Pakistan at crossroads
Recent failures and developments have not only impacted the stability of Pakistan’s Government but have also weakened the position of its all-controlling military
The ruling establishment of Pakistan is already facing immense pressure from the combined political platform, the Progressive Democratic Movement (PDM) which recently held a series of impressive rallies, drawing huge crowds in Gujranwala, Quetta and Peshawar protesting against the Imran Khan regime, calling for its ouster.
Amid these, the Government was considerably embarrassed when during the senate proceedings of October 28, one of the opposition leaders, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq of the PML-N, caused a furore by disclosing that the Chief of the Army Staff, General Qamar Ahmad Bajwa, in the aftermath of the capture of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman of the Indian Air Force, was trembling with fear. And in that state of panic, he was pleading for the immediate release of the Indian Pilot as India had warned Pakistan of an imminent attack if the pilot was not released. This disclosure, led to rantings of "Modi", in the house which was in fact in midst of proceedings related to recent anti-Islamic happenings in France. Emboldened by such unprecedented pro-India chaotic scenes, some senators also raised slogans for an independent Balochistan and on the whole, it seemed that a large number of elected members had turned favourable towards India. In the video footage, a badly perspiring, frustrated and desperate Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi could be seen trying to restore order in anger and labelling the pro-India or pro-Modi shouters as traitors. That, however, didn't seem to help.
As the whole proceedings were captured in-camera, Pakistan couldn't extricate itself from the mess. Yet, the military swung into some damage control but to no avail. Major General Babar Iftikhar, DG Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), held a press conference on October 29 describing the development as disappointing and misleading on any link between the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan with anything other than Pakistan's mature response as a responsible state. This PR exercise came too late and did too little to firefight the damage already caused in the house. Although Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, obviously reeling under pressure and possibly in an afterthought statement, said he was quoted beyond context. Again, it was too late a reaction to compensate for any irreparable damage.
The Pakistani Army which always had the lever in its hands to use as and when it chooses a convenient opportunity is red-faced due to the widespread propaganda everywhere including in the cyberspace that its COAS was trembling with fear and wanting Abhinandan's release in February 2019 when Indian struck the Pakistani airspace after the Pulwama attacks. It's too hot for the army pride to swallow the affront.
What does it mean then as to how things happened? It could be either a natural turnaround on part of the Pakistani opposition to side with India openly at a time when the opposition including Nawaz Sharif has commenced a frontal attack on the army dispensation to dislodge the present government with anti-armed forces' rhetoric going viral. Or possibly, some sections of the Pakistani leaders have compromised their positions to come back to power. The success of the PDM is also indicative that the public opinion in Pakistan is rapidly changing and being openly in favour of India is no longer seen as unpatriotic by many. This makes Pakistan's position more fragile and the military weaker than before. Now, the army will shift the entire blame of its fallacies including this latest fiasco to the Indian intelligence agencies.
In this perspective, it's imperative to reiterate two more developments related to Pakistan. One is a ghastly terror attack by bombing at a Peshawar madrasa (Jamia Zubairia) on October 27 killing seven innocent children. General Bajwa visited the scene of occurrence on the 28th and said he saw a pattern in the Army Public School bombings of December 2014 and this assault which were the handiwork of the same enemy. His obvious insinuation was towards India. However, Dr Moeed Yusuf, the advisor to PM Imran Khan, in a recent interview, was blunt in blaming India for carrying out attacks inside Pakistan operating from an Indian Consulate in Afghanistan. He was simply echoing his PM's baseless assertions to a group of visiting Afghan MPs that India could use the Afghan soil to destabilise Pakistan. Afghan MPs though were not amused.
Incidentally, October 27 is observed by Pakistan as the Kashmir Day. But for the alertness by the Indian security agencies, Pakistan must have tried some misadventure in Kashmir.
Second, an important development which rattled Pakistan is the high powered India visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary, Mark Esper. Other than optics, this visit was significant as, during the 2+2 talks, the US and India formally signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geospatial Intelligence. This is the last of the four foundational defence agreements between the two countries on military cooperation in technology, defence manufacturing etc.
More importantly, both the US high profile visitors warned (October 27) Pakistan to take an irreversible action to ensure that its territory is not used for terror attacks and to speedily prosecute the perpetrators and the planners of the attacks in Mumbai, Uri and Pathankot as also to initiate action against IS, Al Qaeda and LeT active from Pakistan. This stern warning also seems unsettling for Pakistan which is already battling to survive with umpteen serious challenges. The Imran Khan ploy to divert attention by castigating France on its hardened stance against Islamic terrorists is also failing to draw any worthwhile attention. So, Pakistan is indeed at a crossroads!
The writer is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are personal