Dr Simrit Kahlon
After three days of breathless media speculation, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, has finally accepted the invitation to attend the swearing-in of the Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India (designate). One can now expect a short respite in the evening news before the endless debate on the outcome of the visit overwhelms the collective psyche of the nation. Once again this small, poverty stricken, decrepit nation has stolen from us a precious moment in our democratic history and placed itself centre stage.
Why can we not treat the entire matter as a routine courtesy extended by one head of state to another and leave it at that? To expect any tangible outcome from this short visit amounts to living in a fool’s paradise; why look into it for anything more than a brief social interaction?
The phobia of Indo-Pakistan relations is not restricted to India alone. There are many in Pakistan who would go to any lengths to scuttle any such interaction at the political level. This time round, their disruptive attempt manifested itself in the form of an audacious attack on the Indian consulate in Herat, Afghanistan.
There is no need to discuss or speculate on the identity of the perpetrators of this heinous attack. There is no doubt about the hand of Pakistan Army’s spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) in this heinous act. It could have been engineered with the support of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Haqqani network, the Afghan Taliban or all three joined together; after all, the ISI enjoys an enduring relationship with all three and has the luxury to take its pick.
To blame the ISI in totality is also incorrect! The ISI does what its parent organisation, the Pakistan army, tells it to do. It may have certain autonomy in its tactical functions and nefarious covert activities, but at the end of it all, it only obeys the missive of the military leadership. It is for this reason that the points-men for the ISI, the faces in Pakistan’s society who articulate the line followed by the spy agency, are high ranking officers of the Pakistan Army both serving and retired.
Even when the US was grappling with the tragedy of 9/11 the then chief of ISI, Lt General Mahmud Ahmed said on record to state that Mullah Omar is a “religious man with humanitarian instincts, not prone to violence.” Is there a need any more to speak on the ISI-Taliban nexus? A recent video produced by Stave Baknar for the BBC emphasises that Pakistan always maintained an agenda of keeping the Taliban alive to fight another day. The video contains an interview by the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan in which the former states that he was visited by Lt General Mahmud Ahmed and assured that Pakistan would continue to support the Taliban in its Jihad as it had done earlier; this when the country was getting ready to become a partner with the US and the NATO forces in the global war against terror.
Today the Taliban and the religious fundamentalist line is being articulated by very senior retired Pakistan army officers like General (R) Mirza Aslam Beg, former army chief and Lt General (R) Hamid Gul, former head of the ISI. Both officers are the frontrunners in a string of other officers who show open allegiance to the Taliban. It can be said with a reasonable amount of surety that they are being financially supported in the tune of millions of dollars for their efforts. For this purpose, there is no source other than Narco-dollars that form the secret fund of the ISI.
While the international terrorist offensive was going on to dissuade Nawaz Sharif from his “misadventure” of visiting India, back home he was facing an uphill task of convincing his masters – the Army and the militants. Finally, good sense prevailed with the Army and the fundamentalist forces giving in to the inevitable of bowing to a bigger power, but only after an exhibition of their strength in Pakistan.
So Nawaz Sharif accepted the invitation and the media in India went into raptures. Nawaz Sharif is now being feted as a strong leader who stood up to the might of the fundamentalist and military forces to get to do what he wants to do. The coming days are being forecast as a new beginning in Indo-Pakistan relations due to the statesmanship of two strong leaders.
The acceptance of Nawaz Sharif to attend the function cannot be seen as an exhibition of his strength. It is the backdoor negotiations that he was compelled to carry out with radical forces in his country to reach to this decision that are of significance. They indicate his weak position in the political landscape of his country. Would the Prime Minister of India take anybody’s permission before accepting an invitation of this nature, least of all the Indian army? He may take advice but will decide by himself. Not so for Nawaz Sharif.
Even as the Pakistani Prime Minister packs his Armani suits terrorists like Hafiz Saeed are on the air castigating his decision. Pray in what capacity are they making such statements? Why has the Pakistan government not clamped down on them? When Nawaz Sharif gets back he can expect a whipping from his “mentors” for having played truant.
There is no reason to be optimistic let alone euphoric about this visit. The best option for Narendra Modi is to be courteous to Nawaz Sharif and his delegation; talk about his suits, the weather and things like that, wish him well and have him escorted to his aircraft with some choice Indian mangoes and Gujarati Dokhla as return gifts.
In the meantime, the Indian army along the line of control and the border needs to brace itself for the onslaught of ceasefire violations and infiltration bids that will come in the wake of this visit. Disruptions of normal life and an increase in terrorist activity will also be seen in the Kashmir valley. This will be the only “outcome of the visit”.