India received widespread support of the international community in the condemnation of the Pulwama attack, with some influential countries calling upon Pakistan to take action against terror groups. Barring the Chinese call to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries and a proforma condemnation of the Balakot strike by the OIC Contact Group, Pakistan received no support from any other country against the Indian action. The invitation to the Indian Minister of External Affairs to address the OIC Ministerial meeting in the UAE as a guest of honour on March 1, which compelled the Pakistani Foreign Minister to stay away from it, was a telling commentary on Pakistan’s dwindling clout, even in the OIC. The international support to India also exerted pressure on Pakistan for quick release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.
The decision to withdraw the MFN status, given to Pakistan in 1996, can be justified only in terms of reciprocity, because Pakistan has not so far given this status to India. However, since Pakistan’s exports to India have been less than two percent of their annual exports, the decision might hurt individual exporters, but in unlikely to influence the mindset of Pakistan’s security establishment that controls its terror machine. It may also raise the cost of Pakistani items for Indian consumers in view of the sharp tariff hike. Alternatively, they may have to get the same goods from some other sources, losing the freight advantage in the case of imports from Pakistan.
The value of the Balakot strike, described as pre-emptive action, lies in it being an expression of intent by India to use air power to hit terror targets on the Pakistani territory, when necessary. Therefore, notwithstanding the extent of damage caused by the strike, it would result in some disruption of Pakistan’s terror machine by causing uncertainty in the minds of their terror planners and forcing them to adapt by, inter alia, relocating the terror facilities deeper inside Pakistan. However, it is unlikely to put an end to Pakistan sponsored terror against us. The Government was wise in not escalating after Pakistan’s retaliation because both the trajectory and outcome of such escalation would have been completely uncertain. Moreover, the influential countries that had stood by us after Pulwama, counselled restraint on both sides after Pakistan retaliated. The de-escalation that followed bears the imprint of behind the scenes diplomacy by third countries that continue to remain engaged to defuse tensions. As per media reports, the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister, Kong Xuanyou visited Pakistan on March 6 and the Saudi Foreign Minister is also due to visit Islamabad.
The action taken by Pakistan against terror groups so far is in the nature of reversible steps taken in the past under similar circumstances that did not result in any meaningful change from our point of view. Therefore, we will have to keep an eye on further action, if any, that Pakistan may take. It is also to be seen if China withdraws its objection to the listing of Masood Azhar as a global terrorist, although that would be largely a symbolic victory for us because those listed similarly in the past, including Hafiz Saeed, have continued to operate freely from the Pakistani territory. Pakistan’s terror machine has been very active in Kashmir for the last few years. If international pressure makes them at least scale down their interference in Kashmir, it could help us in calming the situation in the valley. The Pakistanis have been calling for dialogue with India. However, in view of the impending elections, it is highly unlikely that the Government of India would resume dialogue. Pakistan is arraigned before the Financial Action Task Force (which condemned the Pulwama terror attack and expressed dissatisfaction with the action taken by Pakistan to check terror funding and money laundering), faces a financial crisis and needs a bailout from the IMF. Therefore, we should continue to work with our international partners to keep up pressure on Pakistan to take meaningful action against the terror groups operating from its soil.
March 8, 2019