Nawaz Sharif is tearing down Pakistan's construct of lies and denials on 26/11; do our 'liberals' still want talks?

A cannon has been let loose in Pakistan. A former prime minister, PML-N chief and still the country's most influential politician, Nawaz Sharif has been cornered and squeezed out of options by the deep state to such an extent that a desperate Nawaz is now spraying bullets in all directions, causing grave internal haemorrhage in Pakistan. His latest utterances on 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks have caught on the wrong foot a revisionist nation that survives on anti-India hatred, lives in denial and uses terror to achieve foreign policy goals.

The implosion also holds crucial lessons for the delusional 'liberals' in India who dream of 'aman ki aasha' and advocate bilateral dialogue. They should note the fury that Nawaz is being subjected to for publicly admitting a truth that has found universal acceptance expect within the borders of an irredentist state. The internal debate and flurry of action that marked Nawaz's statement has no element of remorse or regret at having been complicit in an act of terror that killed 166 civilians and injured 300 others, instead, Pakistan is outraged at having being exposed before the world by one of its own. What dialogue could possibly be held with such a nation which has lost its moral compass?

To quote ORF senior fellow and Pakistan watcher Sushant Sareen post on Twitter:

Animus towards India runs so deep that the neighbour is perceived as an ideological and existential threat. These are not accidental, but carefully managed constructs. Pakistan is the original Islamist (not Islamic) state where Islamofascism has taken deep roots by thriving on ideological antagonism towards "Hindustan". On the other hand, the powerful military-industrial complex sells the story of a strategic threat from India to justify its grip over foreign policy and even national politics: completely undermining the civil administration and democracy. It uses the jihadi network to achieve a number of goals targeted at mitigating wide power asymmetries with India.

File image of Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. AP

File image of Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. AP

To quote from Tata Chair for strategic affairs Ashley Tellis's paper in Carnegie, "Pakistan Army’s conflict with India preserves its domestic political and economic predominance, and its efforts at protecting the “ideology of Pakistan” end up sustaining the perilous notion of a permanent Muslim resistance toward a “Hindu India.”

These twin impulses have created a reactionary state that seeks to take "revenge" on a 'Hindu India' and hamper its progress, even if through bloodshed. What wide-eyed 'liberals' in India do not understand is that in its acts of subversion towards India, Pakistan Army enjoys a tacit backing of the masses from whom it draws legitimacy and strength. It is the reason why Rawalpindi khakis (and not elected politicians) enjoy rock star status in Pakistan. The brief interludes of its short history when the civil administration has tried to assert some sort of control are marked by brutal blowbacks by the deep state (the military-judicial establishment) of the kind Nawaz is experiencing now.

Ever since Nawaz gave the interview to Dawn's Cyril Almeida where he admitted to Pakistan's role behind the terror attacks, an entire nation — its army, deep state, civil administration, political class, media and even the pliant civil society has recoiled and hauled him over the coals. The reason is obvious. Nawaz may not have said anything terribly new but his unvarnished plainspeak and status as a former prime minister has lent his admission a veracity and sanction that even the most damning evidence would struggle to achieve.

He told Dawn on Friday that Pakistan's narrative finds no acceptance in the world because of its isolationism, which arises from its policy of using jihadi terror. "Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?” — a reference to the Mumbai attacks-related trials which have stalled in a Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court."

India quickly followed with a statement with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman stating that the former Pakistani prime minister's comments amounted to a public acknowledgement and a "serious disclosure" that proved India's stated position. As Nawaz's comments caught fire on both sides of the border, the party founded by him and his own brother issued desperate denials that the former prime minister has been "misquoted" and "misinterpreted".

Shahbaz Sharif, Nawaz's younger brother and the president of his party PML-N, issued a statement insisting that the news report had “incorrectly attributed certain remarks to PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif, which do not represent PML-N’s party policy" and that the party “rejects all assertions, direct or implied, made in the news report of Dawn.” His party issued another statement, blaming it all on Indian media which had apparently "grossly misinterpreted" Nawaz's words.

Former cricketer and founder of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Imran Khan, who dreams of grabbing power in upcoming elections, predictably took an anti-India line to excoriate Nawaz and garner some brownie points for himself, throwing in a reference to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi for added insurance.

Other political parties, including Pakistan's so-called liberals, doubled down on criticising Nawaz rather than committing the serious crime of attacking the army for its role in terror attacks.

Pakistan People's Party leader and former diplomat Sherry Rehman slammed Nawaz and said: "Pakistan has nothing to hide and always cooperated in the 26/11 attack trials. We would not allow Pakistan's honour to be hampered."

Another PPP leader, Aitzaz Ahsan, thought it fit to criticise the former prime minister and called his statement "way more dangerous than the Dawn leaks". Ahsan is a "certified liberal" and an "advocate of peace" between the two nations.

Former interior minister and PPP leader Rehman Malik demanded that Nawaz Sharif should redact the statements. He blamed the terror attack on India’s intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and called Nawaz's comments "extremely irresponsible".

Incidentally, Malik had admitted in 2009 in a televised address that “some part of the conspiracy (26/11 attacks) has taken place in Pakistan.”

A worried Pakistan army stepped in and called for a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC), the country’s top civil-military body, to assess and control the damage.

There was little hope of the NSC meeting reaching a consensus on anything other than finding Nawaz responsible for issuing an "incorrect and misleading" statement. Chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Monday's meeting said in a statement that "the participants observed that it was very unfortunate that the opinion arising out of either misconceptions or grievances was being presented in disregard of concrete facts and realities."

Faced with a barrage of criticism, Nawaz responded with another pushback, this one more interesting than the previous one. He claimed to have said "nothing wrong", completely contradicting the stance taken by his own party, brother Shahbaz and Prime Minister Abbasi.

"What did I say in the interview that was wrong?" a defiant Nawaz told reporters on Monday. "Former president Pervez Musharraf, former interior minister Rehman Malik and former National Security Adviser Major-General (retd) Mehmood Durrani had already confirmed [what I said]," he added.

To former interior minister Chaudhary Nisar's comments that India hasn't provided sufficient evidence to conclude the 26/11 trial, Nawaz said: "There is no shortage of evidence — there is plenty of evidence," according to another report in Dawn.

Quite clearly, Nawaz is taking on the military, civil administration and even the judiciary whom he blames for being complicit with the deep state in ousting him from power. This is the former prime minister's last throw of the dice by which he hopes to cause sufficient damage to the forces that seeks to install a more pliant prime minister in Islamabad. His strategy behind raking up the 26/11 attacks is to brew up a controversy in the media that the Pakistan army aims to keep under a tight leash in the run-up to elections.

The former prime minister feels increasingly powerless because the media is under huge pressure from the army to abandon its coverage of Nawaz. This is being done to control the narrative. As The Guardian says in a report, "the 'narrative' the army ostensibly wants to block involves a vitriolic and very public campaign by ousted Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif accusing the military and the judiciary of jointly working against him."

The army would rather have an Imran at the helm than Nawaz, who has a history of taking on the deep state to assert control over Pakistan's domestic and foreign policy. Nawaz won't go down without a fight, because he still boasts of political capital which few of his rivals possess. In this intriguing battle, one thing is clear. A country that is so deeply mired in self-delusion will never respond positively to diplomatic overtures.


Updated Date: May 15, 2018 05:44 AM

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