Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed has warned of protests across Pakistan if India’s home minister Rajnath Singh goes ahead with his visit to Islamabad on Wednesday to attend a SAARC meeting. Other religious parties and terror groups too have threatened to organise demonstrations and rallies.
What does this mean for India-Pakistan relations?
1. If ever proof was needed that Pakistan’s military establishment is in the driving seat as far as foreign policy is concerned, this is it. It is widely believed that Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawah, declared a front for the LeT by the US and UN, has deep ties with the military and intelligence agencies. It is highly unlikely that a groups such as the JuD and Hizbul Mujahideen can threaten to hold protests during an Indian minister’s visit unless they have the go-ahead from the powerful military establishment. Extremist leaders have said the protests will be held under the umbrella of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a grouping of nearly 40 radical and terror groups that has close links with the military and was last trotted for anti-US protests in 2012 following the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers in US air strikes along the Afghan border.
2. The JuD/LeT’s capability to recruit and train terrorists and raise funds remain largely intact despite a symbolic crackdown on the organisation following the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Pakistan has never banned the JuD and it was only placed on a “watch list” by the interior ministry. It has also been raising funds through another front organisation, the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation and making inroads in southern Sindh province, where it did not have a very large presence earlier.
3. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s much touted efforts to improve relations with India are unlikely to be priority as he enters the final two years of his term. The efforts never really took off as Sharif was stymied time and again by the army. With the next elections in mind, Sharif might no longer look at better diplomatic and trade ties as an area of focus and he might even be content to simply complete his term and key an eye on winning the next polls.
4. The stand taken by Sharif’s government on the unrest in Jammu and Kashmir triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani has garnered considerable support from the people in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and politically crucial province. It is also unlikely that groups such as the JuD and Hizbul Mujahideen could have gone ahead with large demonstrations and rallies in Punjab in recent weeks without the provincial administration headed by chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, the premier’s younger brother, turning a blind eye to such protests. The most powerful anti-India terror groups – LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed – are based in Punjab.
5. India-Pakistan ties, which received a fillip when Sharif attended Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony two years ago, are likely to remain in a deep freeze for the foreseeable future. As it is, there has been no substantial dialogue or contacts since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which were carried out by the LeT with the backing of elements in the Inter-Services Intelligence agency. The comprehensive dialogue that was announced after foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad last December never got off the ground and contacts between the National Security Advisers too have been snapped.