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Sharif’s Blame Game Over Quetta Mess

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Pakistan has insisted on blaming India for the suicide attack in Quetta on August 8 even though the Islamic State (IS) and its affiliate Jamaat-ul-Ahrar have claimed credit for the attack that killed 73 persons at a hospital.  While none in Pakistan would openly dare to reject the Indian angle for fear of persecution, the charge has been widely debunked….writes Manzoor Ahmed

Pakistan Pakistani army women soldiersThe killings of 73 people at a hospital compound in Quetta shocked the world. Islamic State and its affiliate Jamaat-ul-Ahrar have claimed credit for the attack. The Islamic State issued a statement through its ‘news agency’ Amaq, claiming a “martyrdom bomber” had carried out the outrage at Quetta. But Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri said India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) could have been behind the tragedy, claiming that the foreign intelligence agency had conducted similar operations before “in Quetta and other areas”.

Writing in Dawn newspaper, Qasim A. Moini said: “While the role of hostile external actors cannot be ruled out and must be investigated, it was surprising that such a senior official made the statement so soon after the event, before even the preliminary investigations were completed. Surely state functionaries should have solid evidence before publicly making such claims.

There is confusion whether JA had joined forces with IS, which would have made the dual claims contradictory. However, it appears that Jamaatul Ahrar’s alliance with IS was never formal but merely a statement of appreciation, as many within JA’s ranks share the sectarian worldview of IS. Moreover, the ‘official’ Islamic State affiliate in this region is, and remains, IS Wilayah Khorasan, a group completely different than JA.

In keeping with the heightened anti-India mood, stoked by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself, top military commanders were told at a meeting in Rawalpindi on August 10 that there was “a growing nexus between hostile actors in the neighbourhood and ‘facilitators’ within the country.

Army Chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif chaired the monthly corps commanders’ conference held at the General Headquarters.  The generals were told that threat was “emanating from Afghan soil, which was being managed by Indian intelligence agencies.’

“However, at the same time there was an acknowledgment that a network of ‘facilitators’ within the country provided an enabling environment for the external enemy.  Dawn newspaper reported that it was not clear “who the facilitators of the external enemy are — whether they are extremist and terrorist organisations operating within the country or other anti-state elements.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (File)
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (File)

Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif told his commanders that the Quetta attack was an attempt to undermine the successes of operation Zarb-i-Azb, which is in its final phase. He also alleged that the target of the attack was the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

While the former claim is meant to please the domestic constituency at a time when Gen. Sharif is due to retire in a few weeks, the latter is a bogey to convince China that is investing $ 46 billion in this project.

The Pakistani military conveniently ignores the fact that Quetta where the suicide attack took place is home to the “Quetta Shoora” of the Afghan Taliban, the protégé of the Pak ISI who control the territory on the Pakistan side as well as the Afghan side.

Dawn newspaper said in its editorial, “After Quetta”: On the other side of this boundary, however, lie areas virtually controlled by the Afghan Taliban. The insurrection against the lawful government in Afghanistan, then, is adding to the instability of the region and must be regarded as part of the problem.

The official bogey has been debunked by Mehmood Khan Achakzai, the outspoken leader of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP). He told the government that blaming external forces for domestic terrorism “would not work this time” and that intelligence agencies — which failed to protect the people of Quetta — would have to find out who was behind the heinous attack on the city’s Civil Hospital.   Achakzai said in Pakistan National Assembly that was discussing a resolution on the Quetta carnage: “Quetta has been living under the shadow of terrorism. There is an armed Frontier Corps (FC) presence and intelligence operatives on every street; Quetta is a city of 12 streets, but thousands of people have been killed there. But none of [the culprits] has been caught or killed; what is the problem?

“It is a 100pc flaw of the intelligence agencies,” he said of the attack, adding that the intelligence agencies used to be able to “find a needle in muddy water” and asked what had happened to their capabilities.

“Nawaz Sharif should order intelligence agencies to deliver tangible results. Saying ‘RAW did it’ or ‘Mossad did it’ won’t cut it. Investigate, find out who [the perpetrators] are and where they are hiding and — with our support — kick them out,” he demanded.

In his reply to the debate, Nawaz Sharif made no allegation or insinuation against Indian or Afghan quarters.

Pakistan has from time to time talked of “three dossiers” of evidence about India’s alleged interference in Pakistan, in the case of Balochistan, using Afghanistan’s territory. The ‘dossiers’ are supposed to have ben officially submitted to the United States.  Indeed. Mr Sartaj Aziz, National Security Advisor to PM Nawaz Sharif flaunted three plastic files before the media after he could not visit New Delhi for bilateral talks last year.  It is clear that neither the US nor for that matter, anyone in responsible position in any government outside of Pakistan has taken these ‘dossiers’ with any seriousness.

180d2fd38d9ea2c9876081cf24a4fd2aOn June 22 this year, US Special Envoy Richard Olson told American think tank Atlantic Council in Washington that Pakistan’s concerns over India’s role in Afghanistan were “overestimated”.

Disagreeing with Pakistan’s concerns that India was using its strong presence in Afghanistan to stir trouble in Balochistan, the US envoy said: “India has been a supportive partner for Afghanistan. It has provided a limited amount but important military assistance (to Afghanistan).”

Mr Olson, who was the US Ambassador to Pakistan before taking up his present assignment, was asked to comment on the perception in Pakistan that India had set up 24 consulates in Afghanistan, some close to the Pakistani border.  There were only “four Indian consulates in Afghanistan”, said the US envoy while explaining how the perceived Indian threat was exaggerated in Pakistan.  “I sometimes feel that the degree of Indian influence on Afghanistan may be overestimated in Pakistan,” he added.

Mr Olson reminded Pakistani decision makers that they had their own security concerns and needed to focus on them.   “Pakistan will not be secure, until and unless” it took action against terrorist organisations, like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, he said.

The US has since refused to give Pakistan $300 million to aid its anti-terror operations for failing to act against the Haqqani network.