This Article is From May 08, 2023

Opinion: The Dangerous Lies Of Pakistan's Bilawal Bhutto

Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari chose to personally participate in the SCO Foreign Ministers' meeting at Goa for multiple reasons. Non-participation would have meant self-isolation. An opportunity to meet his counterparts from member countries at one location would have been lost. The meeting provided an opportunity to interact with the Chinese and Russian Foreign Ministers in particular. The Afghanistan issue has become a headache also for Pakistan, and because this is an issue of concern to all member states, Bhutto Zardari would have wanted to stay up to date on the SCO's thinking on how this problem would be collectively addressed.

Knowing that India would indirectly target Pakistan on the terrorism issue, he would have wanted to state his piece: Pakistan is itself a victim of terrorism, it does not in any way support terrorism, a distinction should be made between state and non-state actors, implying that the Pakistani state is not involved, that Pakistan has complied with FATF requirements of denying financial support for terrorism and money laundering, that terrorism should not weaponised in diplomacy (a dig at India).

Beyond all this, he wanted to use the opportunity to speak directly to the Indian people through our press. Pakistan has, even in the past, used sections of our media that favour a dialogue with Pakistan and support steps towards normalisation of bilateral ties to do its "peace" propaganda and try to turn the tables on every issue that India raises against Pakistan.

Bhutto Zardari's "Butcher of Gujarat" outburst against Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the UN in December 2022 was considered by New Delhi as "a new low, even for Pakistan". Bhutto Zardari was reminded of the genocide unleashed by Pakistan against ethnic Bengalis and Hindus in 1971 and its continued maltreatment of its minorities. His vituperations against Modi personally showed his immaturity, a lack of consciousness of the damage he was doing to his own standing in India and also clouding further any prospect of resumption of any serious contact between the two countries.

The Pakistani Foreign Minister therefore came for the meeting with lack of political credentials with India. He had to be invited as part of India's responsibility as current Chair of the SCO. The Chair does not have the right to be selective in invitations, and using the state of its bilateral relations with a country to not invite it would have caused a serious diplomatic controversy.

From Bhutto Zardari's interviews with some Indian journalists it is clear that Pakistan is digging a deeper hole for itself in its relations with India. His rhetoric and polemics show a continued regression in attitudes towards India rather than an effort to keep doors open. He insists that Pakistan will not have any dialogue with India unless India reverses its August 5, 2019 decision to amend Article 370, which he knows will not happen. India can live without a dialogue with Pakistan, as Pakistan has already done the worst that it can do to India in recent years. Any new adventurism by Pakistan against India, in the parlous condition that it is in, would be suicidal.

Spouting propaganda on Indian soil that India is changing the demography in Kashmir, reducing the Muslims into a minority, with all Kashmiri leadership in jail, was deliberately provocative. Arguing that the amendment of Article 370 is a violation of UN resolutions and bilateral agreements with Pakistan is going to absurd lengths.

The UN resolutions are defunct, Pakistan violated them by seeking to grab Kashmir by force in 1965, committing aggression again in 1971, actively promoting jihadi terrorism there, handing over parts of Pakistan Occupied J&K to China, with the CPEC project initiated a decade ago, by allowing the presence of PLA personnel in occupied territory, and so on. The temporary Article 370 was not made part of our Constitution in consultation with Pakistan; its revision does not need consultation with Pakistan, especially as Pakistan never recognised its validity.

Pakistan has always been fixated on parity with India, and this extends to accusing India of the very charges that India makes against Pakistan. If confronted with the fact that Pakistan has not taken any action against Hafiz Saeed of LeT and Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohamed, the Pakistani Foreign Minister very glibly equates their case with Kulbhushan Jadav. It is a mantra: accuse Pakistan of supporting terrorism in India and it will talk of India supporting terrorism in Pakistan, be it Jadav, in whose case he makes a distinction between him as "state actor" and others as "non-state actors", as if this justifies the activities of the latter from Pakistani soil. This, despite Pakistani Prime Ministers like Nawaz Sharif falling afoul of the Pakistani Army in the past by asking it to exercise more control over these jihadi groups who were giving Pakistan a bad name internationally. The list of Pakistani sponsored terrorist attacks on India is long; Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar have publicly called for jihad against India, collected funds for it, and have been listed by the UN as terrorists, with acUS bounty on Saeed. It is perverse to talk of Jadav in the same breath as Saeed and Azhar. 

Bhutto Zardari's dishonesty in the case of Pakistan's failure to try the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks is staggering. He accuses India of not cooperating in the pursuit of the trial in Pakistan by not sending Indian witnesses to Pakistan for cross examination, when the fact is that although in 2012 India agreed to the visit of a Judicial Commission from Pakistan to take only the testimony of witnesses, in 2013, it agreed to another visit of a Judicial Commission and this time India allowed cross-examination. In 2017, Pakistan asked India to send 27 more witnesses for cross-examination. India proposed to Pakistan to send its Judicial Commission again for cross-examination, or it could be done virtually. The matter has rested there since. Besides this red-herring, Bhutto Zardari links the non-trial of 26/11 terrorists with the Samjhauta Express issue and the lack of any convictions in that case. He also raked up the treatment of minorities in India, citing the Bilkis Bano gang rape case, as against the protection of minorities in Pakistan at the government level. He was not at all self-conscious in resorting to this brazen hypocrisy.

All in all, a representative of a rogue state engaged in Oxford-accented rogue diplomacy in India. No wonder Minister Jaishankar called him a "promoter, justifier and spokesperson of a terrorism industry", and said that on terrorism, "Pakistan's credibility is depleting faster than its foreign exchange reserves."

(Kanwal Sibal was Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia, and Deputy Chief Of Mission in Washington.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.