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Have Pakistan army and Nawaz Sharif struck a deal?

By Rajeev Sharma
May 17, 2017 21:41 IST
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While some say an agreement was reached over the Panama Papers, others suggest that Nawaz Sharif may have handed the CPEC to the military in exchange for his survival, says Rajeev Sharma.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, right, with Pakistan amy chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa

From the recent tweets posted by Pakistan's Inter Services Public Relations, it appears that all is well between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Pakistan army chief.

The army has clearly been mollified by Sharif and therefore withdrawn its April 29, 2017 release, which rejected the prime minister's decision on the Dawn leaks case (which last year exposed the civilian government-military rift in Pakistan) based on the inquiry committee's report.

So what's new?

It is well known that Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif are past masters at navigating their way through any labyrinth.

Before analysing the possible deal between General Bajwa and Nawaz Sharif it is worth quoting the latest ISPR release verbatim for it speaks volumes.

The May 10 release states, 'The tweet on 29 April 2017 was not aimed at any government office or person.'

'Recommendations as contained in Para 18 of the Inquiry Committee Report, duly approved by the Prime Minister, have been implemented, which has settled the Dawn leaks issue. Accordingly, ISPR's said Twitter post stands withdrawn and has become infructuous.'

'Pakistan Army reiterates its firm commitment and continued resolve to uphold the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and support the democratic process,' the release states.

If Nawaz Sharif removed Tariq Fatemi -- one of his key advisors -- as an outcome of the inquiry committee's recommendations, then why did the army reject the government's first notification, stating it was not in line with what the inquiry panel recommended?

The only plausible reason is that the army thought that others implicated in the case including Sartaj Aziz -- Sharif's foreign policy advisor -- should be sacked.

These individuals are suspected of having leaked the information about an army-Sharif rift that appeared in the Dawn newspaper last October and provoked tremors in the Pakistani ruling establishment that refuse to die down.

The army was also keen that action be initiated against Cyril Almeida, the Dawn columnist who reported the rift.

On the same day the ISPR settled the Dawn leaks issue, Pakistan's interior ministry issued a notification which inter alia asked the All Pakistan Newspaper Society to initiate action against Almeida and the Dawn newspaper.

The Sharif government also proposed that a code of conduct for journalists be put in place when covering national security issues.

The notification endorsed Sharif's proposal to withdraw the foreign affairs portfolio from Tareq Fatemi, Sharif's special assistant.

After Dawn published Almeida's report on October 6, 2016, the Sharif government constituted a seven-member inquiry committee headed by retired Justice Aamer Raza Khan on November 7, 2016. The committee was to have submitted its report within 30 days.

Apart from Justice Khan, the committee had Najeem Saeed, provisional ombudsman, government of Punjab; Syed Taher Shahbaz, secretary establishment; Dr Anwar Usman, director, Federal Investigation Agency, Punjab; and a representative each from the Inter-Services Intelligence, Intelligence Bureau and Military Intelligence.

The first victim of the Dawn report was then information minister Pervez Rashid who was sacked for apparently not preventing Almeida from publishing his report about the civil-military rift over dealing with terrorists in Pakistan.

Some media reports claimed Rashid had leaked the information about the high-level national security meeting in Islamabad where the government and military clashed on the terrorists issue.

Fatemi was likely made a scapegoat because the inquiry committee could not find anyone else to blame.

In his parting letter to colleagues in Pakistan's foreign ministry, Fatemi rejected the allegations and insinuations made about him. Of course, he did not specifically refer to the Dawn leaks case and the inquiry committee report.

At the high-level meeting last year, Sharif apparently informed the military that it was time to act against terrorists operating within Pakistan or the nation would face international isolation.

More damning were Shahbaz Sharif's reported remarks that the Pakistani security establishment worked behind the scenes to set any arrested terrorist free.

Essentially, the Dawn report pointed to the differences between the civilian government and the military on tackling terrorism.

This is well known as seen in the Sharif government's handling of Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist Masood Azhar and Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorist Muhamad Saeed.

Most Pakistani terrorists are creations of the Pakistan State, specifically the military and the ISI. Which is why Nawaz Sharif's national action plan on counter-terrorism -- drawn up after terrorists attacked an army school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014 and killed 133 children -- didn't get very far.

The army wanted to control even this undertaking by establishing military courts to try terrorists.

What deal did Nawaz Sharif and the army strike to settle the Dawn leaks issue?

Informed sources say a part of the deal involves the Panama Papers, where the sources of Sharif's family wealth has come under domestic and international scrutiny.

Pertinently, the leak of Indian steel tycoon Sajjan Jindal's meeting with Sharif in Murree occurred a few days before the army-government patch up, suggesting that the army is against any Pakistan overtures to India.

Sharif was happy to use that card in his dealings with the army.

What he likely told the army was that the Jindal meeting is part of back channel diplomacy with India.

The other possibility could be that Sharif has handed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor on a platter to the military in exchange for his political survival till the 2018 election.

IMAGE: Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, right, with Pakistan amy chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

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Rajeev Sharma