Home » international news » Uri & surgical strikes: India has played it right, Pakistan is tottering on internal issues

Uri & surgical strikes: India has played it right, Pakistan is tottering on internal issues

Vivek Katju | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:45 IST

As in the past, military action by India against Pakistan, even the surgical strike unacknowledged by the latter, is leading to dissensions between the army and the political leadership.

The Sharif brothers wish to put the generals on the back foot and this is evident from a deliberately leaked report in the Dawn newspaper's 6 October edition.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's office has dismissed the report and has praised the role of the Pakistan army in combating terrorism but the denial is not surprising and is of no consequence.

Author of the Dawn report, Cyril Almeida, reveals that in a restricted civilian-military meeting presided by Nawaz Sharif, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said that Pakistan's recent diplomatic efforts (an obvious reference to highlight the Kashmir valley agitation after the killing of terrorist Burhan Wani) was met with international "indifference".

He also said that the international community demanded Pakistani action against terrorist groups Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) and the Haqqani network. Even China wanted Pakistan to change "course".

Punjab Chief Minister and the prime minister's younger brother Shahbaz Sharif complained that the security agencies prevented the civilian police from taking effective action against these banned terrorist outfits.

It was thus apparent, as the Dawn report noted, that the Sharifs were giving a "blunt, orchestrated and unprecedented" warning to their generals that Pakistan was facing international isolation.

The Nawaz Sharif story

Nawaz Sharif, a onetime army protégé, has had a stormy relationship with the army. Within a year of his becoming prime minister, for the third time in May 2013, Nawaz Sharif's relations soured with the army again despite the appointment of his chosen general Raheel Sharif as army chief.

The reasons for this downturn included his desire to have a greater role in controlling Pakistan's security policies, especially its India component. This the army was unwilling to concede and ultimately Nawaz Sharif relented.

But much to the army's great unhappiness, he continued to act without their approval sometimes - as in concluding the India-Pakistan Joint Statement at Ufa in July 2015 which the army effectively eroded or while accepting Modi's stopover visit to Lahore on Christmas day last year.

The Pathankot attack in January this year was the generals' response to the Sharif-Modi foray.

Kashmir cause

Nawaz Sharif and the generals are however on the same page regarding their "commitment" to the so-called "Kashmir cause".

When the Kashmir valley agitation began after Burhan Wani was killed on 8 July, Pakistan activated a clear, previously thought-out, plan. It initially focussed on the orchestration of large funeral demonstrations, thereafter they got stone-pelting youths out on the streets, keeping the traditional separatist leadership in the background.

Finally, they drew the attention of international community to the so-called human right violations of peaceful demonstrators through brutal and violent actions of the Indian security forces.

The objective was single-minded - the international community should pressure India to begin talks with Pakistan on Kashmir and a major diplomatic effort was mounted for this purpose.

However, as Aizaz Chaudhry reported at the meeting, the major powers had no interest in the Pakistani case. Instead, they focussed on terrorists, such as Hafiz Saeed, who were allowed to roam around freely in Pakistan.

As diplomacy failed, the generals turned to the old theme, a major terrorist strike in the Valley, to draw attention to Kashmir just prior to the United Nations General Assembly session.

Pakistan's constant endeavour has been to ensure that whenever Indo-Pak tensions rise, the attention of the international community is drawn to the dangers of nuclear war so that it calls on both countries to resume a dialogue.

Nothing raises bilateral tensions more than a major terrorist attack on an army facility which results in a large number of fatalities - as it occurred on 18 October at Uri.

Sponsored terror

However, the global powers are getting impatient with Pakistan's continued sponsorship of terrorism. These powers will not give up their engagement with Pakistan, especially the army, but can send signals of their unhappiness as they did after Uri.

Besides the Modi government played its cards astutely in the aftermath of the Uri attack. India vowed to punish the perpetrators and raised issues such as the Indus Waters Treaty, MFN and Baluchistan, but, took no action on the ground as long as the UNGA high-level segment continued.

Thus, the traction that Pakistan had hoped for failed.

On the other hand, Uri brought the focus back on Pakistan's continuous use of terrorism and took attention further away from its portrayal of the Kashmir agitation as a peaceful protest.

Strike out

And it was in this context that India launched the surgical strikes. The Pakistan army could not accept that they took place for that would show weakness and raise inconvenient questions. It also could not accept them for it would crack the carefully nurtured argument that the use of the army by India in response to a terrorist act risked escalation leading to nuclear war.

Nawaz Sharif, thus, had the capacity to severely embarrass the army. And all this is happening when Raheel Sharif is about to retire and there is natural uncertainty among the senior generals.

Nawaz Sharif is obviously keeping this in mind. It is a dangerous game for the Sharifs to play for the generals tend to close ranks whenever their hold over the country's security policies are questioned. Their corporate interest also demands that the army's reputation remains intact.

Empty rhetoric?

Meanwhile, Raheel Sharif has kept up the rhetoric on Kashmir. But Nawaz Sharif can live with this. However, despite signals that the army would not come in the way of action against banned terrorist organisations, it is unlikely that it would allow its prize assets to be folded up or concede supremacy over Pakistan's security policies.

Some cosmetic action may be taken but the Sharifs and the army will bide their time for the next two months till the question of the new army chief is settled. Their tensions will continue and Pakistani public life will be on edge.

The danger for India is that if Pakistan takes cosmetic action against the terrorists the US may ask India to engage Pakistan in dialogue. India will have to resist these pressures till it is satisfied that effective action has been taken against the terrorist tanzeems.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

Also read: In the aftermath of India's surgical strikes, who will be Pakistan's next army chief?

Also read: Surgical strikes: Why CNN-News18's sting on a PoK cop doesn't add up

Also read: Surgical strikes: Pakistan now plans to take Indian scribes to 'targeted' sites

First published: 7 October 2016, 6:48 IST
Vivek Katju @CatchNews

Vivek Katju is a retired diplomat who has served as India's ambassador to Afghanistan, Myanmar and Thailand.