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Sharif’s intentions

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday unequivocally said that his government will go to any lengths to uncover the alleged use of its soil in the attack on the airbase in Pathankot by suspected Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists. Suffice to say, this is the clearest indication yet from Islamabad of its intention to investigate the attack. The first step in the Bilateral Comprehensive Dialogue process (foreign secretary-level talks) between India and Pakistan was put on hold by both sides after the Pathankot attack.  In this context, Sharif’s said that the Pathankot attack had a “negative impact” on the talks with India. The talks, he argued, were “going in the right direction” before the fateful attack. Foreign policy mandarins in New Delhi have construed these statements as an acknowledgement that although Sharif indeed intends to improve bilateral relations, his hands are seemingly tied due to domestic pressures. Sharif’s sense of frustration is apparent. In the wake of the Pathankot attack, Islamabad had formed a high-level six-member committee to probe the incident. 

It is evidently clear that the pressures against Sharif’s plans to improve relations with India are coming from the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment. Non-state entities such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed are used by the Pakistani military to destabilize India’s internal security, without necessarily taking the blame for it. India, meanwhile, has responded to these attempts in an aggressive manner. In its attack on the Pathankot air base, the JeM and its sympathisers in the Pakistani military establishment, sought to derail the peace process. But through their mature responses, the India and Pakistan sought to thwart the JeM’s aims. However, without concrete action against these rabid elements, it is difficult to see any progress in the dialogue process. Although the Pakistan government seems to be acting tough on the JeM, one must ask why its offices were only sealed in the past month, thirteen years after the group was banned by the state. Such a cynical response can be extended to the lack of concrete action against Jamaat-Ud-Dawa head Hafiz Saeed as well as Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi before him. Until he was taken into “protective custody”, Masood Azhar roamed around Pakistan a free man, preaching jihad across the country. As this column has repeatedly stated, the Pakistan state establishment must ensure that initial actions against the JeM are translated into long-term and worthwhile steps. Suffice to say, these steps must ensure the long-term dismantling of militant groups. For far too long the steps were undertaken by the Pakistani state establishment to investigate home-grown terror have fallen apart. The most pertinent example is the botched trial of 26/11 attack mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. And going by past attempts at taking action against terror groups and their leaders, it is not unreasonable to believe that nothing will come of it. However, by coming back to square one, Pakistan has nothing to gain.
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