India’s diplomatic encirclement of Pakistan appeared to bear fruit on Friday, with even Islamabad’s traditional allies refusing to take its side over New Delhi’s surgical strikes on militant shelters across the Line of Control, their de-facto border.
While the United States, a long presence in Pakistan’s corner, hastened to underline the importance of its alliance with India, others who could previously have been relied upon to take Islamabad’s side, at least in rhetorical terms, chose to maintain a studiously neutral line.
In South Asia, Pakistan’s isolation deepened as Afghanistan openly backed Thursday’s surgical strikes as an act of “self-defence”, and Sri Lanka became the fifth country to pull out of the eight-nation Saarc Summit in Islamabad, citing concerns about terrorism – an unsubtle reference to Pakistan.
But perhaps China’s markedly restrained reaction comes most fraught for its “all-weather ally”. Neither did any voice of support ring out of the Organisation of Islamic Countries that has traditionally backed Islamabad’s stand on Kashmir.
Russia, despite currently conducting military exercises with Islamabad, joined South Korea to speak out against terrorism and call on Pakistan to do more to fight the menace on its soil.
And in what reflected growing global impatience with Pakistan’s self-defeating stand on fighting terrorism, Washington chose the moment to focus on the dangers of such policies in South Asia.
“We’ve repeatedly expressed our concerns regarding the danger that terrorism poses to the region and we all know that terrorism in many ways knows no border,” said State Department spokesperson, John Kirby.
The reply came to a question on the surgical strikes that New Delhi said took out seven militant “launchpads” across the LoC and inflicted heavy casualties on militants.
For that matter, Washington also used the occasion to underscore a new high in ties with India, with Defence Secretary Ashton Carter saying their military relationship was the “closest it has been ever”.
Islamabad, which deferred the Saarc Summit on Friday, would have probably wanted Beijing to be more vocal about the strikes. But then again, Pakistan has denied those took place.
China’s reaction to the strikes came two days after Pakistan dispatched two special envoys on Kashmir to Beijing to drum up support for its position.
“As shared neighbour and friend to both India and Pakistan, we are concerned about continuous confrontation and tensions between India and Pakistan,” foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing on Friday.
“We call on all relevant parties to exercise restraint and refrain from actions that would escalate tension.”
Russia’s foreign ministry also signalled support for India’s stand, saying Moscow stood for “decisive struggle against terrorism in all its manifestations.”
“We expect that the Government of Pakistan should take effective steps in order to stop the activities of terrorist groups in the territory of the country,” it said in a statement.
In Seoul, President Park Geun Hye told Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan that South Korea stood against terrorism in all forms.
To compound matters for Pakistan, prominent internal groups pointedly took India’s side.
Baloch nationalist leaders and activists across the world have welcomed the cross-border surgical strikes and called for such operations to continue.
Meanwhile, government sources said Indian forces along the LoC had stepped up vigil to thwart any retaliatory attack.
India moved extra troops along the LoC ahead of the surgical strikes, and on Friday deployed the air-borne defence system, AWACS. Sources said leave was being restricted for military personnel.
“They are unlikely to sit quiet,” a government source with knowledge of India’s military preparedness told Hindustan Times, referring to a possible retaliation from across the LoC.