Face to face with Frankenstein

By K.N. Pandita

No surprise that Pakistani terrorist attack on Pathankot air base is getting internationalized; not at India’s asking. Pakistan’s mortification is almost unprecedented.

For the third time, the US has reacted on Pathankot attack. Recently Secretary of State Kerry spoke to Nawaz Sharif asking him to take on the terrorists.

Significantly, in his State of the Union address, President Obama mentioned Pakistan by name and predicted that “instability will continue for decades in Pakistan and Afghanistan”.

Under US pressure, Pakistan government has announced raids on centers of Jaish-e-Muhammad and arrest of some people. Jaish chief Azhar, along with his brother have been taken into safe custody.

Pakistan army chief was summoned to Washington after Nawaz Sharif completed his official visit. A message has gone to the Pakistan army.

Our experience says the situation is extraordinarily fragile for the Prime Minister and the Army Chief in Pakistan. Jaish or LeT are only a mask and the real force behind these is the army. The question is how long Nawaz Sharif will go on using the crutches provided by the State Department.

However, for General Raheel the situation promises no better prospect. The world opinion as well as the domestic scenario is least supportive of a coup. Pakistan army is spread over in PK and on Indo-Pak border. India is reinforcing her border power to counter accidents like Pathankot.

Washington’s concern is that if hard pressed, Pakistan army could allow the terrorist limited access to her nuclear arsenal. In fact the small scale nuclear bomb technology obtained by Pakistan from China can be a source of worry for Washington.

India does not expect any significant outcome from Islamabad’s claim of going after the terrorists, Jaish or others. The least that India should have demanded handing over of the Chairman of United Jihad Council, Salahud Din, who is an Indian national and has claimed responsibility for Pathankot attack. India had better justification for demanding his extradition rather then that of Azhar.

We do not see any positive result coming out of the so-called pursuit of terrorist organizations in Pakistan by that government. Modi’s unexpected stop over in Lahore and bonhomie with Nawaz is not a bad policy. If nothing it has at least brought the democratically elected government and the Pak army in sharp disagreement over Pakistan’s India policy. Moreover, it has dragged the US into the Indo=Pak fray despite official statements to the contrary.

The situation in the sub-continent has been correctly summed up by Obama in his State of the Union address that for decades, insecurity will continue in Pakistan-Afghanistan region because it is the epicenter of terrorism at the moment. The statement is also a warning of sorts purporting to convey that if Pakistan does not stop using terror as an instrument of state policy, fragmentation and dismemberment of Pakistan may not be delayed for too long.

Aware of involvement of Pakistan-based jihadi organization in the attack, India, in the initial stages, avoided hurling volleys of accusation. New Delhi silently but carefully gathered together much crucial evidence, which implicates Jaish-e- Muhammad with ISI complicity.

India has provided evidence to Pakistan, in all probability to Washington also. The US States Department has taken serious note of the matter. Under the obligation of India-US joint effort to curb terrorism, the States Ministry has voiced concern over Pathankot air base attack.

This indicates conspicuous change in Pakistan’s traditional reaction to allegations New Delhi has been bringing to her doorsteps. By traditional reaction we mean the tradition of deniability.

Hours after Nawaz Sharif’s assurance that action would be taken, the US States Department spokesman John Kirby came out with an unusually strong statement saying, “The US expects Pakistan will take actions against the perpetrators of the terror attack on IAF base in Pathankot. The government of Pakistan has spoken very powerfully to this and it’s certainly our expectation that they’ll treat this exactly the way they’ve said they would.” The US is convinced of Pak factor.

Describing terrorism as a “shared challenge” in South Asia, the US also asked all countries in the region to work together to dismantle terrorist networks and bring perpetrators of the Pathankot terrorist attack to justice.

“We have been clear with the highest levels of the government of Pakistan that it must continue to target all militant groups,” Kirby said. The government of Pakistan has said publicly and privately that it’s not going to discriminate among terrorist groups as part of its counter-terrorism operation, he said.

This statement has more meaning than what meets the eye. It asks for Pakistan’s reiteration of commitment made in meeting terrorist challenge as she herself is its victim.

It holds Pakistani terrorists responsible for master minding the attack, and hence demands action against the “perpetrators of terror attack. By inference it holds Pakistan responsible for not controlling the jihadis

The US is clear who the “perpetrators” of terror are and wherefrom do they draw strength. The question is this: Has Nawaz Sharif the strength to bring the perpetrators to book. They are the creation of ISI and the army.

If Washington supports Islamabad regime it will bode ill for Pakistan army. The army will be left with two options. Either it must submit to the democratically elected government’s policy or it must repeat Musharraf’s prescription of 1999.

The US consider terrorism a “shared challenge” in South Asia, and has asked all countries in the region to work together to “disrupt and dismantle terrorist networks and bring justice to the perpetrators of the Pathankot terrorist attack.

The inference is that now is the time for Pakistan to dismantle the terrorist structure in that country. India and the US would certainly lend assistance in that venture.
Feeling the growing pressure from the US, the ISI played its traditional card. It made UJC own the attack. ISI considers it the tactics of shifting pressure from the US. Strangely, New Delhi has not raked this point with full force.

UJC’s confession came only after the last terrorist in Pathankot was gunned down. Why did the UJC wait for four days? The reason is simple. It had the strong apprehension that Indian security forces were delaying the combing up operation with the specific purpose of capturing at least one or two terrorist alive. If that had happened, UJC would not have owned responsibility.

In any way the albatross is round the neck of Pakistan. Kirby mentioned more than once that Pakistan had clarified that it did not discriminate between good and bad terrorist. That is an indirect way of saying that those claiming to be the “freedom fighters” (as in Kashmir) cannot be discriminated from terrorists because the UJC has owned responsibility for Pathankot terrorist attack.

Two more contextual points need to be taken into consideration. One is an article published in the Daily Beast by Bruce Riedel, who worked in the National Security Council of the White House and was among the few present at the Bill Clinton-Nawaz Sharif meeting in 1999 during Kargil war. Without mincing words, he writes, “The attack is designed to prevent any detente between India and Pakistan after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise Christmas Day visit to Pakistan.” He goes on to say that the attacks in Pathankot and on the Indian Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan was the handiwork of Pakistani terror group Jaish-e-Muhammad, which the ISI created 15 years ago.”
Riedel, a former CIA officer goes on to state that the ISI is under the generals’ command and is composed of army officers, so the spies are controlled by the Pakistani army, which justifies its large budget and nuclear weapons program by citing the Indian menace.

In final analysis, circumstances are shaping rapidly in Pakistan in which the elected government is coming into direct confrontation with the GHQ. Islamabad seems to be trying to assert the uni-polarity of power in Pakistan, an option which GHQ will never allow. On what strength h as it thrown a challenge to the army, we cannot say. The two capitals agreeing not to allow Pathankot attack disrupt impending foreign secretary meeting, is a slap on the face of Pakistan army. The inference is simple. If Nawaz has the green signal from Washington, the army has to eat the humble pie; if not then he is riding a tiger. (The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, Srinagar).

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