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India’s bid to isolate Pakistan fails

Trump hugging Modi

It was exactly a year ago when an India-Pakistan military stand-off produced cross border strikes in which an Indian jet was downed inside Pakistan and an Indian fighter pilot was captured. That episode led policy makers in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India to vow to pursue the policy of “isolating Pakistan in the world arena” even more strongly. 

Indian policy makers would have wanted to see their policy producing results and Pakistan blacklisted by the FATF. But this has not happened.

That the policy of “isolating Pakistan” has failed became evident before and during the visit of the US President Donald Trump to India, where despite all the pomp and show, Trump chose to call Pakistan ‘a friend’ and an ally against terrorism, a statement that goes very much against the Indian narrative that Pakistan is a ‘sponsor of terrorism.’ 

What added insult to injury was Trump’s hope to see tensions [over Kashmir] in South Asia being resolved, paving the way for greater stability and harmony across the whole of South Asia. 

Read Also: Issues that’ll arise after the US-Taliban deal

While this could very well just be rhetoric, it certainly has a lot of importance for Pakistan as far as the ‘war of narratives’ is concerned, wherein Pakistan has been trying to internationalize the Kashmir issue while India is saying that Kashmir is an ‘internal matter.’

Trump made the two statements despite all the claims that both Trump and Modi made about India and US having “deep relations.” To quote Modi, “The arrival of Trump and his family reflects the family-like close ties between the two countries. The ties between US and India are not just another partnership, it is a far greater and deeper relationship.”

But behind the grandeur of ‘deep relations’ remain tensions and changing regional geo-politics. 

Firstly, India-US trade ties remain full of friction with no ‘trade deal’ yet in sight. Even before leaving for India, Trump had criticized Indian trade tariffs, leaving a question mark on the overall purpose of the trip. The underlying trade tensions explain why Trump chose, challenging Indian policy, to project Pakistan as an ally against terrorism. 

As far as the possibility of India-US trade-deal is concerned, it continues to look difficult not merely because of technical issues of trade but because of the tendency of Trump and Modi to take nationalistic lines. Both aim to protect their national economic interests in zero-sum terms. This explains why the ‘trade war’ erupted in the first place and why it continues to defy resolution. 

On the one hand, there is President Trump’s “America First” policy, and on the other hand, there is Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” campaign, making a trade deal between the two countries a lot more difficult than it would have been the case otherwise. 

Although the US and India would eventually be able to sort things out, the on-going tussle has benefitted Pakistan directly in terms of enhancing its regional profile vis-à-vis India, especially when India has been seeking to impress upon the US to be ‘tough’ on Pakistan. 

India-US bad trade-relations, however, explain only a part of the reason why the US is speaking highly of Pakistan. 

Pakistan’s constructive and, in fact, central role in facilitating US-Taliban talks and the peace deal has certainly changed the trajectory of Pakistan-US ties. This is obvious from Trump’s own changing claims about Pakistan. 

For instance, soon after coming into power, Trump accused Pakistan of having taken almost US$ 31 billion from the US and done nothing for the US in Afghanistan. Today, the US sees Pakistan as an inevitable partner in ending the US’ longest ever war. 

This has rightly been called Pakistan’s ‘triumphal moment in regional security’, a situation that Pakistan is using to its advantage in all possible ways, including countering Indian designs vis-à-vis Afghanistan and its desire to see that the Taliban remain out of power. 

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister minced no words when pointing this out when he said that “the US and its allies around the region must remain wary of certain elements who benefit from continued fighting [in Afghanistan]. I warned him that these elements are bent on destroying the progress of our peace efforts.”

Read Also: Why will the Afghan war come to an end?

At the same time, Pakistan’s extended role in Afghanistan’s peace process has allowed it to navigate the difficult path of FATF reforms. While Pakistan is yet to fully implement the FATF action plan, the role it is playing in Afghanistan has endeared it to member countries greatly who seem to have calculated that putting Pakistan on the FATF blacklist (because of Indian lobbying) might jeopardize the Afghan peace process. 

For Indian policy makers, this situation presents a fate accompli in that they are finding it increasingly difficult to convince the international community to be ‘tough’ on Pakistan. 

Pakistan is going to remain very much a part of the next stage of Afghan talks i.e., the “Intra-Afghan” negotiations. This means that Pakistan will remain relevant for the US even after the end of the US war in Afghanistan; for, as far as US interests are concerned, Afghanistan would continue to matter to the US even after withdrawal because of the its relevance in the US’ new ‘Central Asia Strategy’ that aims to connect Afghanistan with the Central Asian States in order to allow the US to counter the influence of Russia and China.