Huffington Post

Pakistan's Growing Isolation

Research Fellow
The Parliament House building in Islamabad on January 6, 2015. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
The Parliament House building in Islamabad on January 6, 2015. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistanis do not want to believe it but Pakistan is increasingly isolated in a world that is regionally integrated, economically interconnected and has reduced tolerance for terrorism. Pakistan's obsessive ‘eternal conflict’ with India attracts less attention than during the Cold War era. India has retained most of its Cold war alliances and expanded ties with western and Arab countries. Its ties with China have also grown notwithstanding Pakistan’s belief in an ‘all-weather friendship’ with Beijing.

Pakistan’s media exaggerated the importance of joint military exercises with Russia to argue that stories about Pakistan’s international isolation are exaggerated. There was little mention in Pakistan of China’s joint military exercises with India. The harsh reality, from Islamabad’s perspective, remains that most major world powers seek enhanced engagement with an economically expanding India. They do not wish to condone Pakistan’s support for jihadi groups.

Pakistan’s all-powerful military and its civilian clients paint the specter of isolation simply as an Indian conspiracy in which other countries are unwilling actors.

Pakistan, unlike India, allied with the Western world – including the United Kingdom and the United States – during the Cold War era. In return Pakistan obtained economic and military assistance from the West. From the 1990s but especially after 9/11, Pakistan’s continued use of jihad as a lever of foreign policy both in Afghanistan and in India has brought it into conflict with both its Western allies as well as countries in the greater Muslim world.

Pakistan’s traditional international backers– the United Kingdom, the United States and even the Gulf Arab countries– now seem to believe that Islamabad will not change its policies unless there is public pressure. They have thus started to publicly send a message to Pakistan.

Pakistan, however, is not the reason for the deepening of India’s ties with the United Kingdom, the United States and the Gulf Arab world. In a world that is increasingly integrated both economically and strategically, India is appealing because of its economic potential, its geostrategic location, military capability and democratic norms.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is currently in India. During her visit May referred to India as “one of our most important and closest friends.” President Barack Obama has referred to ties with India as the defining partnership of the twenty-first century. During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia in April 2016 he was awarded one of their top civilian awards, the King Abdulaziz Sash.

How important India is can be gauged from the fact that this is May's first bilateral trip outside of Europe. The Prime Minister’s delegation was also accompanied by a strong business delegation. The aim of the trip, according to most analysts, is to boost India-UK trade. Brexit means that if the United Kingdom seeks to grow it needs to expand ties and sign trade deals with growing markets like India, Brazil and China.

India-UK bilateral trade stands at US $ 14 billion with UK being one of India’s top 25 trading partners. India is the third largest investor in the United Kingdom and the second largest international job creator with Indian companies having created over 110,000 jobs in the UK. India is also the second biggest investor in the city of London.

Joint statements issued at these meetings are a reflection of the deepening strategic importance of India’s ties. The January 2015 India-US joint statement spoke of “shared values of democracy and strong economic and people-to-people ties” between the two countries. The 2016 India-UK joint declaration asserts the two countries have “shared history,” “shared connections” and “shared values” that ensure “a natural partnership” and a “unique friendship.” (Read the declaration here.) The April 2016 joint statement released at the end of Mr Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia refers to “close and friendly bilateral ties, deep-rooted in shared history and sustained and nourished through growing economic partnership” between India and Saudi Arabia.

All these joint statements reflect the importance of economic issues (trade, infrastructure, ease of doing business, intellectual property rights and energy) and security challenges (counter terrorism, defense, cyber security and freedom of navigation).

However, what is striking is the inclusion, from 2010 onward, in every India-UK joint statement a sentence asking Pakistan to act against terror groups within the country. The 2013 and 2015 joint statements asked Pakistan to act against the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The November 2016 statement added the 2016 Pathankot terror attack to the list as well asking “Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai and 2016 Pathankot attack to justice.

The 2015 India-US Joint statement issued when President Obama visited India in January 2015 echoed the India-UK joint statements asking Pakistan to act against the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The symbolism of the statement made by the first American president to be the Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations was not understood by Pakistan. Instead the same day that President Obama was in India, Hafiz Saeed, the head of the jihadi group Lashkar e Taiba that is internationally sanctioned, held a public rally in Lahore. Similarly the joint statement issued at the Second India-US Strategic and Commercial dialogue in August 2016 asked Pakistan to also act against those behind the 2016 Pathankot attacks.

Even the April 2016 India-Saudi Arabia statement while not naming Pakistan explicitly stated: “The two leaders expressed strong condemnation of the phenomenon of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, irrespective of who the perpetrators were and of their motivations.” Further none of these statements mention Kashmir which used to be the norm earlier. In 2009 then foreign secretary David Miliband wrote an article arguing that resolution of Kashmir would “deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders.”

India’s economic potential, its military promise, democratic norms and people to people ties with countries around the world have shaped and will continue to shape how it is viewed by the global community. The 3 million strong Indian-American diaspora, the 1.5 million strong Indian diaspora in the United Kingdom and almost 3 million Indians living in Saudi Arabia play a critical role in building close relations.

Pakistan’s erstwhile allies in the West are close allies of India today. Key countries in the Muslim world like Saudi Arabia consider India a close friend and ally. The former King of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, referred to India as his second home. The Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Mohammed Bin Zayed will be the chief guest at India’s 68th Republic Day celebrations in January 2017.

Even within South Asia, the key focus of Pakistan’s foreign policy, Pakistan is facing isolation. When SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) was first set up during the 1980s, New Delhi saw it as a venue where the smaller neighbors would bandwagon against India. Today, while Indian still has a long way to go to assuage its neighbors on all fronts, SAARC minus Pakistan has become more integrated. Recently when India backed out of attending the 19th summit in Islamabad, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan announced they too would not attend the summit.