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EFSAS Commentary

India’s External Affairs Minister, on a visit to Austria, urges European nations to condemn terrorism emanating from Pakistan


India’s External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar undertook a visit to Cyprus and Austria at the turn of the New Year, during which he made some interesting comments on a wide range of subjects, from the stalled reforms in the United Nations (UN), the fast changing world order, the Ukraine war, China’s expansionist intent in the high Himalayas, and Pakistan’s continued use of terrorism as a State policy. It was the observations that he made in Vienna, on the second leg of his 29 December to 3 January travels, which drew the most attention. The first foreign minister-level visit from India to Austria in the last 27 years, Jaishankar’s visit took place against the backdrop of 75 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries this year. The EAM met Austrian Federal Minister for European and International Affairs, Alexander Schallenberg, who had earlier visited India in March 2022, and called on Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer. Jaishankar also participated in a “useful” meeting with the Foreign Ministers of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic, Jan Lipavsky and Rastislav Kacer respectively, and Schallenberg, in the Slavkov format, where he said discussions centered on “India-European Union (EU) relations, our neighborhoods, Indo-Pacific, and the Ukraine conflict”. The Slavkov format is a loose cooperation mechanism between the Central European countries the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria.

Speaking on India-Austria relations at a joint press briefing with Schallenberg on 2 January, Jaishankar said that India considers Vienna a serious and consequential partner in terms of bilateral cooperation, and noted that Austria has capabilities that are relevant to India’s modernization and progress. He said, “We view Austria as a serious and consequential partner when it comes to bilateral cooperation. You have experiences and capabilities that are relevant to India’s modernisation and progress. These are guided by government policies but ultimately implemented through business transactions. Our commitment today is to take both aspects forward in tandem and I look forward to concrete initiatives in that regard.” On agreements signed between India and Austria, Jaishankar said, “We have concluded a number of agreements. I think a particularly noteworthy one is the initializing of the Comprehensive Migration & Mobility Partnership Agreement because it will enable demands for skills and talents to be synchronized with their availability”.

On the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, Jaishankar said that India was deeply concerned about the situation in Ukraine, and he reiterated India’s call for resolving differences on the negotiating table. He informed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has remained in contact with the leaders of Russia and Ukraine, and has been pressing India’s viewpoint. Jaishankar said, “With regard to the Ukraine conflict, let me underline that India remains deeply concerned, we sincerely believe that this is not the era of war. Differences must be settled on the negotiating table. It is imperative that there is a return to dialogue and diplomacy. Prolonged conflict will not serve the interests of any party. My Prime Minister has been in contact with the leaders of both nations pressing our point of view in that regard. We are increasingly anxious about knock-on effects of the conflict in terms of accessibility and affordability of fuel, food and fertilizers, which is a growing concern for the global South”.

Jaishankar informed that he had spoken with the Austrian leaders about threats to international peace posed by terrorism, something India has had to endure over the last three decades. He said, “We spoke at length on the threats to international peace and security that are posed by terrorism, including its cross-border practices, violent extremism, radicalization and fundamentalism. Their effects cannot be contained within a region, especially so when they are deeply connected to narcotics and illegal weapons trade, and other forms of international crime”. In a barely veiled reference to Pakistan, the Indian EAM concluded that “Since the epicentre is located so close to India, naturally our experiences and insights are useful to others”.

Jaishankar dwelt on a wide range of international issues in his interactions with Austrian publications. When asked in an interview by Austria’s national broadcaster ORF about how long it will take for the long overdue reforms of the UN Security Council to be carried out, the EAM responded that “...those who are today enjoying the benefits of permanent membership clearly are not in a hurry to see reform. I think it is a very short-sighted view... Because at the end of the day, the credibility of the UN and their own interests and effectiveness are at stake”. With India poised to overtake China this year and become the world’s most populous country, Jaishankar pointed out the anomaly that “You will have a situation when the world’s most populous country is not among the permanent members of the Security Council, what does this say about the state of the UN?” He added, “You have entire Africa and Latin America left out, with developing countries vastly underrepresented. This was an organization invented in 1945. It's 2023”. Jaishankar, however, sounded an optimistic note when he concluded by saying, “So my sense is, it will take some time, hopefully not too much time. I can see a growing body of opinion among UN members who believe that there must be changed. It’s not just us”.

Expressing his views on the shift in the world power structure, Jaishankar gave the example of the United States (US) and opined that despite all the differences, former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump both agreed that the US could no longer play the same role on the world stage as it once did. He said, “We are already living in dangerous times. This transition to the new world order will take a long time. Because change is big. The Americans were the quickest to realize that they had to reposition themselves and seek cooperation with countries like us”. He added that Europe too had realized that the world order was changing even before the Ukraine war broke out, elaborating that “This realization began even before the Ukraine conflict. When the Europeans started talking about an Indo-Pacific strategy, it was clear to me that they no longer wanted to be just spectators on developments in other parts of the world”. He felt that the world order was nevertheless still Western, and this needed to be replaced by a world of “multi-alignment”.

On Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when asked by the Austrian anchor “Are you reluctant to criticize Moscow because Russia is India’s most important supplier of weapons and military equipment?”, Jaishankar responded sharply that “We have a relationship with Moscow. A relationship built when Western democracies used to arm the military dictatorship called Pakistan”. Since the war broke out last February, New Delhi has rejected American and European pressure at the UN to condemn the Russian invasion, and it has turned Moscow into its largest oil supplier. Jaishankar added, “I would still like to see a more rules-based world. But when people start pressing you in the name of a rules-based order to give up, to compromise on what are very deep interests, at that stage I’m afraid it’s important to contest that and, if necessary, to call it out”. On the issue of Russian fuel imports, Jaishankar drew attention to the fact that “Europe has imported six times the fossil fuel energy from Russia that India has done, and if a USD 60,000-per-capita society feels it needs to look after itself, and I accept that as legitimate, they should not expect a USD 2,000-per-capita society to take a hit”. Pointing out that the war has provoked moral outrage in the West over Russian atrocities, he added that Western sanctions against Russia had meanwhile driven up energy, food and fertilizer costs, causing acute economic difficulties in poorer countries.

In the interview with the ZIB2 podcast, a daily news magazine of ORF television, the EAM also spoke about India’s ongoing problems with China. He accused China of trying to unilaterally change the Line of Actual Control (LAC), elaborating that “We had an agreement not to unilaterally change the LAC, which they have tried to unilaterally do. So there is, I think, an issue, a perception that we have which derives directly from our experiences. I think there’s a larger concern based on our experiences. The concern is that we had agreements with China not to amass forces in our border areas, and they have not observed those agreements, which is why we have the currently tense situation that we do”. In response to the suggestion that China could also accuse India of not following the agreements, Jaishankar responded, “Now, where else the status quo may change or not change? I would hesitate as a foreign minister to predict publicly. I may have my own views and assessments, but I certainly can share my experience. And my experience is that written agreements were not observed and that we have seen levels of military pressure, which, in our view, has no justification. China would say the opposite. They would say that India had not obeyed different agreements. But obviously, no, I think it is difficult for China to say that. For this reason, the record is very clear, because today there’s a lot of transparency. You have satellite pictures. If you see who moved the forces to the border areas first, I think the record is very clear”.

Jaishankar’s strongest words, however, were reserved for Pakistan. In the interview with the ZIB2 podcast, when asked about the “not very diplomatic” term he had used for Pakistan at the joint press briefing, Jaishankar stressed that “Because you are a diplomat doesn’t mean you are untruthful. I could use much harsher words than epicentre, so believe me, considering what has been happening to us, I think epicentre is a very diplomatic word”. He added, “This is a country which has attacked the Parliament of India some years ago, which attacked the city of Mumbai, which went after hotels, and foreign tourists, which every day sends terrorists across the border”. When the anchor suggested that Pakistan as a country may not be responsible for spreading terrorism, Jaishankar pointed out that “If you control your sovereign space, which I believe they do. If terrorist camps operate in broad daylight in cities with recruitment and financing, can you really tell me that the Pakistani State doesn’t know what’s going on? Especially, they are being trained in military-level, combat tactics”. The EAM also highlighted the need for European countries to condemn terrorism emanating from Pakistan by saying, “When we speak about judgments and principles, why don’t I hear sharp European condemnation of these practices that have been going on for decades? The world has to be concerned that terrorism is going on and it looks away, often feels it is not their problem because it is happening to some other countries. I think the world needs to be concerned about how sincerely and strongly it takes up the challenge of terrorism”.

Pakistan has for the past several years been selling the narrative to the world that it had ceased its involvement in terrorism and had instead become a victim of terrorism and had made huge sacrifices in the fight against global terrorism. This narrative, aided by near-daily reports of deadly attacks against Pakistani security personnel by disgruntled Pashtun and Baloch terrorist groups, has begun to stick with select sympathetic interlocutors. It is, and it has always been, the Pakistani Army that has driven the Pakistani policy of sponsoring and exporting terrorism. A recent sensational revelation by the former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is a timely and pertinent reminder of why the Pakistani Army can be taken at its word only at one’s own peril, whether that be in relation to its claims of abandoning terrorism or of eschewing all involvement in Pakistani politics.

General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s Army Chief till his retirement a few weeks ago, has been claiming vociferously over the past year that the Pakistan Army is no longer involved in the country’s politics. In fact, addressing the Defense and Martyrs Day ceremony at the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi in mid-November 2022, General Bajwa, shortly prior to his retirement, said that there was a lot of criticism of the military mainly because of the intervention of the Army in politics for 70 years. He even went to the extent of terming the military’s involvement in politics “unconstitutional”.  Bajwa said, “The main reason for this (criticism of the Pakistan Army) is the involvement of the Army in politics for the last 70 years, which is unconstitutional. So in February 2022, the Army decided after a lot of deliberation that it will not interfere in any political issue. I can assure you that we are strictly committed to the pledge and will continue to be so”.

In an interaction with the media on 2 January, former PM Imran Khan made the amazing disclosure that “In a meeting with General Bajwa in August 2022, he told me that he had audios and videos of my party men. He also reminded me that I was a ‘playboy’. I told him…yes, I was (a playboy) in the past and I never claimed that I am an angel”. Imran Khan added that General Bajwa had by then made up his mind to oust him from power. He elaborated, “I came to know that he was carefully playing a double game … to make Shehbaz Sharif the Prime Minister. Bajwa stabbed me in my back”. Khan added that Bajwa’s “set-up” in the military was still active to stop him from returning to power.

These revelations of a former Prime Minister, who admitted to being blackmailed and pressured to demit his duly elected office through the pernicious use of sleaze by none other than the Army Chief, say all that needs to be said about the sanctity of the Pakistan Army’s “pledges” – whether those be to refrain from “unconstitutional” acts such as sponsoring terrorism against neighbours and beyond, or, indeed, toppling elected governments at will to install chosen puppets.