The recent attack on Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul exposes the modus operandi of Pakistan based terrorists. There are similarities between Mumbai Taj and Kabul Intercontinental. As Trump tightens his grip on Pakistan to tame terrorism in the region, a former prime minister is accusing Army of grooming terrorists in Pakistan…writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
The state of civil-military relations in Pakistan is abysmal is self-evident to any watcher of Pakistan. A series of recent events including the siege of Islamabad by the TYLR are instructive in explaining the limits of the Army’s patience. Also, more recently, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif publicly admonished Pakistan’s politicians and the military for not heeding to his warning to take strict action against terrorists. Sharif went on to claim that Pakistan’s current international isolation was because the Army had not listened to him when in 2016 he had informed them of the need to take action against terrorist individuals and entities.
Of course, just as now and even then the military does not want to tip the boat and topple the civilian government at this juncture, because political fluidity suits them. It remains to be seen how the Army will manipulate the elections due next year to ensure that Nawaz Sharif does not return to power. The former prime minister Sharif has just returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia along with his brother, Shahbaz Sharif.
Sharif on his return has taken to public space again to air his views on Pakistan’s ‘isolation’ in particular by the US, the latter having suspended all military aid to Pakistan. This occurred after President Trump in his new year tweet spoke of the lies and deceit that Pakistan had given the US for 33 years of military assistance. Sharif had made pointed reference to The Dawn leaks last year in which the paper had quoted the record of a meeting chaired by Sharif during which he had warned the military and ISI to take action against terrorist and terrorist entities like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and LeT. At that stage, the Army got uptight and ordered an inquiry into the incident. The inquiry eventually led to the dismissal from service of several senior government functionaries and intensified the bad blood between the Army and the civilian government.
Subsequently, Sharif’s successor to the chair, Mr Abbasi initiated steps to bring an element of civilian presence in the ISI. This too was scuttled by the Army. The core problem is that the Army had always been against the ever popular Nawaz Sharif and his party the PML (N) who won a popular mandate in the elections. And this is not the first occasion when Nawaz had had a run in with the Army. Recall that on three previous occasions, Nawaz Sharif had been dismissed by the military and therefore it was not surprising that the tussle continued between General Raheel Sharif and Nawaz Sharif.
Thus the fundamental reason for dissonance between the military and the civil government particularly with PM Nawaz Sharif has been the administration’s perspective on tackling terror. The military continues to be quite happy to launch operations in the tribal areas to conveniently send extremists and terrorists into Afghanistan and bomb civil areas at will to showcase its fight against terrorists. But that would not ever get rid of the problem of terrorists in Pakistan. What Nawaz Sharif wanted to achieve through the National Action Plan was to systematically tackle the terrorist menace using various legal and political means. The Pakistan Army did not want to implement such measures! One such measure was to enforce the legal and financial sanctions against terrorists like Hafeez Saeed.
Both the Al-Qaeda sanctions committee and the FATF measures against Pakistan are not really enforceable, but gave Nawaz Sharif an opportunity to claim that Pakistan was acting against terrorist entities. A perusal of the notices issued by the State Bank of Pakistan in this regard makes it clear that the Pakistan government wanted to bring some measure of credibility to their actions in the face of continued international pressure, more particularly US pressure.
It is this fact to which Mian Nawaz Sharif alluded to recently at a press conference on his return from Saudi Arabia when he said: “I have been insisting for long that we need to put our own house in order if we want to be respected in the world. Why the world sees us with suspicion? Why the blood of our people, our soldiers, our policemen and our other compatriots has become so cheap? I have always insisted on self-reflection but my intentions were doubted,” he said.
On the face of it, the Nawaz statement makes perfect sense, but dig a little deeper and one can see the basic differences emerging between Nawaz Sharif and the Pak Army, something which continues to persist even though he is no longer Prime Minister of Pakistan. One can also visualize Nawaz Sharif using the rhetoric he used when he was dismissed from office and making a political plank by targeting the judiciary and the Army. After all, his party will have to face Pakistan’s electorate next year and that is why he has started posturing now. The only problem is that challenging the writ of the Army in Pakistan is a step fraught with danger and one would not be surprised if the Army manages to push Nawaz Sharif into jail!
This perspective is often seen but missed by observers who see an external read, US and India angle to Pakistan’s actions against individual terrorist entities like Hafeez Saeed. The other side of the story is that domestic compulsions have forced governments to take legal and financial action against terrorists, of course with a little help from organisations like FATF and this has had a cosmetic effect of telling the world that Pakistan is keen on cracking down on terror.
What is of note, is that even these cosmetic efforts have had a rolling impact, the effects of these are being seen today with the FATF asking Pakistan to file a compliance report by February 2018 on action taken against terrorist entities. That is why the current Pak government has initiated the idea of taking over charity organizations controlled and funded by terrorist organizations. This is the first clear sign that the government in Pakistan realises the need to curb their activities. The question is: ‘Is the Pak Army listening’?