A flurry of developments over the last week in Pakistan suggest a visible shift in Pakistan’s policy towards India, particularly over the question of New Delhi’s alleged involvement in fueling militancy in the country.
Earlier this week, Pakistan’s interior minister Rana Sanaullah claimed that India’s intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was behind the 2021 bombing near the residence of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed in Lahore. Saeed is accused of masterminding the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people. Saeed has rejected the allegation.
Following Sanaullah’s presser, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar held a press conference in which she claimed that “no country had used terrorism better than India” and urged the international community to take note of New Delhi’s attempts to weaken Pakistan.
In addition to raising the issue domestically, Pakistan appears to have launched a renewed diplomatic offensive to persuade the international community that India is a perpetrator of terrorism in the region rather than a victim. “To play on the back of the attention of the world on terrorism and to play the victim, no country has benefited from it better than India,” Khar stressed during the presser.
As expected, the country’s foreign office has been quick to advance the conversation. Two days ago, Pakistan’s newly appointed foreign secretary, Asad Majeed Khan, briefed the Islamabad diplomatic corps, including envoys from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), about India’s alleged fomenting of terror in Pakistan.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari took the issue to the U.N., where he was engaged in a war of words with the Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar regarding terror allegations. Responding to Jaishankar’s terror-related allegations against Pakistan that he made at an interaction with journalists at the UNSC on Wednesday, Bilawal said: “I want to tell India that Osama bin Laden has been killed while the butcher of Gujarat is still alive and he is the Prime Minister of India.”
Interestingly, both countries have squared off over the issue of militancy at a time when there are no accusations from New Delhi regarding militant intrusions across the Line of Control (LoC). The development is even more interesting as it comes at a time when there are no clashes taking place between the Pakistani and Indian militaries anywhere.
Several reasons explain the timing of Pakistan’s renewed effort to up the ante against India. A government official told The Diplomat on condition of anonymity that the diplomatic offensive being launched by Pakistan against India over the question of terrorism perhaps points to a change in the policy of the new military leadership in the country. “Pakistan’s new army chief, General Syed Asim Munir, appears to be intent on seeing Pakistan make a more forceful case internationally regarding India’s efforts to undermine Pakistan,” the official said. However, according to the official, Islamabad’s apparent “hardline stance” is not necessarily aimed at undermining the backchannel contacts between the two countries. Nor will it have an impact on the existing ceasefire at the LoC.
Perhaps Pakistan anticipated an Indian attack at the recent UNSC meeting on terrorism that was chaired by Jaishankar and therefore felt the need to counter the expected Indian assault ahead and with a similar or better effort. It would have been surprising had Pakistan not brought up its own claims of New Delhi’s alleged involvement in terrorism ahead of the UNSC meeting on terrorism.
Islamabad considers India to be a key facilitator of terrorism in Pakistan. India is its main counterterrorism challenge. It has always been a challenge for Pakistan to convince the international community to take serious note of its charges.
Pakistan’s diplomatic salvo against India has convinced many in Islamabad that the country has an opening to engage the international community better on the issue of India-backed terrorism in Pakistan, particularly in the context of zero Indian claims over border incursions. A government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, pointed out that Jaishankar “talked about Pakistan hosting Osama Bin Laden – an issue that is more than ten years old now.” “This is encouraging for Pakistan,” he said, “as there are no new Indian allegations against Islamabad.”
This was confirmed, one way or the other, by the Indian foreign office.
In a statement on Friday, Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for India’s foreign ministry, described Zardari’s remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a “new low,” adding that his “uncivilized outburst seems to be a result of Pakistan’s increasing inability to use terrorists and their proxies.” In the statement, Bagchi implicitly admitted that Pakistan is not using proxies at the LoC or elsewhere – an assertion that also shows that beyond trading barbs on terror, lines of communication between the two countries remain in place. This is an area on which Islamabad should look to focus if it wants to level up the game with New Delhi internationally. For instance, the country should be looking to market India’s inability to bring up new terror-related evidence more aggressively to reclaim some space on the terror narrative globally.
It would be interesting to see how Pakistan scales up its diplomatic effort in this regard. In the coming days, we will know more if Islamabad’s outburst was only timed to counter the UNSC event or a part of a more focused approach by the new military leadership to show the international community that Pakistan won’t lose the battle of narratives vis-à-vis India.