It is fortunate that the Indian government has reacted with caution and maturity to the terrorist strike at the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot, the first grave crisis faced by the government led by Narendra Modi. While guesswork and accusations are being bandied around about the involvement of the Pakistan Army and the ISI in the gruesome act, the incident has presented the Indian government with an occasion to probe further into the flux and churning inside the Pakistani civil and army administration.
At least outwardly, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has assured all cooperation in bringing the culprits to book and promised to take action in the leads provided by India. Sharif’s posture and his promptness in speaking to the Indian prime minister clearly give out the tension between him and the the Pakistani Army establishment. As the situation stands today, Nawaz Sharif is more of a titular ruler of Pakistan and the actual epicenter of the administration has passed on to the army chief, General Raheel Sharif, in the name of the National Action Plan, a government programme to root out terrorism.
But the Indian government should try to reach out to the Pakistani Army also, as in recent years, it has revised its military doctrine somewhat away from its Kashmir centric policy and incorporated into it a new chapter called sub-conventional warfare(SCW) – which is nothing but an admission of the internal fundamentalist threat. The main thrust of SCW is, no doubt, against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan(TTP). However, there is information that the TTP is tying its knots with other terrorist outfits like the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba et al. In that case, the army might be in a predicament over re-orienting its relations with terrorist organizations.
A more uncomfortable development for the army has been the news that the TTP and other fundamentalist terrorist organizations have penetrated deep inside southern Punjab – the most important recruitment ground of the army. Although the army has achieved significant success in North Waziristan, there are reports that its Pashtun elements are still surrendering to the TTP while other non-state actors are receiving significant help as a result of the radicalization of the army and other security apparatus.
But New Delhi should not expect much from Nawaz Sharif as he is known to enjoy good rapport with militant organizations like the Sipah-e-Sahaba (SS) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). During the last parliamentary election, the Pakistani establishment was rife with rumours that the Sharif family had come to an understanding with the SS by which it had guaranteed the security of the Sharif family in return for a good number of SS leaders and cadres being released from jail and accommodated in government jobs in the Punjab province, which is under the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
By a strange twist in fortune, Nawaz Sharif now needs to send positive signals to India to stand up to the overbearing shadow of the army. But the same man had appointed Lt. Gen. Javed Nasser, allegedly an infamous character, as the ISI chief. This man was allegedly the principal figure behind forging a link with and then providing shelter to Dawood Ibrahim in Pakistan. He had also airlifted arms to Bosnian Muslims when the European Union was desperately trying to keep Bosnia united.
There is now a trenchant criticism, mostly from the Congress, about Narendra Modi’s Pakistan policy. It now appears that Modi should have been more circumspect before meeting Nawaz Sharif in Lahore. On several occasions Sharif had held out promises of peace and justice, but that did not prevent the Pakistani establishment from releasing Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, the dreaded LeT terrorist with a hand in the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. Lakhvi has been put behind the bars again but that has not prevented him from carrying on his activities.
During the 2013 general elections Nawaz Sharif had received at least moral support from the TTP. Moreover, he is known to enjoy a cozy relationship with the LeJ, a dreaded organization accused of carrying out murders of the Shias. The PML-N cannot deny the fact that it had given nominations to LeJ operatives like Abid Raja Gujjar, Sardar Ebad Dogar and Anjum Akeel Khan against whom charges of murdering innocent Shias are pending. Pictures of Nawaz Sharif with LeJ leaders praying for electoral success before the 2013 elections had gone viral in the internet.
The close relations between the PML-N and the LeJ came to limelight when the PML-N government of Punjab province had extended a monthly stipend to Malik Ishaq, who was put behind bars on charges of killing of Shias. Rana Sanaullah, the provincial law minister, tried to softpedal the issue by saying that it was done on court orders. Opposition leaders averred that there was no such judicial order.
Nawaz Sharif is putting to practice the Takfiri Deobandi ideology to which most of the terrorist outfits swear allegiance. So will he be really able to bring to book the masterminds of the Pathankot terror attack?