The US and NATO members believe the Pathankot attack was probably supervised from Pakistan and a repeat of the standoff that followed the Mumbai attacks would expose Islamabad to “ridicule and ignominy”, a former Pakistani envoy has said.
Though army chief Gen Raheel Sharif participated in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to consider information provided by India regarding the assault on Pathankot airbase, this does not mean “the military appreciates the prime minister’s attempts to wrest exclusive control over Pakistan’s India policy”, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi wrote in an article in the Dawn newspaper on Tuesday.
India has linked a planned meeting of the foreign secretaries on January 15 to “prompt and decisive action” by Pakistan on actionable intelligence provided regarding the terrorist assault that killed seven Indian security personnel. Indian authorities have blamed the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed for the attack.
The Pathankot incident has cast a shadow on the fragile re-engagement between the two neighbours following back-to-back visits to Pakistan by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In the article titled “Pathnakot and power plays”, Qazi wrote that a number of NATO countries “consider the intelligence supplied (including mobile phone conversations between the attackers and suspected handlers in Pakistan, a Jaish-e-Mohammad letter, DNA samples of the attackers, their voice record samples, etc) to be credible leads if not conclusive evidence”.
“A repeat of the Mumbai stand-off would expose Pakistan to ridicule and ignominy. Pakistan could come under immense international pressure, including the threat of sanctions, if it is seen not to be cooperating with India in the hunt for possible suspects,” he wrote.
“Along with India, the US and NATO countries lean to the view that the attack probably was planned and supervised from Pakistan by elements with a history of association with the intelligence establishment, whether with or without its direct or indirect connivance,” he added.
Reports from Pakistan have suggested an unspecified number of suspects were detained after Prime Minister Sharif ordered the formation of a joint investigation team to probe the Pathankot attack. However, there is no clarity on whether these suspects are members of JeM or linked to the attack in any way.
“Pakistan’s international legal obligations require it to follow up on these leads to determine whether or not some elements based in Pakistan were involved in the attack,” Qazi wrote.
“Otherwise, the worst assumptions about Pakistan’s international conduct will continue to be made by the international community.”
Qazi contended that Pakistan had lost control over crucial aspects of its foreign policy to violent non-state actors backed by the security establishment after the trial and execution of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979. “The bill for this incredible irresponsibility is still being paid,” he said.
He said the military’s attitude to Modi’s recent visit to Lahore is “not yet clear”, adding: “We know that Kargil happened after (prime minister Atal Bihari) Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore in 1999; Mumbai occurred after progress in the backchannel talks of the mid-2000s; and now Pathankot takes place after another Lahore yatra. Has our prime minister once again been ‘reined in’ by ‘the boys’ to let him know who is boss?”
Qazi, who served as Pakistan’s envoy to India and the US, said it was also not known whether Prime Minister Sharif “is interested in summoning the commitment and courage to face down challenges to his political authority and credibility”.
“In Pakistan, the concept of civil-military relations is dubious. It excludes civil society. It provides cover for civilian political delinquency and military political ambition, whether working in tandem or at cross purposes,” he wrote. This, he said, is a key reason for “incoherent, inconsistent and irrational policies on major domestic and external issues, including policy towards India”.
Pakistan’s policy options will multiply, Qazi suggested, if it sets its ties with India in the context of “people’s interests and dreams”. “But if it remains the preserve of elitist power plays without regard to the interests of the people it will continue to be arid and barren,” he said.
“If the responses of the rulers of Pakistan convey the message that they are unwilling or unable to control the cross-border activities of anti-Indian and anti-Kabul jihadis until Kashmir is resolved and Kabul has a ‘friendly’ government, they will do more harm to Pakistan than any enemy could wish for,” he said.