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Nawaz's nemesis: Pak PM struggles against ISI

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif must rein in Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Intelligence, that is seen as shielding militant groups operating in and outside the country. Imtiaz Ahmad reports.

world Updated: Aug 09, 2013 09:54 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times

The death of five Indian soldiers in Kashmir this week is being connected in Pakistan to the resumption of ties between Islamabad and New Delhi. “Every time someone talks of peace, we have incidents of such kind that end up souring any initiative,” says defence analyst and commentator Kamran Shafi.

The incident is also seen as reflecting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s continuing inability to get some control over the Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Intelligence, seen as the main protector of the militant groups that operate in Kashmir.

The question being asked in Islamabad is who was behind the attacks. Some suggest the Jamaat-ud Dawa — the new name for the Lashkar-e-toiba — or its associates are likely to have been involved.

The JuD is active in the Kashmir area and in a recent interview, JuD chief Hafiz Saeed had threatened more attacks on the Indian side of Kashmir.

“It is clear that the JuD has once again scored a victory for us,” commented Zaid Hamid, a political commentator close to the ISI. Hamid said on television on Tuesday evening that incursions by Pakistan-based groups into Indian Kashmir were legitimate attacks on an occupying force.

The challenge remains for Sharif to contain such forces within Pakistan so he can move ahead with talks with India.

“This is the hard part as the genie is out of the bottle,” says Shafi, who argues that Sharif’s government does not have control over the militant groups any more.

Sharif has been trying to get some leverage over the ISI but has so far been unsuccessful. Even to get a briefing on intelligence matters, the prime minister had to go to the ISI headquarters last month — instead of the other way round.

“Right now the ISI calls the shots,” says another analyst, “but Sharif holds the trump card.” That trump card is the appointment of the army chief later this year.

In Islamabad, most officials and analysts insist the Pakistan Army was not involved in the incident. The Pakistan Foreign Office and the Inter-Services Public Relations, the media wing of the Pakistan Army, insist these attacks may be by anti-Pakistan elements out to tarnish their image.

But others believe the attack must have been carried out at the behest of Islamabad. “It doesn’t make sense otherwise,” says Aisha Siddiqa, who writes a column on defence and military issues.

Siddiqa and other analysts, who prefer anonymity, say the Pakistan military may have sought to keep their involvement at an arm’s distance.