Pak Disarray Drains SAARC Objectives


The recent SAARC conference of Home and Interior Ministers in Islamabad took place amid the din of anti-India hysteria generated by Pak Army and terrorists targeting Kashmir. Army and its cohorts do not allow a democratically civilian government a free hand to run country’s domestic and foreign policies….writes Samuel Baid

PakistanThere may be a connection between the trouble in Kashmir that started with the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter with the security forces on July 8 and the seventh conference of Home and Interior Ministers of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries held in Islamabad on August 4. It is strongly believed in India that the Pak Army-patronised chief of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) Hafiz Saeed uses his network of operations in Kashmir to instigate a public-police confrontation on the pretext of Wani’s killing.

The SAARC conference of Home and Interior Ministers thus took place amid the din of anti-India hysteria generated by non-state actors like Saeed and other Army-patronised Islamists. The civilian government of Nawaz Sharif boosted their morale by calling Wani a ‘martyr’ and organising a ‘Black Day’ in his honour on July 21. By doing so, the Sharif government must have hoped to earn goodwill of Army-patronised Islamists at a time when its existence is in peril. It looked as if the civilian government and the Army were echoing each others’ view and thus creating an anti-India Kashmir-related frenzy before the SAARC conference.

For the last few months, Sharif government has been accused of running a failed foreign policy. The Prime Minister is facing serious corruption changes.  Opposition parties have written to the Chief Election Commission to disqualify Sharif after the ‘Panama Papers’ revelations which accuse his three children of money laundering. The media and opposition leaders keep him reminding that the Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif sacked five generals for corruption.  There is also mysterious poster campaign asking Gen Sharif to save the country by taking over the reins of the government.  The frightened government felt some relief when a military coup failed in Turkey. And so it profusely praised democracy in Turkey.

Pakistani Army Chief General Raheel Sharif (C) looking at huge cache of weapons and ammunition recovered from terrorists during his visit to northwest Pakistan's Khyber Agency. At least 20 militants were killed and 18 others injured in an air-raid by Pakistani army in the country's northwestern tribal area of Khyber Agency
Pakistani Army Chief General Raheel Sharif (C)

The Sharif government has been desperately trying to counter charge of the failed foreign policy. Kashmir is about the only subject on which the successive Pakistani military or civilian governments have tried to probe corrections of their foreign policy in the past 65 years.  For doubting Thomases it is somehow impossible to believe that the present agitations in Kashmir were in preparation for the August 4th SAARC Interior Ministers’ conference in Islamabad.

This forum was used by Pakistani leaders to malign India and to internationalise half-truths about Kashmir. These half-truths were told to SAARC delegates by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan when they addressed them. Outside the conference hall, Pak Army patronised non-state actors created a mob frenzy against India and day-dreaming for a Kashmir joining Pakistan where (in Kashmir) “Martyrs are buried in Pakistan flag” said Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) Chief, Sirajul Haq.

The JeI, which had taken a leading role in fanning terrorism in Kashmir during 1989-96, is again at it. Sirajul Haq announced that India’s Independence Day on August 15 would be observed as a Black Day. Taking a dig at Sharif’s past efforts to establish trade relations with India, he said freedom of Kashmir was an ideological and not trade war now.  The JeI had told India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh not to come to Pakistan to attend the SAARC Ministers conference because nobody would receive him.  A programme of protests on Singh’s arrival in Islamabad had already been announced by JuD/LeT Chief Saeed.  He alleged that India was carrying on the genocide of Kashmir people by using “lethal weapons”.

It is a commonplace comment that the Pak Army and its supporting non-state Islamic actors do not allow a democratically civilian government a free hand to run country’s domestic and foreign policies. It is already a fact known to the world. But one wonders how can elected politicians get addicted to this humiliating position and proudly proclaim they will complete their five-year term in this position.

PAKISTAN-MIRANSHAH-NAWAZ SHARIF-VISITA week before the SAARC Ministerial conference he called upon the Nawaz Sharif government to accuse India of “State Terrorism” at all international forum without worrying about friendship with it.  Here we may recall his concern, in passing though, about China’s brutalities against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang and also the communist government, measures to banish Islamic tradition and practices (strictly speaking Islam) from the country. But Saeed never again dared to talk of his concern about the plight of Muslims in China nor did he call upon his country’s government to internationalise this issue.  A demand to internationalise Kashmir was also made by JeI leader Sirajul Haq. He wanted the Pak government to organise an international conference on Kashmir “to make the world aware of the atrocities that the Indian government (was) committing on innocent civilians”. Again, the Jamaat Chief’s heart has never cried for the suffering Muslims in China. He should not forget that in 2013 the entire top Jamaat leadership enjoyed China’s hospitality. The above statements of the top Pak government leaders and the anti-India frenzy of non-state actors had queered the pitch for the participation of India in the SAARC conference in Islamabad.

It is not known what will happen in the run up to the SAARC summit scheduled to be hosted by Pakistan in November this year.  The way Kashmir-related anti-India campaign was carried on in the run up to the SAARC Interior Ministers conference, one may eventually suspect that there was a conspiracy in Pakistan to keep the largest SAARC nation, India, out of it.

Pakistan’s unnecessary comments on its internal matters and the media campaign against it, angered Bangladesh to boycott the conference.  It is not certain that this country would even participate in the November Summit. But Bangladesh’s role in the formation of the SAARC has been pioneering as it was the former Bangladesh President Ziaur Rehman who gave the idea of SAARC.  Its first summit was hosted by Bangladesh in Dhaka in 1985. It was the present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who gave the idea of SAARC connectivity through a network of roads. Pakistan has not accepted it but the rest of the countries in SAARC are working on its implementations. As a host country Pakistan had a good chance of putting its foreign policy on the right track by separating the SAARC conference from its frenzy about Kashmir showing respect to India’s sensitivity. The absence of an important SAARC member like Bangladesh, at the conference, is a clear indication as the failure of Pakistan’s diplomacy amongst the SAARC community.