Pakistan’s diplomatic counter-offensive

India has feasted diplomatically on Pakistan’s complicity in terrorist acts over the past two decades. There was a credible enough case made for the UN Financial Assistance Task Force (FATF) to put Pakistan on its sanctions’ ‘grey list’ owing to Islamabad’s well-known role in mobilising Islamist militants from West Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to replicate the Taliban success in Afghanistan in Jammu and Kashmir.

The troubles began for Pakistan with the 9/11 strike in 2001, propelling to the forefront terrorism and Islamic extremists as existential threats to int­ernational order. Islamabad’s use of jihadis began to draw censure and, in the wake of the 26/11 seaborne attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based terrorists in 2008, sealed that country’s standing as a sponsor of terrorism, legitimating India’s ret­aliatory actions. For Pakistan, the political and economic costs began to outweigh the politico-military gains from using terrorism to wage asy­mmetric warfare. Once the pariah status took hold, foreign countries became wary of dealing with Pakistan, a Pakistani passport became a liability, foreign direct investment dried up, its economy plummeted, exacerbating, in the pro­cess, societal faultlines. Even the Gulf countries, hitherto staunch supporters, began to distance themselves.

This allowed Prime Minister Narendra Modi to pitch India as a partner of choice for these sta­tes, consolidate its position as supplier of cheap labour and safe destination for Arab petro-dollar investment. The warming of ties also permitted these Arab states to leaven their autocratic rep­u­tation by associating with a democratic India. The muted response of the United Arab Emirates to the abrogation of Article 370 and Saudi Arabia’s agreeing with Delhi that it was an “internal matter” crowned India’s West Asia policy, handing PM Modi his only real foreign policy success.

And then the corona pandemic struck. For the first time, Islamabad saw a clear way to not only blunt India’s charge of fostering terrorism but to push Delhi on the back foot. This they did by conflating the actions of local authorities to corral attendees of the Tablighi Jamaat meet in Delhi as potential COVID-19 spreaders with three unconnected issues—alleged human rights abuses in J&K, ill treatment of Muslims under the BJP dispensations in Uttar Pradesh and other states, and the Citizenship Amendment Act, which triggered nationwide protests and was des­cribed by Islamabad as a “pogrom” against Muslims.

It was this storm of supposedly anti-Muslim measures that burst on the Indian government, something Islamabad gleefully capitalised on and Islamic countries could not ignore. Pakistan, in any case, was working since August last year to erode the support for India in the Islamic bloc. In February-end this year, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) urged India to end violence against Muslims, and Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan asked Delhi “to stop the massacre” of Muslims, a phrase repeated by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamanei, on March 5. Following the April 28 release of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report recommending that the state department designate India as a country of ‘particular concern’, Kuwait condemned the “violence” against Indian Muslims, an emboldened Gulf Cooperation Council may follow suit, and Arab activists are using social media to excoriate the Indian government for fuelling “Islamophobia”.

India is in a pickle, its policy of equipoise between Sunni Gulf states as source of energy and remittances (worth $80 billion annually) and Shia Iran as pivot, and its plan for a south-north road and rail grid out of Chabahar port affording access to Afghanistan and Central Asia while helping the Indian Navy outflank its Chinese counterpart in Gwadar collapsing under the weight of the growing disillusionment of Islamic countries with India. This may also hurt Indian strategic interests in Southeast Asia, especially in Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia. With Al Qaeda and the Islamic State weakening and terrorism off centre-stage, international relations are returning to their old moorings where human rights matter. Which is why Pakistan now has “organised cruelties against Indian Muslims” to bludgeon India with every time Delhi cries “terrorism”. 


This piece published as ‘Up Front’ column in India Today, issue dated May 18, 2020, at

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, guerilla warfare, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Iran and West Asia, Islamic countries, MEA/foreign policy, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Terrorism, UN, United States, US., West Asia. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Pakistan’s diplomatic counter-offensive

  1. PRATIK KUMAR says:

    Hi Bharat sir. I agree that Pakistan is fully taking advantage of India’s anti Muslim activities to dilute India’s relations with Gulf nations. But don’t you think sir that India’s covid diplomacy has again opened doors in the Gulf region? I mean India’s sending HCQ and military doctors to that area has really been appreciated a lot. Further these nations also deleted anti India posts from twitter and so on. So If India proactively works on it’s positive image in Gulf and increase economic interactions, then it can counter what Pakistan is doing.

  2. V.Ganesh says:

    Why doesn’t India cut diplomatic relations with Pakistan and also China and expel their citizens and companies living/working in India when India knows both of them are it’s enemies?

    • Nations have to keep engaging with adversaries. Diplomatic relations are never severed except for the gravest possible provocation.

      • V.Ganesh says:

        Is killing Indian citizens since 1989 using Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism, China giving nukes to Pakistan and Pakistan occupying parts of J&K not a grave provocation? Has the GOI no respect for human lives and it’s territory being under occupation? Would any superpower have tolerated this?

      • Thanks to Delhi small-country mindset, India is not a superpower. And absence of guts to take on China cannot be disguised cover for cutting of diplomatic relations with Pakistan (or China).

  3. V.Ganesh says:

    In an article written by Praveen Swami when he was with The Hindu titled “India’s New Language of Killing” [this was when Modi was a candidate for PM], it was written that the R&AW wanted to join hands with the NDS then headed by Amrullah Saleh to pay Pakistan back in its own coin. Now that Saleh is VP, is there any chance of the R&AW and the NDS joining hands, especially with hardliner Doval [as described by Dulat] as NSA and Modi as the PM and that too with a second term?

    • RG says:

      That is what we must do. Also, Karachi has more guns for hire than regular pakistani army personnel there, pay their own to kill regular ‘Punjabi’ Pakistani army personnel, officers, hit them where it would feel. Support Baluchistan independence, support pashtoons.Pakistan can’t match India in this. Our cards are much stronger. India should be planning about Pak nukes, how to tackle them when Pakistan disintegrates,all fancy academic impractical theories of co-opting them apart, this ll come to manifest. As is our wont,we just don’t seem to plan for the future. Just as a hypothetical exercise has anyone in India’s security community thought abut what if pakistan disintegrates on its own? have we planned for their nukes? And make no mistakes if India goes on on an upward trajectory and if such a situation arises, China would be onboard but it would try to extract the maximum-keeping the nukes with some new formation et al,it would only give in when all other options fail. Are we setting the pieces according to our wishes?do we even have wishes? Are we working for nuke arming vietnam? Let’s say we have all the masala ready, if not now, we can choose a time when pak goes down, at that very moment vietnam goes nuclear ,conducts weapons tests. It would jolt china. India moves in recognizing Taiwan immediately after someone recognizes it first, if we don’t have the balls to go first ourselves . Kuch to karo proactively. We make it so easy for others.And we make such a fuss about it, this Praveen swami thing should have come as commonsense, regular routine thing,and its made out to be a herculean task,like we r going to do something big! kya story break kari hai. hamari sabki, including journos intellectuals et al ki soch babuo wali hai. rai ka pahad banan, pakistan ko sar pe chada rakha hai china se phatti hai par seat chaiye security council main.

      • Only addressing the Pak nukes aspect. There are US and Israeli plans I know, and ‘am sure there’s an Indian one as well, to “secure” the Pakistani nukes in case of complete breakdown there.

      • Muhammad Aryan says:

        Greetings from across the Radcliffe,

        Allow me to disabuse.

        What had been happening in Karahi for the last 30 years was not ‘chaos’ or ‘disorder’. The Pakistani Deep State has always been in firm control of the chesspieces operating in the city. The Mohajir ‘discontent’ was a kind of civil-military warfare with the Muhajirs playing the Pindi Boys against provincial civilian dispensations in Sindh. Please remember it all began when the province was restive during the Zia junta. The Deep State gave the saboteurs significant autonomy within a very specific chunk of the city to unsettle anyone who tries to flex his ‘provincial’ muscles. To put it plainly, it was a ploy to keep Sindhis off balance. Moreover, the Islamic militancy in Karachi was a necessary reminder to the MQM infantry to know their place. And when it served its purpose all the major leaders with connections with the militant past were bumped off one by one.

        Secondly, as for Balochistan, the three ‘agitated’ tribes of Bugti, Mengal, and Marri have been hammered and brought in line. Islamabad has successfully sowed intra-tribal disunity so much so that there is no one today from the three main bloodlines (Akbar Bugti, Khair Baksh Marri, and Attaullah Mengal) who wants to come forward and take the mantle of ‘independence’ and prepare their loyalists for a sustained battle. Cross border terrorism the one that emanates from Afghanistan can be outmaneuvered by a strong counterintelligence network that Pakistan has put in place along the Durrand line.

        Lastly, Pashtuns are part and parcel of the Pakistani Deep State. More accurately, it has been a Punjabi-Pashtun alliance since 1947. The Pashtuns here who are in ‘distress’ first need to ask some questions from their own Pashtun Generals and powerful bureaucrats as to why they’ve always sided with the Punjabis against their own brethren across the Durrand line.

        The only thing that compelled the Generals to come out of their comfort zones was an Islamist insurgency. Ethnic unrest never seriously threatened the State. Paradoxically, it was even encouraged and fanned at some points as mentioned in the case of Muhajirs.


      • V.Ganesh says:

        No harm in thinking about covert action against Pakistan as in Parveen Swami’s article. Thinking doesn’t cost.

      • V.Ganesh says:

        America’s plans for Pakistan’s nukes Mr. Karnad, what do you think about this plan of America?

  4. V.Ganesh says:

    Now that money is there which is evident from Modi allocating ₹20,00,000 crores which is 10% of India’s GDP to fight the Chinese Corona Virus, how soon do you think MMRCA 2.0 will happen?


    Another timely and wonderful article from Mr Karnad
    Sir I would like to say that there is one aspect of public diplomacy about Pakistan which we in India have overlooked. When 370 happened in Aug 2019, it was only Pakistan that was willing to talk on behalf of the Kashmiris. All major problem Indian Kashmiri politicians and their mainstream politics was nullified for ever on that day and Pakistan was the only one sole spoksman left for the Kashmiris. If it ever comes to public opinion even Shia Kargil was sounding pro-Pakistan. I would love to know your viewpoint about this aspect of Pakistan vis a visit Kashmir and how it will work against India in future. Thanks and regards with best wishes Debanjan

  6. V.Ganesh says:

    If the decision to buy 83 Tejas was made before then why is Rawat saying that the IAF is switching that to LCA when asked about the global tender for jets? On one hand he’s saying that, on the other hand, you’re saying F-16/F-21 is coming as MMRCA. There’s so much confusion. Can you please clarify whether MMRCA is dead or alive?

  7. V.Ganesh says:

    Can you please answer the questions raised by me on the problems faced by the Sukhoi Su-30 MKI that I asked yesterday based on an article in The Print, Mr. Bharat Karnad? I look forward to your answer.

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