In the euphoria that followed the announcement about a new dialogue process between India and Pakistan, many would have missed out on a key development – a place at the negotiating table for the Pakistani military.
The joint statement issued on Wednesday after talks in Islamabad between external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistani Prime Minister’s foreign policy adviser, said the two national security advisers will address all issues connected to terrorism.
Since October 22, retired general Nasser Khan Janjua has been Pakistan’s NSA. His predecessor, Sartaj Aziz, was quietly divested of the post as the military strengthened its already firm grip on foreign policy and security issues.
The reason trotted out by sources quoted in Pakistani media reports was that the powers that be believed Aziz was unable to fully attend to the posts of NSA and foreign affairs adviser. It was pointed out the National Security Committee had met only four times under Aziz’s watch since 2013.
The reality is that the mild-mannered Aziz would have had little say on national security even if the committee had met dozens of times. Aziz’s removal as NSA, as the Dawn newspaper put it, was a sign of the “shrinking control of the civilian administration over national security which has traditionally been the military’s domain”.
Janjua was appointed NSA after he retired as chief of the Quetta-based Southern Command and is considered close to army chief Gen Raheel Sharif. A handful of Pakistani generals served as NSA in the past but they were appointed by the civilian leadership. In the case of Janjua, he is clearly the choice of the generals in Rawalpindi.
For some in India who have pushed for greater engagement with the Pakistani military, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Our best dealings with Pakistan were during the time of (former military ruler Pervez) Musharraf. The question really is of engagement. When we engage, things move,” AS Dulat, a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, told Hindustan Times.
Since the composite dialogue process began in 1998, Pakistan’s military has had a role in the talks but uniformed officials were only part of delegations led by civilian bureaucrats that discussed issues such as the standoff on the Siachen glacier and the disputed maritime border at Sir Creek.
For a long time, the Pakistan Army has pushed for a more direct role in talks with India. On several occasions, feelers were sent to New Delhi to deal with the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi because the generals set the tone for ties with India and the US.
In July 2009, then Inter-Services Intelligence chief Shuja Pasha, during a rare meeting with Indian military attaches, went so far as to suggest that India should deal directly with Pakistan’s army and intelligence set-up. He also acknowledged the role of the army and ISI in framing Pakistan’s India policies.
Now, Janjua will help the Pakistani military establishment achieve its objective of having a direct say in talks with India. The talks between the NSAs, significantly, will be apart from the new “comprehensive dialogue” process.
“NSA Janjua will have a lead role in discussing terror. His presence will be helpful because he will have the ears of the right quarters and serve as a direct channel with the powers that matter (in Pakistan),” said Baqir Sajjad Syed, the diplomatic correspondent of Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper.
The Pakistani military establishment’s decision to make Janjua the NSA was apparently based on the discomfiture at dealing with Indian NSA Ajit Doval, a spymaster with a long stint in Pakistan.
“They now have a pointman they have greater confidence in, a pointman they think can deal with the Indian pointman. But the Pakistani military’s attitude on key issues like India, Afghanistan and nuclear matters won’t change,” said Rana Banerji, a retired special secretary in the cabinet secretariat and national security expert.
“This will enhance the Pakistani military’s comfort level because they didn’t think Sartaj Aziz was capable of dealing with the Indian NSA.”
The Pakistan Army has been reluctant to give up other civilian positions it has taken over in the past. Since 1999, the post of defence secretary has been the domain of retired generals, except for two brief stints in 2007-08 and 2012.
In the same way, the army is not expected to give up the post of NSA. That, observers say, will ensure the Pakistani military establishment continues to have a say in talks with India.
(The views expressed by the writer are personal. He tweets as @rezhasan)