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Diplomatic isolation in bits & pieces

Govt’s verbal slugfests do not achieve much17 Feb 2019 | 7:52 AM[ + read story ]

Sandeep Dikshit in New Delhi

If External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was prescient while speaking in Parliament a week before the Pulwama attack, she would have eschewed the part commending the Indian diplomatic community for getting Pakistan “successfully blacklisted by the comity of nations”. The talk of diplomatically isolating Pakistan entered the governmental lexicon in January 2016 after a spate of attacks rocked the government’s equanimity. Since then, the only two successes chalked by Indian diplomacy is getting Pakistan blackballed by the Financial Action Task Force and preventing it from hosting the SAARC summit, which was in the nature of a self-goal, for the move has wrecked the organisation that India had created.

Since then, there have been pyrrhic victories or even verbal slugfests touted as diplomatic wins such as young Indian diplomat Eenam Gambhir berating Pakistan as “Terroristan”. Pakistan has, in the past, endured such barbs from more powerful countries and bigger statesmen like John McCain and Barack Obama. 

There are many tools for isolating a country and diplomatic isolation of the kind India professes to practice would rank as the lowest on the scale. The successful deployment of policy tools hinges on the offended country’s economic and military power, besides its interconnections with the target country.

The attempt at isolation is long drawn out and the outcome is unpredictable. Venezuela and Iran are two test cases where the US is attempting a regime change by strangulating their economies. As India-Pakistan ties are skeletal, all that New Delhi had to be content with is withdrawing the Most Favoured Nation status.

If Sushma Swaraj was correct in stating in May last year that Pakistan is trying to reach out to India because it senses isolation on the issue of terrorism, Islamabad wouldn’t have managed to gather representatives or ships of 46 countries for a five-day multinational exercise that ended a week back. 

And while the foreign office talks of diplomatic isolation, it later emerged that the national security advisers of both countries had secretly met. Pakistan even managed to cadge generous assistance from Saudi Arabia, which is now said to be in India’s corner on the strength of PM Modi’s personal chemistry with the sheikhs of West Asia. Diplomatic isolation also does not cut ice with other countries when India not just keeps alive the back channels of communication, but also sends two union ministers to Pakistan for the Kartarpur project ceremony.

India needs to spell out, like the US or Russia, what exactly does diplomatic isolation mean? Is it hot words at international meets or a sustained multi-dimensional effort with an end goal in sight? Does the UNSC blacklisting of Masood Azhar achieve anything? The US has, in the past, put hundreds of Taliban fighters on the UNSC blacklist only to pull some of them out when it felt the need to negotiate a settlement.

The end game of demolishing terrorist headquarters at Muridke (Hafiz Saeed) and Bahawalpur (Azhar Masood) and killing both the leaders entails a degree of ruthlessness, pain and risks an embarrassing blowback. Is Modi up for it? He should have in mind that his “dear friend” Benjamin Netanyahu owes his political longevity in part to his older brother’s heroics in rescuing Israeli hostages from a hijacked plane at Entebbe. Or that Barack Obama’s path for re-election was smoothened by the capture of Osama bin Laden. That, however, means moving from diplomatic isolation to military action, firm in the belief that the diplomats have insured against any other country coming to the offending country’s aid as was the case with Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

If India’s past wars are any guide, Pakistan was not exactly friendless during the 1965 and 1971 hostilities. In 1971, the Shah of Iran supplied military equipment as well as diplomatic support against India. In 1965, Indonesia offered to seize Andaman and Nicobar Islands to spread Indian forces thin. But Kargil provided a different benchmark. Hardly any country spoke in favour of Pakistan. In the end, US President Bill Clinton browbeat Nawaz Sharif into handing back mountain peaks that hadn’t been recaptured by the Army. As long as a former Pakistan military chief heads the 41-nation Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, the sledgehammer approach is unlikely to work. The limited conflict of Kargil and the preceding diplomacy makes one long for the measured escalation of those days by the trio of Vajpayee, Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra. 

Diplomatic isolation  in bits & piecesTribune photos: Amin War, Vicky and Agencies
JeM surge, Afghanistan, a Valley in turmoil

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17 Feb 2019 | 7:52 AM

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