Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Our Pak-China focus hurts India's stature in the world

Could India have handled the contentious issue of terrorism differently?

The India-chaired online Shanghai Organisation Cooperation (SCO) summit in New Delhi did not go very well for India, and the experts are busy explaining it away. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made a veiled attack on Pakistan in the context of cross-border terrorism, and Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had responded by calling out state terrorism without naming India because Pakistan believes that India is using state terrorism in Kashmir. China did not seem too ruffled when India did not sign on the economic statement because India objects to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). So, there was an internal squabble among India, Pakistan, China which had sort of marred the summit outcome.

The question arises: Could India have handled the contentious issue of terrorism differently? Could India’s objection to BRI passing through PoK could have been raised outside the summit meeting, so that India as chair could have pulled off a successful event. There will be arguments that there’s no need for India to soft-peddle problematic issues that concern this country, and that it is strong enough to talk frankly without rocking the SCO boat. But as the host country of the summit, India perhaps should have made its views known without making it appear as a quarrel. New Delhi’s SCO summit has left a bad taste in the mouth as it were, and coming as it does two months before the G-20 summit in September, which again is being chaired by India, it casts a shadow on India’s role as a global leader.

The new mood in the Narendra Modi government is that it is high time for India to speak its mind and that it now occupies an important niche in global affairs and that other countries are willing to listen to India. This has proved to be right when external affairs minister S. Jaishankar was unambiguous in expressing India’s views on the Russia-Ukraine war. The United States and the European Union have acquiesced in India’s stance without agreeing to it. So, there is a sense of bonding based on mutual respect, which again turns on mutual dependence. The US and the EU look to the large Indian market and they do not want to miss the woods for the trees.

But India’ stance on Pakistan-backed cross-border terrorism issue does not seem to carry the same weight. Ideally, India would want economic sanctions against Pakistan for its patronage of anti-India Islamic terror groups. But the world is not really concerned as Pakistan-based terror organisations attack only India and they do not operate in other parts of the world. Pakistan has been subject to monitoring of terrorism finance by the international organisation, Financial Action Task Force (FATF), because money laundering and terror finance mar global financial flows. Pakistan had been on the “grey list” of FATF ever since 2018 and it was removed from the list only in October 2022. Pressure on Pakistan in the matter continues from the Asian affiliate of FATF, the Asia Pacific Group (APG). Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden had in their joint statement talked about enhancing compliance standards against money laundering counter-terrorism finance measures.

It is in this context that India, as the SCO chair, could have kept to the general agenda, which of course centres around security. Right now, the threat to security emerges from wars between countries as the one in Ukraine more that terrorism from non-state Islamic militants.

It is also useful for Indian policymakers to keep in mind the fact that India battled terrorism in Punjab in 1980s and in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s on its own, and there was Pakistani complicity in terrorism as it unfolded in these two Indian states. Terrorism became a global issue only after the terror attacks in New York and Washington on September 9, 2001. India, under the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, was keen to join the global war against terrorism in the hope that Pakistan’s support for anti-India Islamic terrorist groups would be reined in, and Islamabad would be censured. It did not happen because the Americans needed the Pakistani bases to fight the futile war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Narendra Modi government has to realise that the Americans have left the war against global terrorism far behind, and are now focused entirely on the war in Ukraine against Russia, and they are likely to move away from Ukraine too soon because they are now worried about Chinese economic dominance. So, for Prime Minister Modi and for Mr Jaishankar to harp on Pakistan’s involvement in anti-India terrorism is not getting the attention that it is expected to get. It can happen only when Indian economy becomes more vital for the world, especially for Europe and North America, and they will respond to India’s concerns by imposing economic sanctions against Pakistan, which is what India wants and quite rightly so. But this is unlikely to happen now. It is not good for India to send out a “cry-baby” signal to the world. Pakistan’s support for terrorism against India has boomeranged and the economic implosion is a striking after-effect.

Pakistan’s terror war against India has been repelled successfully, and without any international support. It is therefore not necessary to snub Pakistan whenever India gets an opportunity to do so. As a matter of fact, India should be quietly targeting the terror camps in Pakistan with or without fanfare, and show the rest of the world that India can handle security threats on its own. If India wants to be the influential global power it aspires to be, it should not raise bilateral issues at international forums.

And with regard to China, India has cold-shouldered the BRI right from the time it was mooted in 2013. The Chinese presence in a part of PoK has been a longtime fact and there was no need to use it as a reason for not signing on the economic statement with its BRI component. Despite the standoff across the Pangong Lake in eastern Ladakh, and India’s ban on some of Chinese imports, India-China trade continues to flourish.

There is a real need for India to keep aside its bilateral grouses with Pakistan and China at international summits. It does not add to India’s global stature.

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