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Tag Archives | Raheel Sharif

Look out for MJC’s reaction to India’s changed articulation on Balochistan

India must be prepared for two responses — one from the MJC and one from the putative state of Pakistan

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

For the first time in many years, focus of the India—Pakistan discussion has veered from the familiar topics—Kashmir and cross-border terrorism originating in Pakistan—to Balochistan. After PM Modi’s reference to “the people of Balochistan” in his 2016 Independence Day speech, two immediate effects are clearly observable: one, the Baloch nationalists dispersed across the world have received greater attention from a completely new set of audiences. This has added much-needed vigour to their waning campaign against the atrocities committed by the Pakistani state in Balochistan. On the other hand, the intensification of the rhetoric has been met with one of the most brutal crackdowns by the Pakistani establishment within Balochistan—67 were killed and over 150 were reported missing in August alone.

The idea behind this post is not to gauge the wisdom or the folly behind the PM’s statement on Balochistan for such an exercise is futile.  Given that the wheels have already been set into motion, it would be worthwhile to ask: how will Pakistan react to this escalation from India?

To understand Pakistan’s reaction, it is critical to note that there will be two different responses because Pakistan is not one geopolitical entity, but two. The first is a putative state; currently represented by a civilian government and a civilian de-facto head of state, having its own flag and other paraphernalia that make it appear like a sovereign state. The competing entity is not just the military, as it is generally held. Instead, it is a dynamic syndicate of military, militant, radical Islamist and political-economic structures, which pursues a set of domestic and foreign policies to ensure its own survival and relative dominance: what we call the military—jihadi complex (MJC).

The MJC and the putative state of Pakistan, both will react differently to India, depending on their own capabilities and intentions. My colleague Nitin Pai explains this duality of response through this analogy:

So when New Delhi engages Pakistan, it is like one batsman against two bowlers bowling simultaneously. Just when you think you’ve played a great shot—a solid defensive one or a flashy hit over the bowler’s head—you realise that you’ve been bowled by the other bowler before you’ve finished your follow- through. The doppelgänger is always there, even if you declare you aren’t going to face him. Even if you ignore him. Even if, as it turns out, you accept that he is a part of the bowling team.

Thus, India must be prepared for two responses — one from the MJC and one from the putative state of Pakistan.

First, let’s see the response of the putative state: there are hardly any new tools in Nawaz Sharif’s retaliation bag. The first response will be: Kashmir. At international forums and at bilateral diplomatic meetings, the Pakistani state will try to make the Kashmir issue central to any discussion on India and Pakistan, once again. Internally, it might consider conceding some grounds to Baloch nationalist demands in order to negate the negative propaganda. CPEC will again be posed as a panacea for Balochistan’s problems. In what could be an indicator for times to come, a string of development projects were announced on 2nd September by Nawaz Sharif — a dam, Gwadar Free Zone, Business Complex and a University. 

The more interesting question is: how will the MJC react? the MJC will definitely see India’s act as a provocation and will be considering a retaliation to shift the focus off Balochistan, particularly when it is on the rampage there. The distraction can come in the form of: a terrorist attack on the lines of Gurdaspur and Pathankot. Or in the form of heightened infiltration attempts in the Kashmir valley. Internally, there will be a campaign to highlight that the discontent in Balochistan is a result of Indian intelligence agencies. One can also expect the MJC to bring Kulbhushan Jadhav back into the zeitgeist.

Regardless of the two reactions aimed against India, India’s pitch for the Baloch cause will have significant repercussions on the internal power play between MJC and the civilian leadership. And in the current scenario, the MJC will start with momentum in its favour. This is because a strong, shared culture is a cornerstone of the MJC—a powerful force that keeps the various nodes together. And perhaps the most important feature of this shared culture is a deep-seated antagonism towards India. With a wider set of options, covert and overt, available at hand, the MJC is always in a better position to project itself as the true protector against evil designs of the Indian state. 

The internal power struggle gets further convoluted when one brings into account the impending change of guard at the helm of the military, in two months time. While Nawaz Sharif would want to project that he’s in charge, the Indian angle in Balochistan will play to the advantage of the Pakistani military in particular. The next two months will help us gauge how the Balochistan issue affects civil-military relations in Pakistan.

Finally, a reaction there will be from the MJC. The question is, is the Indian government prepared to manage the consequences of MJC’s retaliation? Answering this question is critical for calculating the true costs or benefits of India’s escalation on Balochistan.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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Why Pakistan might not head for a coup in the near future?

In spite of all the indications of severe cracks in the civil-military relations, Pakistan may not have a coup simply because the army does not want it in the near future

Grave scenarios are being visualised in the present tumultuous conditions in Pakistan. The catalysing event was the suicide bomb attack on March 26 at a crowded park in Lahore. Reportedly, Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a splinter group of Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast. The blast left 69 people dead and 300 people injured. The Pakistani military and security agencies quickly swung into action by taking over the counter-terror operations even before PM Nawaz Sharif could finish an emergency meeting with his ministers. He had to even cancel a visit to Washington.

The tensions between the army chief General Raheel Sharif and the PM have been see-sawing since Nawaz Sharif got elected in 2013. There were allegations of rigging by Nawaz Sharif’s party, Pakistan Muslim League, PML (N). Coupled with charges of corruption against his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is the chief minister of Punjab, public sentiments culminated in an Azadi (freedom) march, a series of marches from August to December 2014.  A Muslim cleric, Tahirul Qadri also gave active support to Imran Khan, whose party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) organised these protests. Though Imran Khan asked the Pakistan army to stay neutral, the protests could not have taken place without the tacit support of the military-jihadi complex (MJC), which has a finger in every pie. Tahirul Qadri can be considered to be one of the cogs in MJC. Though, Raheel Sharif supported Nawaz Sharif publicly, there were certain undercurrents in their relationship.

The Pakistan Army launched operation Zarb-e-Azb after in June 2014 after an attack on Karachi airport by the jihadist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This operation was aimed at all jihadist elements in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), whether foreign or native. A retaliation to this was the attack on army public school in Peshawar by TTP on December 16, 2014. The importance of this attack on the institutions is gauged from the fact that the army took on itself the task of running the courts dealing with terror operations. In a way, this showed a lack of confidence in the judicial process in Pakistan.

Zarb-e-Azb has been claimed as a great success with over 2500 militants killed in 2014 and had support of political parties and people. As a result, Raheel Sharif is hugely popular army chief. With success of counter terror operations along with control over the judicial process against militants, he is in a very comfortable position. Nawaz Sharif is having the tough task of taking the brickbats for whatever wrong is happening. Based on the current events and lessons from past history, three possible scenarios can be forecast for the next six months or so.

First, sensing the rising discontent against Nawaz Sharif and massive corruption in public life, the army stages a coup. Sharif is jailed/exiled to Saudi Arabia and martial law is established. Raheel Sharif appoints himself as President. Second, the army stages a soft coup by installing Imran Khan as a caretaker PM and continues to hold the levers of power. Third, the army does nothing to upset the present political set up and plays wait-and-watch game. Of all the three, the third scenario seems most plausible due to a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that Raheel Sharif would want to ‘hang his boots’ on a high. He wouldn’t do anything to dilute the goodwill that the army has gained over the last two years. He hinted the same in a recent interview where he categorically stated that he won’t seek another extension on his tenure. Second, the army is in the best position by consolidating its hold over the security and foreign policies of the country. An indication of this was the appointment of General Nasir Khan Janjua as the National Security Advisor (NSA) in October 2015. Therefore, with its stranglehold over crucial levers of security, foreign policy and judicial process for jihadists, the military is firmly ensconced. Raheel Sharif will retire with his reputation intact and pursue golf. Pakistan will meander through remaining 2016. Nawaz Sharif is probably aware of this and he will do everything to reinforce his power before the new army chief is anointed in November this year.

 

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.

Featured Image: Lahore Fort Badshahi mosque by Wasif Malik, licensed by creativecommons.org

 

 

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Why India must not Talk to Pakistan after the Pathankot attacks

The recent Pathankot attacks have put the spotlight on the impending Foreign Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan. India’s stand should be clearly not to engage in talks now.

Ever since the terrorist attacks on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, the public discourse is getting  shriller.  If we watch the TV news shows, for the last couple of days, the anchors are hell bent on shaping the public opinion in the favour of cancelling the foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan. There is strident criticism of Modi having made a surprise visit to Pakistan during Christmas last year. Of course, Modi demonstrated statesmanlike behaviour by going the extra mile.  India must not engage with Pakistan now and talks should be postponed indefinitely till such time conditions demanded by India are satisfied by Pakistan.

First, there is a need to analyse the statement given by the Chief of the Army Staff General Dalbir Singh in the aftermath of the operations. As reported in the TOI, the army chief is quoted to have said that “every time Pakistan bleeds us by thousands of cuts…we just talk about it for a few days and after that we let it go as usual business.” This clearly indicates that he would certainly have had sanction of the government. However, India is still far off from acquiring operational capabilities like Mossad’s Entebbe raid where an Israeli commando action in another country successfully resulted in the rescue of hostages. But this alone should not give India reason to engage in talks. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was responsible for 26/11 and all pointers of the Pathankot attack are towards Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) (NIA chief Sharad Kumar’s interview to TOI). By all estimates, these attacks have been planned well in advance and there is no connection with Modi’s surprise visit to Pakistan. Having clearly established the hand of JeM, which happens be one of the important elements of Pakistan’s Military-Jihadi complex (MJC), there is no room for doubt that the topmost echelons of the Pak army were in the know of this plan. There is a sense of deja vu (a la Kargil) when Nawaz Sharif pleads that his government is neither aware nor involved. There is certainly no need to buy this argument.

Second, let there be clarity on which stakeholders are to be involved from Pakistan. The MJC finally seems to have given its blessings to the Nawaz Sharif government to go ahead with the talks. The inclusion of Kashmir issue from the Indian side apparently has given them a reason to do so. In this, we again come to the crux of the matter — which is the Sharif that India needs to talk to? Nawaz or Raheel (Pak army chief)? Or both? It is anybody’s guess the entire agenda of Pakistani position will be guided by the Pak army. This gets us to the classic catch 22 dilemma — damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Can India talk from a position of strength? Let the policymakers remember one thing clearly-never fear to negotiate, but do not negotiate out of fear.

Third, for those who feel that let Pakistan become a failed state and implode towards doom, a sense of schadenfreude is not the best way to solve this puzzle. Our national interest must be focused at achieving 8% GDP growth. It is the fear of widening gap with India that might have finally compelled the MJC to give its green signal for talks. India has the international support. It has a convincing stand that ‘terror and talks’ cannot happen together. Pakistan’s argument of non-state actors just does not hold water. The US has clearly asked Pakistan to take action against the perpetrators of this attack. France & Japan have condemned this attack without naming Pakistan publicly. If the talks have not taken off, it is singularly because of Pakistan. Realpolitik, not morality governs international relations. To conclude, it is certainly not in India’s national interest to give a push to talks at this juncture; it is Pakistan which is on the back foot. India must seize this opportunity to shame Pakistan internationally and isolate it. This is an opportunity to be seized.

 

Guru Aiyar is a research scholar with the Takshashila Institution. He tweets at @guruaiyar

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I know what you did last August feat. Military—Jihadi complex

Senator Mushahidullah Khan’s interview gives a sneak peek into the rumblings inside the Pakistani Military—Jihadi complex

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

This year’s August 14th was a day of mixed feelings for Pakistan. On one hand, it marked the 69th independence day of the nation-state. On the other, this day marked one year of the protest demonstrations by the PTI—PAT combine which threatened to push the country back into a state of anarchy and overt military control. The agitations formally ended on 17th December 2014, following a terrorist attack on Army School, Peshawar. The Nawaz Sharif government was back in (nominal) charge, after agreeing to a stringent set of “terms and conditions” determined by the military high command.

What has sparked a raging controversy in Pakistan, however, is a BBC Urdu interview of by PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan in which he directly blamed the then ISI chief Zaheerul Islam Abbasi of orchestrating these protests leading to an eventual coup.

As The Dawn reports:

He [Mushahidullah] alleged that former Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt. Gen Zaheerul Islam Abbasi wanted to overthrow Pakistan’s civil and military leadership during last year’s sit-ins by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek.

In his interview, Mushahidullah alleged that during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with army chief Gen Raheel Sharif on July 28, 2014, an audio tape was played in which Lt. Gen Zaheerul Islam could be heard giving orders to ransack the PM House and spread chaos.

On hearing the audio tape, Gen Raheel summoned the ISI chief to the meeting and played the tape in front of him, said Mushahidullah. When Zaheerul Islam confirmed that the voice was his own, the army chief asked him to leave.

As expected, these revelations did not go down well with either the military or the weakened civilian government. Nevertheless, these statements indicate the politics and the forces of repulsion within the Military—Jihadi complex(MJC). These indications can be summarised as below:

  1. Tensions within the complex have intensified. Some factions are not satisfied with the MJC’s covert control of the government. Such factions would rather prefer a direct control over decision-making. Doing so means that overthrowing a civilian government isn’t sufficient anymore. It should be accompanied with a coup in the MJC itself. Thus, we can expect further clashes within the military node of the MJC going ahead.
  2. The revelatory audio tape which finds mention in the interview was reported to have been obtained by officials of the civilian intelligence agency – Intelligence Bureau. This is the second point of fracture within the MJC. Afraid of the ISI’s proven record of causing internal disturbance, the civilian government and a few sections of the MJC are strengthening the IB as a bulwark. It will be interesting to see how the ISI gets back at the IB after this incident.
  3. This incident highlights how easy it is for the MJC to orchestrate a “civilian” protest. All political parties in Pakistan owe their existence to the military in one way or the other. Whenever the MJC or some factions within it desire to shakeup the civilian establishment, they have a long line-up of political parties who can front protests, dharnas and violence.
  4. Perhaps the most damning part of the interview was an acknowledgement that Zaheerul Islam Abbasi and his co-conspirators would not be tried for treason, as the civilian establishment has neither the credibility nor the capacity to anger elements of the MJC.

What happens next in this story will help us understand how the military—jihadi complex can be dismantled.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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