The ceremonial handover by Pakistan of a captured Indian Air Force pilot might make for good television, but Pakistan’s increasing global isolation is the story that has greater significance. Talking heads on television in both countries claim victory for their side on an almost daily basis. Amid this noise, and well after the current heat dissipates, it is Pakistan’s loss of friends abroad that will have strategic consequences.
The day Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman returned, Pakistan failed to attend a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), of which it is a founding member, for the first time ever. This was Pakistan’s way to protest the refusal by OIC foreign ministers to rescind their invitation to India’s foreign minister to address the conference in Abu Dhabi.
That India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, addressed the 57-member body of majority-Muslim countries while Pakistan was absent speaks volumes about the state of Pakistan’s ties even with traditional allies. The host, United Arab Emirates (UAE), had only recently helped bail Pakistan out of its economic difficulties. But it chose India over Pakistan as the preferred guest at the OIC meeting within a couple of weeks after the Pulwama terror attack and just a few days after the Indian air strike inside Pakistan.
India-Pakistan crises are not new, nor are terrorist attacks by Pakistan-based groups or India’s attempts to coerce Pakistan in their aftermath. What has changed this time is the regional and global reaction to both the February 14 terror attack at Pulwama, where a Jaish e Muhammad suicide bomber attacked an Indian paramilitary convoy, and India’s punitive action against Pakistan.
Almost every major country, as well as the United Nations Security Council, have been unequivocal in condemning the terrorist attack and most have not minced words in assigning the blame to Pakistan. Even China disregarded Pakistan’s usual ploy of linking terrorism to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir or demanding more evidence about those who orchestrated the attack in Pulwama.
This global condemnation was also visible at the February 17 meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) where Pakistan was kept on the grey list — meant for countries that have not done enough against money laundering and terrorist financing.
Pakistan has reacted to global opprobrium with predictable denials but there seem to be no takers for the disavowal outside Pakistan. In the eyes of the world, there is no question that terrorist groups continue to freely operate, recruit, and obtain financial support in Pakistan and the country’s government is not doing enough to control them.
Even after the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, statements by countries that used to be allies of Pakistan — the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union, as well as Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — provided some leeway to Pakistan. Words such as “non-state actors” were sometimes used alongside expressions of faith in Pakistan’s promises of acting against the terrorists.
That seems to have changed. No one is now willing to praise the Pakistan government’s actions against domestic terrorists while asking for action against terrorists targeting India and Afghanistan. Iran has joined Pakistan’s other two neighbours in alleging that Pakistan serves as a safe haven for terrorists, including those operating in Iran.
The US and Iran seldom agree on foreign policy these days but they are speaking in the same voice in terms of criticising Pakistan’s behaviour. Even after the Indian punitive raid on Balakot, the US State Department did not equate Indian and Pakistani conduct. Its statement stated, “We reiterate our call for Pakistan to abide by its United Nations Security Council commitments to deny terrorists safe haven and block their access to funds.”
The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs went farther when it said, “France recognises India’s legitimacy to ensure its security against cross-border terrorism and asks Pakistan to put an end to the operations of terrorist groups established on its territory.”
Statements by the Germans and Russians were no different. When Pakistan attempted to use the heightened India-Pakistan tensions to argue that Indian actions would hurt the Afghan peace process, Afghan leaders and the government called out Pakistan’s bluff and openly supported India.
India can now count on its economic and strategic partnerships to pressure Pakistan with the help of the international community. Pakistan is increasingly isolated in a world that is regionally integrated, economically interconnected, and has reduced tolerance for terrorism. That is India’s victory.