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The general, the 'spy' and no talks with India

By G Parthasarathy
April 09, 2016 20:52 IST
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Nawaz Sharif may have permitted the trial of Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists for the Pathankot attack.
But this fell apart because of General Raheel Shareef's keenness to make Kulbhushan Jadhav the centerpiece of global attention.
Ambassador G Parthasarthy, a former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, reveals the Pakistan army chief's gambit against India.

Pakistan army chief General Raheel Sharif

IMAGE: 'The worst kept secret today in Pakistan is that the country's elected prime minister and its overbearing army chief loathe each other.' Photograph: Faisal Mahmood/Reuters

Ever since 'Indian spy' Kulbhushan Jadhav appeared on Pakistan television screens in Pakistani military custody, the generals in Rawalpindi have been jumping around excitedly, to get India condemned, for allegedly backing terrorism in Pakistan.

They have, however, only succeeded in bringing more grief to their country's already low international credibility, resulting from its denial of being a State sponsor of terrorism.

They have, for years, also been looking for a 'smoking gun' to establish that India is a State sponsor of terrorism in Pakistan. In attempting to do so, they have shot themselves in the foot all too often.

Pakistan's de facto ruler, General Raheel Shareef, chose not to be present when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. He separately met President Rouhani, swagger stick in hand, the next day.

The obedient army spokesman dutifully tweeted that his exalted boss had given evidence to the Iranian president about the evil Indians using Iranian soil to destabilise the exalted Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

An obviously irritated President Rouhani bristled with anger, when he was asked about this, noting that India, like Pakistan, was regarded as a friendly country, by Iran. The Iranian embassy reiterated this a few days later. Pakistan now faces a dilemma.

Anything Jadhav says while in Pakistani custody will be brushed aside as being made under coercion. If the Pakistan military releases him, he could well point out some unpleasant truths about Pakistan.

Finally, if indeed he is a R&AW agent, he would not have been so dumb as to enter Pakistani territory, and more so its volatile Balochistan province, when he could operate comfortably from Iran, or elsewhere.

Pakistan's ludicrous behaviour has been heightened after it found its credibility in the Arab world sinking. Prime Minister Modi's visit to Saudi Arabia signaled a further erosion of its influence, in what Pakistan has historically felt, was its backyard -- the Gulf region.

Pakistan had certainly not bargained for, or envisaged a situation, when Saudi Arabia and its Arab Gulf neighbours would be cooperating actively with India, in dealing with Islamic radicals and seeking enhanced security cooperation with New Delhi.

This is happening, despite the fact that Mian Nawaz Sharif has personally been the recipient of Saudi patronage and protection, for decades.

The worst kept secret today in Pakistan is that the country's elected prime minister and its overbearing army chief loathe each other.

This is more so, after the army unilaterally commenced operations across the Punjab province -- the heartland of Nawz Sharif's political power -- without bothering to take the prime minister's approval.

While Sharif could countenance the army unilaterally acting in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan, he realises that he must look silly in the eyes of his Punjabi brethren when the army acts similarly in Punjab, on the very day that bomb blasts took a heavy toll of life in the Punjab capital, Lahore.

It is not surprising that these developments have inevitably cast a shadow on the already strained and complex relations with India.

Nawaz Sharif himself has a record of links with organisations like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba. But he has no particular affection for southern Punjab Deobandi groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammed.

It is for this reason that Nawaz Sharif appeared more than forthcoming in responding to India's request for action against the Jaish-e-Mohammed, led by Masood Azhar, the mastermind of the December 13, 2001 attack on India's Parliament.

While it would have been difficult -- if not impossible -- for the ISI to hand over Azhar to India, his foot soldiers could always have been treated as expendable and tried in Pakistan.

But all this fell apart because of Raheel Shareef's keenness to carry forward his ideas to establish a kangaroo court, to make Kulbhushan Jadhav the centerpiece of global attention.

Many of our analysts have focused primary attention on what the hapless Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit said about the 'peace process' being 'suspended,' while averring that no more meetings between foreign secretaries being 'scheduled.'

What they, however, failed to note was that Basit was actually intending to get across the views of his patrons in the Pakistan army's GHQ about the 'evil R&AW agent' Kulbhushan Jadhav.

Basit, like many other Pakistani diplomats, must be following the prudent procedure of acting according to the political winds in Islamabad and the army's GHQ in Rawalpindi.

And Basit, like his colleagues, must have noted that the political winds today are in favour of the general in Rawalpindi, rather than the prime minster in Islamabad.

What does all this foretell for the future?

It seems clear that while Nawaz Sharif recognises the need to be seen as being reasonable in dealing with India, General Shareef has other priorities.

Nawaz also has other facets to his personality. He realises that Prime Minister Modi has expended considerable political capital by reaching out personally to him.

He will have to host a very sparsely attended SAARC Summit in Islamabad later this year if the Indian prime minister acts difficult and makes his displeasure and grievances evident at the summit, especially if Pakistan is seen to be not acting reasonably on the Pathankot attack.

These are issues of secondary importance to General Raheel Shareef, for whom the strategy of how to take advantage of Kulbhushan Jadhav being in his custody needs to be the focus on continuous and indeed exclusive attention.

India needs to play it cool in the light of these developments. General Shareef calculates that given China's continuing support, Pakistan and the ISI have nothing to worry about on the possibility of UN Security Council action against Masood Azhar.

He will have the assets of Muhammed Saeed and Masood Azhar ready for crossing the LoC when the Himalayan snows melt in July. He also evidently believes that the Obama administration is not likely to do anything substantial to put the squeeze on Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the Pathankot attack to book.

Can New Delhi change these dynamics of American and Chinese policies anytime soon?

Realists like this writer will be quite sceptical on this score. Despite this, it serves India's interests quite well to keep persevering with moves that keep Pakistan on the defensive on issues of terrorism, while focusing attention on what Pakistan is doing in promoting radical terrorists outfits for use in both India and Afghanistan.

New Delhi would do well to counter efforts by Pakistan and China to contain it, by more proactive military cooperation with neighbours on the land and maritime borders of both these countries.

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