Turkish twist to Pakistan’s terror policy
India’s decades-old rivalry with Pakistan has tended to dictate its Afghan policy, no doubt. But now, the advent of Taliban-II has caused some real worries for its policymakers — whether we could expect an increase in Pak-sponsored terror. As the US’s only designated major defence partner, Indian concerns in this respect have surely been conveyed to it, as also recently during the Defence Policy Group meeting between the two countries
Gp Capt Murli Menon (Retd)
During my consular tenure in Ankara (Turkey) from 2008 to 2011, one acknowledged achievement of diplomats in the mission (support staff included, of course) was the favourable reinforcement of the host country’s age-old fondness for India, as against the trumped-up factoids in favour of our ‘twin-at-birth’ Pakistan. It took some doing to convince the then Turkish PM Recep Erdogan (now President) and his minions that it was undivided India from whence substantial gold jewellery and other donations came to Turkey during the Khilafat (also called Caliphate) movement, and not from Pakistan, because there was no Pakistan during the movement!
I had stood in for the late Ambassador Ramindar Jassal at an official dinner with Erdogan and experienced the newfound bonhomie first-hand. This goodwill has supposedly petered out over the past decade or so, as Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman Islamist leanings pushed him again towards his Pakistani brethren.
India’s decades-old rivalry and competition with Pakistan has tended to dictate its Afghan policy, no doubt. But now, the advent of Taliban-II has caused some real worries for its policymakers — whether we could expect an increase in Pak-sponsored terror. As the US’s only designated major defence partner, Indian concerns in this respect have surely been conveyed to it, as also earlier this month during the Defence Policy Group meeting between the two countries.
Clearly, the Americans are in a quandary about handling Pakistan, mainly for reasons of gaining continued access to its airspace for the critical air operations that would be required over Afghanistan should push come to shove counter-terror-wise. So, Uncle Sam is bound to ride a thin wedge to tailor its counter-terror priorities with partners such as India whilst ensuring that Pakistan is kept on tenterhooks for airspace considerations.
Meanwhile, India’s diplomatic clout has been shown amply by the recent retention of Pakistan on the Grey List of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Be that as it may, Pakistan has other worries on this score. Its bosom buddy Turkey — Erdogan and Imran have hit it off as bedfellows in the Sunni political milieu — has also found itself being given the dubious membership of the FATF Grey List for the first time, thanks to Erdogan’s recent “inadequate” measures to counter terrorist elements in Syria and elsewhere.
That now has led to the Turkish strongman being forced to make amends, literally pleading with US President Biden to reconsider sanctions on account of the Russian S-400 deal/CAATSA provisions and its consequent exclusion from the F-35 joint venture with the West (now hoping for a refund of its monies therein, whilst the wily Americans may opt to give them some F-16s instead).
The FATF ruling is bound to hit Turkey hard and it showed its concern by going soft on Kashmir utterances, as the Pakistanis saw it (possibly to appease India, now seen as a US favourite). He chose to compare Kashmir with the Uighur and Rohingya issues bedevilling the Muslim Ummah, much to Pakistan’s ire which sees Kashmir as an existential problem. More so since Erdogan had chosen to bring up Kashmir during the past three UN General Assembly speeches. When Erdogan did not condole the recent death of Kashmiri ‘freedom fighter’ Syed Ali Shah Geelani, it was seen by his Pakistani minders as a clear snub.
Besides, the squabbling between PM Imran Khan and Army Chief Bajwa over the ISI chief has substantially rocked the boat politically, for Imran himself in terms of not having a pliable ISI chief in place to orchestrate his re-election as also for Pakistan’s international stature (or what there is of it) in terms of the shenanigans of a police state with no pretence of democratic norms or media freedom.
Pakistan’s other more serious predicament, of course, is on account of its economic hardship. To add to its woes of suspension of the Asian Development Bank and World Bank programme loans (disbursements of loans from these agencies may continue, but at an abysmally low rate in view of the country’s inability to execute projects), a double whammy has been dealt to it by the unrest in Afghanistan, fuelling a large refugee influx into that country. Further aggravating the challenges to governance are the rampant crime and terror-related activities.
Members of Pakistan’s supposedly outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are reportedly sneaking back incognito into the country from safe havens in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces of Afghanistan, posing a direct threat to Indian interests in J&K. How to deal with the TTP is another bone of contention between the all-powerful Pakistan Army and Imran’s civilian dispensation which has been seeking to make peace with this terror group responsible for the deaths of several citizens.
Given this situation, it is just as well that India has opted to coordinate intelligence-gathering and counter-terror operations with the US. The Indian armed forces would have their task cut out for keeping the LoC quiet, with the recent successes in counter-terror operations being a boost to the troop morale.
Imran Khan would, meanwhile, amble from one policy mess-up to another, till the Army feels he has outlived his utility. But the real worry is the expected surge in cross-border terror, as often happens in such situations in the “Land of the Pure”.
Turkey, as a Sunni Islamist NATO entity, was expected to play a role in acquiescing to Pakistan’s policy of employing terror as also in defence cooperation with that country, but that fear may be somewhat ameliorated on account of the FATF strictures against its government.