Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has perfunctorily, routinely and unconvincingly maintained that terrorism has no place in “Naya Pakistan”. The recent terror attack in Iran’s Sistan province near the Pakistan border that killed 27 Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and the other terror attack, almost simultaneously, along the India-Pakistan Line of Control (LoC) in India’s Pulwama that killed over 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans, were amongst the deadliest terror attacks in the respective nations. In both these terror attacks, the governments in Tehran and Delhi had squarely, unambiguously and convincingly pointed the finger at the Pakistani establishment and its usual machinations, through its affiliates.
To Pakistan’s good luck, Iran’s own undeserved and unwarranted taint as a “terror nation” had ensured minimal international traction and condemnation of Pakistan, whilst India battled its own tryst with “Naya Pakistan” post-Pulwama, with Pakistan’s “all-weather-friend” China, bailing it out from a potentially sticky position at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). All the while US President Donald Trump dished out platitudes like, “very very bad situation between India and Pakistan”, and yet continued unashamedly with his latest policy U-turn on Af-Pak dynamics, by deliberately engaging, enlisting and ensuring Pakistani presence in the Afghan morass, as the US sought to extricate itself out of the mess in Afghanistan, which was generously contributed by Pakistan. Earlier, US accusations of “lies and deceit” at Islamabad’s patent doublespeak on terrorism were conveniently forgotten, as the embattled regime of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul, along with Tehran and Delhi looked on befuddled at the selective amnesia of Washington D.C. and its realpolitik moves. While sovereign nations were susceptible to fickle behaviours and relationships, it was left to the multilateral institutions like the UNSC and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to pursue the case of Pakistani patronage, support and acceptance of terrorism. True to its functional and unbiased mandate, the UNSC is back to haunt the Pakistanis with yet another draft resolution to blacklist Pakistan-based terrorist Masood Azhar as an “international terrorist”, whereas the regional subsidiary of the FATF i.e. Asia-Pacific Group (APG), has come down heavily on the Pakistani inaction and insincerity on blocking funds and activities of terror organisations, as part of its latest country risk assessment report. This leaves Islamabad with the task of “managing” its dangerous double-game and dalliances with the invaluable help of China and some Gulf sheikhdoms — while the Iranians remain internationally ignored and the Indians distracted in their own electoral frenzy and vortex.
However, it was left to the equally afflicted and irritated government in Kabul to call the latest bluff on Pakistani intransigence, duplicity and incorrigibility, as it too feels sidelined and “set up” by the Pakistanis in the latest round of engagements. The trigger to the Afghan angst was a hardly naïve comment from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan professing an interim government in Kabul — tantamount to blaming the current regime in Kabul for the stalemate and impasse in bringing peace to Afghanistan. The Afghan government was justifiably horrified at what they perceived as an affront to their legitimacy and sovereign pride — with Pakistan slyly shifting the blame on the official Afghan regime, while washing away any blame onto the Taliban terrorists or onto the Pakistanis, themselves. The Afghans recalled their envoy to Pakistan to express their dismay, while the former head of Afghan Intelligence Services and vice-presidential candidate in the forthcoming elections, Amrullah Saleh, echoed the sentiment by saying: “We will never bow to Pakistan”. The official statement from the Afghan government was as direct, “an obvious example of Pakistan’s interventional policy and disrespect to the national sovereignty and determination of the people of Afghanistan”. Sensing the magnitude of anger in Afghanistan, even the US was forced into taking a position on Imran Khan’s chicanery and the US special representative on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad was left with tweeting the obvious: “The future of #Afghanistan is for #Afghans, and only Afghans, to decide”!
No amount of Imran Khan’s subsequent retractions and clarifications of being “misinterpreted” could put the lid on the region’s spontaneous outrage at Pakistan’s basic instincts. There is a clear and documented pattern of Pakistani interference and enthusiasm in the affairs of its neighouring countries — it comes wrapped in the context of “strategic depth” and aspirations of a beholden government in Kabul, it comes through the angle of misplaced “co-religiosity” in Kashmir, and in the form of a wider sectarian undercurrent against Iran, as Islamabad throws its weight behind the “Sunni-bloc” of the Gulf sheikhdoms. Feeble attempts to posture a changed narrative in “Naya Pakistan”, comes undone in the backdrop of Pakistan-propped terror attacks in Iran, Afghanistan and India, as indeed in the sort of the Freudian slip by Imran Khan in giving unsolicited advice, owing to Pakistan’s undeserved place on the Afghan negotiation table.
Unlike India, which the US believes is capable of defending its own turf and interests, and Iran, for which it cares little for — managing the Afghan perceptions on the Pakistani interference will test the US’ abilities to control the Pakistanis. Already the ghost and price for “abandoning” the Afghans to their fate with a domineering Pakistan in the early 1990s is a memory that the US can ill-afford to repeat. Expectedly, the sincerity and maturity of the current Pakistani establishment is a matter of grave concern, with a Union minister (ironically, for human rights) name-calling the US envoy to Afghanistan a “little pygmy” and later added the term “moron” onto the US diplomat! With the Indians embroiled in their own electoral theatrics and the Iranians unfortunately not counting for much in Capitol Hill, the regional gauntlet passes onto the Afghans to continue pressuring Pakistan along with the parallel push by the multilateral agencies into checkmating Islamabad, and by that logic, even goading the US into ensuring that Imran Khan walks the talk of “Naya Pakistan”. Pakistani infamy in “ball-tampering” and “game-fixing” have entered the diplomatic lexicon as well.