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A new Sharif in town

What does Nawaz Sharif’s victory mean for India?

The Pakistan Muslim League (N) has emerged as a decisive winner in Pakistan’s general elections held on May 11.  The embattled incumbent, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was routed in Punjab, and save for Sindh (which accounted for 29 of 32 seats won by the PPP) failed to make an impact in any other province.  Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) succeeded in bringing out first-time voters, but managed to win a majority only in Kyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

The religious jamaats Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal-ur-Rehman (JUI(F)) failed to make an impact.  And while the elections themselves were largely successful, voter turnout in Balochistan was between 15-20 less than 3 per cent, further accentuating the troubled province’s security situation and disenchantment with the Pakistani state.

But what does all this mean to India?

Nawaz Sharif, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal days before the election, indicated that he wanted to improve ties with India and the U.S.  In this regard, it is quite possible that the long-delayed granting of Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to India will be approved within Mr. Sharif’s first few months in office.  However, it is important that policy makers in India not read too much into what is essentially a symbolic gesture of little real consequence to India.

For India, it is important to remember that the height of the Kashmir insurgency flourished during Pakistan’s most “democratic” decade — the 1990s.  Pakistan test-fired its “Islamic” nuclear bomb and waged an undeclared war on India in Kargil during democratic regimes.  Indeed, it proliferated nuclear weapons technology to North Korea, Iran and Libya during periods of democracy. So much for those who say a democratic Pakistan is in India’s interests.

In the larger context of India-Pakistan relations, Mr. Sharif’s ascent to the position of prime minister is of minimal consequence.  Indeed, more important transitions in power lie ahead in the next couple of years that will impact the India-Pakistan relationship.

The most important of these transitions on the Pakistani side is the end of Gen. Kayani’s tenure as COAS on October 31, 2013.  The Pakistani army has had monopoly over relations with India since the 1958 coup d’état.  This has been true regardless of whether the army or a civilian government was in charge of Pakistan.

The frontrunners for the position of COAS have among them Kayani-loyalists, American favorites, and Kargil veterans alike.  The eventual winner will have a greater say in Pakistan’s relations with India than Mr. Sharif, regardless of the decisiveness of the PML(N)’s democratic mandate.

On this side of the barbed-wire fence, India goes to poll in mid-2014.  This leaves the UPA with very little capital for grand, unilateral gestures that might ultimately impair India’s national interests.  There are too many imponderables at play for conclusive assessments on how the 2014 Lok Sabha elections will play out.  Can the UPA and the Congress retain power, mired as they are in scandals?  If they do, what role will prime minister Manmohan Singh play in a future government?  If strong anti-incumbency trends emerge, what position vis-a-vis Pakistan will a BJP-led coalition take?

Both prime ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh have dealt with Pakistan-perpetrated attacks (the Kandahar hijacking, 13/12, 26/11, among others).  Both inevitably came around to rapprochement with Pakistan.  But if provocations remain abetted, shouldn’t the quality of our response change?

A third, and equally important transition, involves Afghanistan. U.S.-led coalition forces are scheduled to withdraw from a decade-long war in Afghanistan at the end of 2014.  While unresolved quarrels with Afghanistan persist, Pakistan sees the withdrawal of U.S. forces as largely benefiting its cause.  But a U.S. retreat could see the return of thousands of unemployed jihadis whose “talents” are better engaged elsewhere than in Pakistan.  That elsewhere might be Jammu & Kashmir.

An increase in terror-related violence in India, leading up to, and accelerating after U.S. withdrawal in 2014 will indicate that the Pakistani establishment’s animosity towards India remains intact and is about to enter a new phase.  What someone like Nawaz Sharif can do in such a scenario, regardless of honorable intentions, will remain a question mark.  Those in charge of India’s foreign policy, ought to be considering policy options on Pakistan, expecting worst-case scenarios, given lessons learned from history. Democracy or no democracy.

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Hafiz Saeed under house arrest?

Is he is or is he ain’t?

Predictably,  in response to the Data Darbar attacks in Lahore, the government in Punjab made all the right noises about eradicating terrorism from the province.  Earlier, Interior Minister Rehman Malik traded barbs with Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif on his use of the term “Punjabi Taliban.”  The nomenclature did not sit well with the government in Punjab; the Taliban, they claimed, had no identity and references to Punjab hurt the sentiments of its residents.

Nonetheless, nominal steps were taken to curb extremism in the province.  A news report in the Jang elaborated:

The Punjab Home Department has “banned” 17 organizations; these include Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Tehrik-e-Jafria Pakistan, Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed, Millat-e-Islamiya Pakistan, Islamiya Tehrik-e-Pakistan, Hizb-ul-Tehrir, Jamaat-ul-Ansar, Jamaat-ul-Furqan, Islamic Students Movement, Baluchistan Liberation Army and Jamaat ud-Dawwa.

This list does not include Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), despite statements made by Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, which indicate that the TTP and al-Qaeda have collaborated with Sipah-e-Sahiba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Punjab.According to the Home Department, there are approximately 4,000 individuals with relations to these terror groups.  These individuals have been placed under surveillance, per Section 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Act and they have been banned from carrying out such activities. [جنگ]

Almost equally predictably, an editorial in the Jang’s sister publication, The News, went soft when news broke, contrary to previous reports, that the Jamaat ud-Dawwa had not been banned.  The editorial reasons:

The JuD and other organizations may not be behind direct acts of militancy. It is also a fact that they are engaged in many good works that bring solace to many everywhere. Hindu women in Sindh have recently demonstrated in their favour. [The News]

So Hindu women from Sindh demonstrating in JuD’s favor is reason enough to absolve them of the massacre of several hundreds of civilians in the name of religion and state?  Something to keep in mind the next time someone gives you the old “we’re both victims of terror” spiel.  While these events unfold, the federal and state civilian administrations are anxious to demonstrate their capacity for action against terror groups.  PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif called for a “national conference” on terrorism, which Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani has accepted.

But should it surprise anyone that Messrs. Gilani and Kayani are simply waiting for the storm to blow over?  Prior to this “national conference,” Mr. Gilani was busy ruling out military operations in South Punjab,  while Shahbaz Sharif went even further and denied the existence of the so-called “Punjabi Taliban.”

One wonders what the big purpose of this “national conference” is then.  Half the terror groups that should have been part of an offensive (including the TTP/ al-Qaeda affiliates and JuD) have already been given a clean chit and in any case, there’s not going to be any military action against the groups that did end up making it to the Punjab Home Department’s list of “banned” groups.

A month from now, everything will be forgotten and it will be business-as-usual.  Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

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Urdunama: "Foreign Hand"

The Filter Coffee is happy to announce a new regular segment, Urdunama, dedicated to coverage of news and analysis from Pakistan’s Urdu media.  As reports ( 2.86 MB) on Pakistan’s media landscape will tell you, Pakistan’s vernacular press dominates English and local language publications and comprises almost 70% of total newspaper distribution.

Yet, while the Internet has provided us the opportunity to read and absorb opinions from Pakistan’s English newspapers, their tone, message and impact on audiences (and indeed on political action) differs greatly from that of the vernacular media.  An eye on Pakistan’s Urdu media therefore helps us see what the awam sees and assists us in understanding what informs popular opinion in Pakistan. This is critical, in the opinion of this blogger, in helping India better understand its western neighbor.

As always, comments and suggestions on what readers like about the segment, or would like to see improved are appreciated.

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The fires may have died down in India, but as far as Pakistan’s vernacular media is concerned, all Sharm el-Sheikh did was to provide fuel to an incantation summoned by Pakistan’s most imaginative minds.

There is pressure on the Pakistani Army to see Operation Rah-e-Nijat through and to turn a blind eye to US Predator assaults in North Waziristan and elsewhere.  A section of Pakistan’s media and intelligentsia wants to know why three Infantry Divisions were moved away from the Indian border and redeployed to assist with NWFP operations.

All these questions cannot be explained without pointing fingers at the Pakistani Army, which is riding a wave of goodwill not seen since the years immediately after the 1999 coup d’état.  The simplest solution therefore is to attack the hapless civilian administration, particularly Asif Ali Zardari and those close to him, including Rehman Malik and Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Rafiq Dogar’s op-edJhoota kaun hai?”, is a rhetorical masterpiece on the subject of India’s involvement in Balochistan.  Dogar’s issue in the op-ed isn’t focused so much on the factual accuracy of India’s involvement in Balochistan (this is taken for granted), but on why the “proof” of India’s interference wasn’t presented to Hillary Clinton and the people of Pakistan.

Who does one trust? On 13th October, the spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry informed the media that proof of India’s involvement in Balochistan would be presented to the people at the appropriate time. Prior to Hillary Clinton’s visit, the Interior Minister had informed Hamid Karzai that India was interfering in Balochistan, via Afghanistan.

The same day, the president of the Balochistan People’s Party, Mir Lashkari Raisani, informed the media that Education Minister, Shafeeq Ahmed Khan had been murdered because he tried to raise awareness of India’s meddling in Balochistan.   India’s meddling in Balochistan was also corroborated by IG, FC, Maj Gen Salim Nawaz.

Prior to Hillary Clinton’s visit, Interior Minister informed the media that a “foreign hand” existed in supporting the Pakistani Taliban against the army, and had asked the US to ensure that this interference is stopped.  Surprisingly, after Hillary’s visit, the spokesperson of the Interior Ministry announced that no such evidence was presented to the US.

If this was indeed the case, why didn’t the Foreign Ministry — whose spokesperson earlier stated as having proof of external interference in Balochistan — provide the evidence to the US? Ayatollah Durrani is also one of Asif Ali Zardari’s ministers who on 18th October stated that the US wanted Balochistan to secede and that Pakistan’s agencies must work to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

But Pakistan’s agencies operate under the same Interior Minister who announced prior to Hillary’s visit that the proof had been handed over to the Americans.  Who does one believe?

We cannot accept the notion that those suggesting India’s involvement in Balochistan are lying. It is the word of the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) that a Muslim can neither lie nor present false witness.  Our Foreign Minister is a descendant of Muslim makhdooms — are we to now believe that his ministry’s spokesperson was lying?

Even if we are to assume that the spokesperson of the Interior Ministry and the Interior Minister himself were speaking the truth, then why wasn’t (India’s interference) brought up with Hillary Clinton? Were they that scared of her and Richard Halbrooke?

The Interior Minister, Foreign Minister, Zardari and Gilani didn’t have the courage to present the facts to Hillary; but do they have the will to present the facts to the people?

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An Ignominious Climbdown

The joint statement issued by Manmohan Singh and Yousaf Raza Gilani talks of de-linking action on terrorism from progress on the composite dialog process between India and Pakistan.  After months of belligerence and posturing, this is how it all ends.  In a climbdown most ignominious.  From no dialog without action against 26/11 perpetrators, to a mandate to only discuss state sponsored terrorism, to a surrender so meek, it would make the Saddam that emerged from the hole look like Samson.

The sharm in Sharm el-Sheikh means “bay” in Arabic; perhaps, in their enthusiasm to renew composite dialog with Pakistan, India’s diplomats were remiss in accurately translating the term, taking it instead for its literal meaning in Hindi.  Pakistan no longer has any reason to do anything substantive with regard to bringing the handlers of the 26/11 carnage to justice.  The Hafiz Saeed drama will continue, and Pakistan will weave such a tangled web of contradictory statements on any potential point of progress, that it will have India and its media in coils for long enough for any resolution of the issue to be meaningless.

The text of the joint statement also mentions Baluchistan in name, a reference to Pakistani allegations on India’s involvement in secessionist movements in that province.  Clearly, full marks for thinking outside the box.  Why stop there — India should have acquiesced to a blurb about the Indian mission in Jalalabad and to insinuations about anti-national movements in Sindh, and the humiliation would have been complete.

To be clear, the resumption of dialog between India and Pakistan is important.  Not only is it important, it is the only available course of action to India, as The Filter Coffee has previously pointed out.  After the months of inertia that plagued India’s initial demand for no-strings-attached action on 26/11,  there could have been but one outcome on the composite dialog at Sharm el-Sheikh.

A resolution on this could have been achieved pragmatically and honorably, without the need to strike such a mind boggling compromise.  Vague cases will be made that this issue will be quietly addressed through backroom diplomacy.  But backroom diplomacy on an issue as critical as this, if not backed up by public pressure to act will yield nothing.  Sustainable pressure to act on the issue, both on the UPA and on the Pakistani government will be absent.

De-linking terrorism from composite dialog creates two isuses.  One, it raises questions on the credibility of the composite dialog process itself, when the issue that is front-and-center of India-Pakistani relations is specifically excluded from it.  And second, it will comfort the terrorists and their sponsors in Islamabad that India’s capacity for punitive diplomatic/military action against them in the event of mounting terror attacks on Indian soil is effectively zero.  Deterrence is about inducing the fear of retribution in response to an attack.  In the case of India, our deterrence capability on the issue of terrorism, whose credibility was low to begin with, is now null and void.

It is time Manmohan Singh came clean with the Indian public on how his government will address Pakistan’s propensity to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy against India.  190 civilians from 10 countries, including India, died on November 26, 2008 at the hands of terrorists who were recruited and trained in Pakistan.  What we expected at Sharm el-Sheikh was a reiteration of commitment from Pakistan (to act against terror aimed at India) and from India (to ensure that Pakistan’s committment is carried through).  What we saw instead was India’s abject, quivering surrender.

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