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Act on militants or Pak faces isolation: PM Sharif’s ‘blunt message’ to army

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has directed authorities to conclude the probe into the Pathankot attack and resume the stalled Mumbai attacks case after its civilian leadership warned the military that Pakistan’s faces growing international isolation.

India's Pakistan offensive Updated: Oct 06, 2016 22:03 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times
Nawaz Sharif,Uri attack,Pathankot attack
Militants had attacked an army base in Uri that left 19 soldiers dead.(PTI Photo)

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has directed authorities to conclude the probe into the Pathankot attack and resume the stalled Mumbai attacks case after the civilian leadership warned the military that Pakistan faces growing international isolation, according to a media report on Thursday.

The civilian government delivered a “blunt, orchestrated and unprecedented warning” to the military leadership and sought consensus on several key actions, including action against banned militant groups, the Dawn newspaper quoted unnamed individuals, who were involved in the meetings between the civil and military leadership, as saying.

Sharif has “directed that fresh attempts be made to conclude the Pathankot investigation and restart the stalled Mumbai attacks-related trials”, the report said.

Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar and national security advisor Nasser Janjua will travel to the four provinces with a message for provincial apex committees and ISI sector commanders – “military-led intelligence agencies are not to interfere if law enforcement acts against militant groups that are banned or until now considered off-limits for civilian action”.

Read | The choice now is Pakistan’s: Terror or talks

Akhtar’s tour began with a visit to Lahore, the report said, adding that the decisions were made after an “extraordinary verbal confrontation between Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif and the ISI DG”. The decisions apparently indicated a “high-stakes new approach by the PML-N government”, the report said.

The move comes against the backdrop of a spike in tensions between Pakistan and India, which blamed the terror attacks on Pathankot airbase and an army camp at Uri in Kashmir on militants backed by Islamabad. India last week carried out surgical strikes against terrorists across the Line of Control.

‘Take visible action’

The Dawn reported that the decisions followed an undisclosed meeting between the civilian and military leadership on Monday when Sharif had also chaired a meeting of Pakistan’s political parties to forge a united front on the issue of tackling the tensions with India.

The report said foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry, while making a presentation in the Prime Minister’s Office to a small group of civil and military officials on Tuesday, said “Pakistan faces diplomatic isolation” and the “government’s talking points have been met with indifference in major world capitals”.

Referring to India, Chaudhry said the “completion of the Pathankot investigation and some visible action against Jaish-e-Mohammed were the principal demands”, according to the report.

Chaudhry said relations had “deteriorated and will likely further deteriorate because of the American demand that action be taken against the Haqqani network”.

The report added: “Then, to a hushed but surprised room, Mr Chaudhry suggested that while China has reiterated its support for Pakistan, it too has indicated a preference for a change in course by Pakistan. Specifically, while Chinese authorities have conveyed their willingness to keep putting on technical hold a UN ban on Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar, they have questioned the logic of doing so repeatedly.”

Chaudhry’s “unexpectedly blunt conclusions triggered an astonishing and potentially ground-shifting exchange between the ISI DG and several civilian officials”, the report said.

ISI chief Akhtar asked what steps could be taken to prevent the drift towards isolation and Chaudhry reportedly replied that the “principal international demands are for action against Masood Azhar and the Jaish-e-Mohammed; Hafiz Saeed and the Lashkar-e-Taiba; and the Haqqani network”.

Akhtar “offered that the government should arrest whomever it deems necessary”.

Read | We want to settle all issues, including Kashmir, with India, says Pak PM Sharif

Extraordinary, unprecedented directive

Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of the prime minister, then addressed Akhtar and “complained that whenever action has been taken against certain groups by civilian authorities, the security establishment has worked behind the scenes to set the arrested free”.

“Astounded onlookers describe a stunned room that was immediately aware of the extraordinary, unprecedented nature of the exchange. To defuse tensions, Prime Minister Sharif himself addressed Gen Akhtar and said that policies pursued in the past were state policies and as such they were the collective responsibility of the state and that the ISI DG was not being accused of complicity in present-day events,” the report said.

The Dawn quoted several eyewitnesses to the “incredible events of Monday” as saying they believe the foreign secretary’s presentation and Shahbaz Sharif’s intervention were “orchestrated by the prime minister to stir the military to action” and led to the decision to despatch the ISI chief on an inter-provincial tour.

Before his exchange with Shahbaz Sharif, the ISI chief said the military’s policy is not to “distinguish between militant groups” and that the “military is committed to that policy prevailing”.

Akhtar mentioned concerns about the “timing of action against several groups, citing the need to not be seen as buckling to Indian pressure or abandoning the Kashmiri people”. He agreed to issue “fresh orders to ISI sector commanders and meet with provincial apex committees to chalk out specific actions that need to be taken in various provinces”, the report said.

The daily quoted unnamed government officials as saying that Monday’s “confrontation was part of a high-stakes gamble by Prime Minister Sharif to try and forestall further diplomatic pressure on Pakistan”.

“In separate meetings with the army chief, participants describe an animated and energised Mr Sharif, who has argued that Pakistan faces real isolation if policy adjustments are not made,” it said.

Late on Thursday evening, the Prime Minister’s Office rejected the report, describing it as misleading and factually incorrect. A spokesman said: “It is an amalgamation of fiction and fabrication.” The spokesman also said Pakistan’s “intelligence agencies, particularly ISI, are working in line with the state policy in the best interest of the nation” to counter “terrorists of all hue and colour without any discrimination”.

For more on India-Pakistan tensions, click here.

First Published: Oct 06, 2016 09:50 IST