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False dawn? Here's why we should be very skeptical of Nawaz Sharif's epiphany

In times of confusion, old adages offer prescience. And this one will be particularly useful when it comes to Pakistan — 'if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't'.

Before we rush in to rejoice over the apparent discord between Pakistan's civil and military administration over its terror operatives, it would be useful to remember that when it comes to Pakistan, nothing is at it seems.

File image of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Reuters

File image of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Reuters

The present conjecture has arisen out of a single source, a report from Pakistan-based Dawn newspaper that leaks details of an "extraordinary meeting" where Pakistan's civil administration purportedly told the military chiefs that they should either rein their terror puppets or the country faces "diplomatic isolation".

According to Dawn, the meeting between Pakistan's foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and a small but powerful coterie of government and military officials including ISI chief Rizwan Akhtar resulted in two decisions. One, military-led intelligence agencies won't interfere if law enforcement acts against militant groups and two, fresh attempts will be made to conclude the Pathankot investigation and restart the stalled Mumbai attacks-related trials in a Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court.

This sounds, to put it mildly, improbable.

To assume that Pakistan's civil administration has asked the Rawalpindi khakis to act against militants requires major suspension of disbelief. It would mean that going against Pakistan's historical subversion of power and the civil administration's total irrelevance, Nawaz Sharif has miraculously found a spine.

We are talking about a country where the balance of power between elected government members and the army is so heavily skewed that nobody even in Pakistan believes that the Prime Minister enjoys any autonomy of power. There have been umpteen reports and even social media memes on how the speech read out by Nawaz Sharif at the UN General Assembly, where he praised a terrorist as a martyr and immeasurably weakened Pakistan's case, was vetted by Rawalpindi GHQ.

Also, professor C Christine Fair of the Georgetown University, author of Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army's Way of War and a noted south Asia analyst, was quick to point out that the clever differentiation being attempted between Pakistan's civil and military dispensation is false, because when it comes to rearing, nurturing and exporting terror, the Nawaz Sharif government is as culpable as the army or ISI.

Even if we play the Devil's Advocate and grant that Nawaz is sincere in his latest effort, it stretches credulity to think that he'd suddenly find the courage to confront the Army, knowing well that his seat is secure as long as it is allowed to be from Rawalpindi.

Besides, there is history.

On the Pathankot attack, Professor Fair writes in Huffington Post how Masood Azhar's Jaish-e-Mohammad was rejuvenated and used by Islamabad to manage "its own internal security challenges as well as a cornerstone of its policy of nuclear blackmail to achieve ideological objectives in Kashmir...Pakistan does so not merely to 'disrupt peace' with India; rather, to prosecute the Pakistan army's endless war on India within its borders and across South Asia."

Considering the posture that Nawaz Sharif has consistently aired vis-à-vis Kashmir and the steadfast effort he has put in — dispatching 22 envoys in different parts of the world to highlight the issue in different parts of the world — it is surprising that Indian media believes Pakistan's civil administration is not on the same page as the military.

Bear in mind that when Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh was on a Saarc visit to Islamabad, he had to take a chopper to his hotel because 26/11 mastermind and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed was holding a rally in Lahore against Rajnath's visit while Hizbul Mujaheedin chief Syed Salahuddin was lighting the embers elsewhere in Pakistan. It would be presumptuous to think that these terror masterminds were roaming free and holding rallies without active collusion and backing from the civil administration.

A more likely explanation of the charade is the concerted international pressure that Pakistan is under, following a string of terrorist attacks on Indian soil and New Delhi's diplomatic offensive. Sharif's "courtroom drama" with calculated leaks in media seems to be aimed at sending a message to the global powers that Pakistan is "serious about battling terror", a posture that has served Pakistan well and ensured a line of unending credit from Washington.

Interestingly, the Dawn report tantalizingly hints at such a manouvre. It says: "According to several government officials, Monday’s confrontation was part of a high-stakes gamble by Prime Minister Sharif to try and forestall further diplomatic pressure on Pakistan."

As Tanvi Madan, Fellow and director of India Project at Brookings Institution pointed out on Twitter, this message could be aimed at Washington, who in recent times have indicated that its patience with Pakistan's war games is wearing thin and Beijing, which can never be taken for granted.

Whatever be the case, for policymakers in India, it would be better to wait and watch what Pakistan does. The proof of the pudding is in eating.

Updated Date: Oct 07, 2016 07:48 AM

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