The European Union (EU) Foreign Policy Chief, Federica Mogherini held talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and agreed to kickstart a new strategic engagement plan with Islamabad. The high-level EU visit to Islamabad came weeks after the EU severely condemned the terror attack in Pulwama, which was claimed by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM). The EU had asked Pakistan to “continue addressing terrorism including clear and sustained actions targeting not only all UN-listed terrorist groups but also individuals claiming responsibility for such attacks”.
Some of the European countries like Germany, Poland, UK and France had also expressed their concerns about terrorist groups operating within Pakistan. The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas had specifically asked his Pakistani counterpart to take steps to “put a stop to cross-border terrorism”.
In the UN Security Council sanctions committee, soon afterwards, three permanent members—the US, France and UK—had moved a proposal to designate JeM Chief, Masood Azhar as an acknowledged terrorist and leader of UN-designated terrorist organisation. Excepting China, all other 14 members, including Russia and Germany, had supported the proposal.
The Pulwama terror attack had sparked off international opprobrium for Pakistan’s lack of seriousness in handling terror groups launching attacks on India. China chose to go against the decision of all other countries in the UN Security Council, and came to the rescue of Pakistan. Back home in Pakistan, however, many commentators found it grotesque that Pakistan kept wasting its diplomatic energy on the head of an outfit it had banned.
According to Pakistani media reports, in his meeting with the EU foreign policy chief, Pakistan Foreign Minister Qureshi and his team had to do quite a bit of talking to convince Ms. Mogherini about the steps Pakistan was taking to fight the menace of extremism and terrorism and its readiness to fulfill its responsibilities and commitments to the world community.
The EU, US, UK and Germany had engaged Pakistan to persuade it to fight terror that almost led two nuclear armed countries to the brink of a full-blown war in the aftermath of Pulwama. However, there are also concerns that Pakistan would not move beyond taking cosmetic action against the terror outfits. Islamabad has been using these groups for a long time almost like an extension of its army to undertake terror attacks in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.One major issue gripping the minds of the commentators on Pakistani media these days is the threat of black-listing by Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The Paris-based body focuses on curbing terror financing and money laundering worldwide and is due to review whether Pakistan has made enough progress to meet global standards to enable its removal from the FATF’s grey list. Smarting under grave economic crises, Pakistan fears prolongation of grey-listing by FATF or eventual black-listing would pose critical challenges for Pakistan in the long run.
There is a discernible pattern in Pakistan’s behaviour in the face of international pressure. Stronger the pressure, greater is the compulsion for Pakistan to take some perfunctory action against these groups, as was noticed after 9/11 and also Mumbai and Pathankot attacks.
However, once the pressure is relaxed, the familiar policy of using terror as an instrument of its foreign policy is back in action. Pakistani leadership has also always used the bogey of dialogue with India as a façade to resolve all outstanding issues peacefully. In reality, however, its deep state has activated terror groups to spoil the environment every time there has been some effort to restart talks between the two countries. Against this backdrop, India’s policy of working with the international community on the issue of Pak-sponsored terror seems quite pragmatic.
Only sustained international pressure, with due monitoring of the ground situation in Pakistan may lead to incremental policy shifts in the right direction in Islamabad and reduce regional tensions.
Script: Dr. Ashok Behuria, Senior Fellow & Coordinator South Asia Centre, IDSA