Stuck in the terrorism groove

Instead of isolating Pakistan at every forum, India must broad-base its diplomatic outreach

October 24, 2016 12:23 am | Updated December 04, 2021 10:50 pm IST

“It ill behoves a country like India with a long record of using its UN membership for the common good to fall in one groove, however important that issue may be.” PM Narendra Modi with Brazilian President Michel Temer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and South African President Jacob Zuma at the BRICS Summit in Goa.

“It ill behoves a country like India with a long record of using its UN membership for the common good to fall in one groove, however important that issue may be.” PM Narendra Modi with Brazilian President Michel Temer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and South African President Jacob Zuma at the BRICS Summit in Goa.

For India, a country that has worked in multilateral fora for nearly 70 years on a global agenda, subsuming its interests in pursuit of the global good, the recent tendency to focus on a single issue like terrorism does not seem appropriate. Such an approach only confirms the suspicion that it is using terrorism as a convenient weapon to battle Pakistan diplomatically. Like Queen Gertrude says in Hamlet , people have begun to say: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

The way to India’s heart One point on which the world ridiculed Pakistan in the past was that it could not think beyond Kashmir, whatever the forum and the topic for discussion. India is today on its way to opening itself to similar criticism — that it is stuck in the terrorism groove. India’s warnings about terrorism in and around South Asia fell on deaf ears for more than 20 years, but the revelation that the 9/11 attacks were the handiwork of terrorists with similar affiliation to those who were attacking India changed the whole situation. Now there is no doubt that the “mother ship of terrorism” is Pakistan. No one disputes the attributes we have given to Pakistan in this context. But for India to pursue isolation of Pakistan on this count at every forum and to make it a litmus test of every country’s friendship to India does more harm than good. Every speech of the Prime Minister, regardless of the venue and the topic of discussion, is a ringing denunciation of cross-border terrorism.

The BRICS Goa summit was turned into a battle of wits between India and its guests as to how far the group could go in identifying itself with India in isolating Pakistan. Moreover, India made no secret of its motivation and made it clear to its guests that the way to India’s heart was by targeting Pakistan. Given the fact that no one wants to create enemies in such diplomatic conclaves, many of them, particularly the Chinese, may have felt uncomfortable to be caught in an awkward situation. Eventually, China acted as Pakistan’s proxy in the discussions in Goa.

The outcome of the Goa meetings could have been projected as a diplomatic victory for India if the expectations were not pitched so high by the Prime Minister himself. What we have is a condemnation of terrorism in all its manifestations, a consensus position of the UN itself, without a definition of terrorism, which has eluded the international community even after 9/11. The global concern over the growth of the Islamic State (IS) appeared to take precedence over the special situation in South Asia as the IS is now “spread over” more than 30 countries and others dread its expansion. India should take the opportunity to speak strongly against the IS and project cross-border terrorism as another manifestation of the same problem. Building a broader constituency against terrorism is more beneficial than focussing on its own specific situation. By narrowing down exclusively to the action India expects from the international community to meet its concerns, such as declaring Pakistan as a terrorist state, may not have the desired effect. It will also not persuade China to lift its veto over including Masood Azhar on the UN list of terrorists.

A single dignified and forceful presentation by India to multilateral fora, leaving it to the member countries to tackle the issue effectively, would be more appropriate. Anticipating the possible outcome and calibrating India’s requests accordingly should have been the strategy to be adopted. Otherwise, the wide gap between India’s assertions and the language of the outcome will be visible to all. Together with India’s application for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and aspiration to permanent membership of the UN Security Council, the country appears to be knocking at too many doors instead of offering global solutions to global problems. India recently modified its position of “eligibility” for permanent membership to its “right”. Such assertions will have no impact on others unless its demand is projected as part of the need to correct the imbalance in a crucial world body.

A new course of action India confining itself to the terrorism groove shows lack of direction when it has altered the dynamics of its relations with Pakistan by carrying out surgical strikes. Having taken precipitate action, India should move in a predetermined course of action. The old pattern of terrorist attack by Pakistan, angry verbal reaction by India and resumption of dialogue does not make sense anymore. If such a course has not been prepared, this is the time to frame such a course of action. This could consist of informing the international community of the state of play, combatting terrorism on the ground with measured use of force, and dealing with the internal situation in Jammu and Kashmir with a view to eliminating internal support to cross-border terrorism. Other options available to India such as amendment of the Indus Waters Treaty, trade sanctions, and so on should also be considered. Efforts to isolate Pakistan as part of the strategy contradicts India’s established position against internationalising the Kashmir issue.

The clear lesson to be learnt from recent experience is that the world at large does not see terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir as part of the global terrorism which threatens international peace and security. The recognition by the UN that Kashmir is a disputed territory influences the policy of most nations, including those who are friendly with India. A broader framework for the terrorism debate shows a way out for those who support India without wanting to get embroiled in a dispute.

India’s pursuit of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that was tabled in the UN General Assembly in 1996 has very little chance of success. It was seen at that time as an anti-Pakistan measure. The convention received some attention by the legal committee of the UN in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, but it got stuck in the old argument that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

India’s advocacy of nuclear disarmament is an excellent example of the country subsuming its interest in the desire of the global community for a nuclear weapon-free world. It was only when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime became discriminatory that India stepped out of it and took a firm decision not to sign the treaty. On the question of fissionable material, India stands ready to join the negotiations on the Fissionable Material Cut-off Treaty rather than plough a lonely furrow. India harmonised its position with that of the developing countries in environmental negotiations to protect its interests and succeeded up to the point of formulating the Kyoto Protocol.

It ill behoves a country like India with a long record of using its membership of the UN for the common good to fall in one groove, however important that issue may be. Multilateralism accepts constant reiterations of national positions, but to forge a consensus, the positions should be integrated with common concerns to the extent possible.

T.P. Sreenivasan is a former Ambassador of India and Director General of the Kerala International Centre, Thiruvananthapuram.

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