s list of terrorist organisations in November, is still seen doing ‘social work’ to reaffirm its image as a ‘charity organisation’. The impunity enjoyed by Hafiz Saeed, and Pakistan’s lack of action against Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi over potential involvement in the Mumbai attacks, reaffirm Pakistan’s long standing policy of discriminating between Islamist militants, with the eastward-bound jihadists historically treated as the most valuable ‘strategic assets’.

If the APS attack hasn’t sufficed, JuD overlapping with ISIS should be a rude awakening for Pakistan’s security machinery. ISIS core might still be light years away from penetrating the Pakistani border, considering the pounding it’s receiving in the Middle East, but militant organisations gravitating towards the biggest terror threat in the world, can only be bad news for Pakistan.

It’s time to abandon the idea that taking action against the hitherto ‘Kashmiri mujahideen’, like any other Islamist militant organisation, is a part of ‘Indian’ or ‘foreign’ interests. A clamp down against militancy in all ‘shapes and sizes’ – as the preamble of the National Action Plan (NAP) vows – is first and foremost in Pakistan’s best interests. That it would go on to benefit neighbouring states as well, actually forms the raison d’etre of the aforementioned idea of collective security, which is the only thing that can lay the foundation of prolonged harmony in Indo-Pak ties.

Modi has actually thrown the gauntlet to Pakistan by addressing Islamabad’s allegations that New Delhi simply doesn’t want to play ball. And he’s done so in the most resounding style by coming to Lahore. It’s now time for Pakistan to take up the challenge and reciprocate by addressing New Delhi’s concerns and countering east-bound jihadists, who are now seen to be inclining themselves with the epicentre of global Islamist terror in the Middle East.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a former member of staffHe can be reached at Follow him on Twitter

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