Dawn says Pakistan will up the ante against terror groups. Here's why it's hard to take them seriously
The reports of the civilian government in Pakistan directing the military to up the ante against terror groups - lest the country ends up isolating itself completely - needs to be taken with a large pinch of salt.
This is what the strategic affairs experts advise on the Dawn report Thursday morning. The report quoted sources present in a meeting between the ISI Chief General Rizwan Akhtar and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and said that two sets of actions had been agreed upon.
One that ISI Chief Akhtar and NSA chief Nasser Janjua will travel to the four provinces with a message "that military-led intelligence agencies are not to interfere if law enforcement acts against militant groups that are banned or until now considered off-limits for civilian action."
A clear reference to the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, the Haqqani network and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), the terror outfits which the ISI is known to patronise and use to attack Indian and Afghan targets.
And two, "that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has directed that fresh attempts be made to conclude the Pathankot investigation and restart the stalled Mumbai attacks-related trials in a Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court."
The China question
The report refers to Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry briefing the top brass about the US demanding action against the Haqqani network and the Chinese questioning the logic of repeatedly putting on hold the UN ban on Masood Azhar, the JeM chief.
India has raised this issue with the Chinese in the past. However, again recently for the second time, China blocked India's attempts to declare Azhar a global terrorist. On the issue of Kashmir as well, the Chinese foreign ministry recently stated that it takes Pakistan's position on Kashmir seriously.
The report in Dawn comes at a time when the Indian security establishment is said to have informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi that more than 100 operatives from terror outfits, including the LeT and the Jaish, are waiting to infiltrate into India.
A question is doing the rounds - if Pakistani government is serious about taking action, then why this aggressive push to non-state actors?
With Pakistan denying that Indian army carried out surgical strikes on the terror groups on their side of the Line of Control (LoC), the security experts warned that the only option available to the Pakistani military to respond are strikes by non-state actors, which would give them a window of deniability.
The strategic affairs experts had earlier also advised the Indian government to not fall into the Pakistani trap of resuming dialogue on promises of action against individuals or groups behind the attacks in India. That alibi has been used multiple times and is yet to produce any result, for the groups continue to operate from across the border.
The say & do divide
An analyst points out that till now Pakistani military is known to do the opposite of what has been directed to it by the civilian government, that it thwarts any action against these groups.
Something which the Dawn report too, notes, with a reference to Shahbaz Sharif, The Pakistan PM's sibling and Chief of Minister of Punjab who is said to have pointed out to the ISI chief that whenever an action has been taken by the civilian government, the military has worked behind the scenes to secure their release.
After which, according to the newspaper, Nawaz Sharif intervened and clarified that "policies pursued in the past were state policies and as such, they were the collective responsibility of the state." This is an admission of what Indian government has been saying all along.
The right pressure points?
Meanwhile, both the directives could be a result of the rising pressure from India especially the diplomatic offensive, where the Indian government has not just been able to take the message - that Pakistan continues to patronise and use terrorist groups - to the world, but at the regional level has been able to postpone the SAARC conference which was to take place in Islamabad in November.
Pakistan has been the target of a frustrated Afghan leadership as well which has been demanding action against the Haqqani network. For the first time in 30 years, all the members of SAARC, excluding Pakistan, agreed with India on the question of terrorism.
Experts say it is too early too read too much into the details of the report. One analyst points out that it looks rather implausible, that Nawaz Sharif, who is already under a lot of domestic pressure, especially from Imran Khan's Pakistani Tehreek-e-Insaaf wich held an impressive rally in Raiwind recently and threatened a blockade of Islamabad after Moharram, would open another front against the military leadership.
Raheel Sharif, the chief of the Pakistani army is set to retire in the last week of November, setting off speculations of the possibility of a coup.
The analyst says even if Sharif wants to take advantage of the post surgical-strike situation, that the army is on a backfoot, and hence the time is right for the civilian leadership to up the ante, it may backfire badly.
The Pakistani military is like a wounded tiger after the strike, an analyst points out. And that if the pressure rises it may actually take the easier route of ousting the civilian government.
Pakistani generals have a history of taking that decision at critical junctures and nobody would know it better than Nawaz Sharif who had to flee to Saudi Arabia after a coup against his government.
While Raheel Shareef has ruled out an extension, he could go in for the option of a military takeover. His larger-than-life image, largely due to the space ceded by the civilian government, has taken a beating after Indian military's counter-terror strike across the border, which also led to casualties of Pakistani military personnel.
"He would not like to go with his tail between his legs," is how an analyst put it.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen
Also read: Why Pakistan may be compelled to retaliate