(External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj meets US Special Representative on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, New Delhi, January 10, 2019)
Breaking a prolonged period of several months, the Pakistani allegation of Indian involvement in terrorist attacks has surged. This appears during the first detailed media briefing by the Pakistani authorities in Karachi on January 13 on the results of the investigation over the terrorist strike on the Chinese consulate in the city last November.
Pakistan has blamed the Balochistan Liberation Army for staging the terrorist attack. Graphic details have been given claiming that the attack was “planned in Afghanistan” from where the Balochi terrorists travelled to Karachi.
India’s alleged role has been described variously in the Pakistani press as rendering “assistance” to the terrorists and “funding” them. One report mentions that the attack was “carried out with the assistance of Indian intelligence agency.” Indeed, immediately after the attack on November, a Pakistani security official had suggested that India “orchestrated” it. An AP report at that time had mentioned that Pakistan was investigating whether the Baluch separatist commander Aslam Achhu, who masterminded the attack, was in India.
The Pakistani assessment is that the Karachi attack was well planned over months and intended to cause rift in the China-Pakistan ties as well as to undermine the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) by highlighting the volatility of the city. It stands to reason that Pakistan would have shared with the Chinese any details in this regard.
The salience that must be noted here is that Pakistan has not finger-pointed at Kabul authorities directly or implicitly. In the past, the Pakistani allegation used to be that Indian and Afghan agencies collaborated in such enterprises.
Some other things stand out as well. The timing of the Pakistani disclosure is significant. First and foremost, it comes amidst signs of US-Taliban talks intensifying. A fourth round was expected to take place on Wednesday, but was called off by the Taliban on grounds of “agenda disagreement” with the Americans, in a clear snub to the US special representative Zalmay Khalilzad. Elsewhere, Taliban spokesman also told Reuters, “We (Taliban) have the feeling that Zalmay Khalilzad doesn’t have enough power to make important decisions.” Evidently, there is a fly in the ointment.
Interestingly, a former Pakistani diplomat Zamir Akram, who is an old India hand, wrote yesterday counseling that Pakistan should not harbor “unrealistic expectations” out of the Trump administration, as there may not be a “real change in policy towards Pakistan.” To quote Akram, “Washington continues to view relations with Islamabad through the prism of Afghanistan and not on the basis of relations with Pakistan in and of itself.”
He added, “Our Prime Minister should also resist the temptation, which his predecessors did not, of accepting a meeting with the American President as a “reward” in itself… Any meeting with Trump must lead to concrete results otherwise it would not be worth the effort.”
Amongst other things, Akram voiced disquiet that Washington is disrupting the India-Pakistan strategic parity in favor of India, and that “Pakistan’s relations with China and CPEC in particular are emerging as contentious issues in Pakistan-US relations.” He said that in an environment of “convergence in US-India relations but a growing divergence in the Islamabad-Washington equation,” Pakistan must diversify its foreign relations, and in particular, it “must further strengthen strategic partnership with China for which successful implementation of CPEC, despite American and Indian opposition, must be ensured.”
Zamir concluded by underscoring that a political settlement in Afghanistan should provide for an outcome that served Pakistan’s interests “in terms of ending Indian use of Afghan territory to promote terrorism in Pakistan, recognition of Pakistan’s security interests in Afghanistan, return of Afghan refugees and removal of US sanctions. We have the leverage to attain this, given the American reliance on Pakistan, not just for the dialogue with the Taliban but also due to the air and ground access we provide to the US for its presence in Afghanistan.” (Express Tribune)
Plainly put, strategic (nuclear) parity in South Asia, restrictions on Indian activities in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s security interests in Afghanistan, return of Afghan refugees and removal of US sanctions on Pakistan – they are still on the table. If Trump’s game plan is to swing a settlement riveted on Pakistani acquiescence with a reduced US military presence in Afghanistan (enabling him also to flaunt “troop withdrawal” in election year 2020) by pandering to PM Imran Khan’s vanities, it may not work.
Given India’s hardline policies toward Pakistan, it is improbable that Islamabad will compromise on its agenda to purge the Indian presence in Afghanistan. Therefore, the media disclosure on the terrorist attack in Karachi at this juncture must be taken as a signal to Washington as much as to Delhi. Most certainly, it coincides with the US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad’s visit to Delhi, where he enjoys a fabulous reputation for being an inveterate anti-Pakistani Afghan-American.
Unsurprisingly, chaffing under the Taliban’s snub, Khalilzad was assured of a warm reception in Delhi as an embattled hero. The press reports based on briefings suggest that Indian officials tore into Pakistan, warning the Trump administration about Islamabad’s machinations. Clearly, Delhi sized up that it has in Khalilzad a most receptive audience.
Alongside, there has also been a sudden burst of enthusiasm to inject some verve into the US-Indian ties, which have been languishing through the most recent years. It is entirely conceivable that India may place some orders for weaponry from American vendors, which would of course please Trump immensely.
To be sure, for Trump, withdrawal of US troops from Syria may turn out to be a picnic in comparison with what is in store in Afghanistan.