Cut & Thrust: TOXICISTAN IN TURMOIL

 Aabpara headquartered ISI’s dreaded and secretive S Wing may have given the recent judicial coup in Pakistan the necessary nudge and wink to topple yet another democratically elected leader. What it does is bring to the political forefront Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab and one of the chief patrons of the deadly dangerous Jamaat ud Dawa. Asia Times Online reported in February this year that less than a week after the Pakistani government placed Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed under “preventive detention” and launched a crackdown on the JuD, the latter was back in action, albeit under a new name, the Tehreek Azadi Jammu and Kashmir (TAJK-Movement for Freedom of Jammu and Kashmir). The JuD made its public debut with a new name on February 5, when leaders of the JuD and its charity wing, the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), marched under the banner of the TAJK at rallies to mark “Kashmir Solidarity Day.” Among those who addressed the rally at Lahore was Abdul Rehman Makki, Saeed’s brother-in-law and the deputy chief of the JuD. The leopard constantly changes its spots — Lashkar e Taiba became JuD and now goes under a new nomenclature TAJK — but its duplicitous role and specious intent remains the same.

LeT-JuD enjoy the patronage of the Punjab government with the Sharif brothers — till recently prime minister and chief minister of Punjab — as chief patrons. The Punjab government has funded JuD-linked organisations amounts of Rs 8.2 crore in 2009-2010 and Rs 7.98 crore in 2010-2011. The government granted Rs 7.98 crore for six organisations at Markaz-e-Taiba and a special grant-in-aid of Rs 30 lakh for the JuD’s Al-Dawa School System in several districts of Punjab. Besides the grant-in-aid of more than Rs 6.1 crore in its budget for fiscal 2013-14 for ‘Markaz-e-Taiba’, the largest centre of the JuD, the provincial government of Punjab allocated Rs 35 crore for setting up a “Knowledge Park” at the centre among other development initiatives. The JuD’s centre is located at Muridke on the outskirts of Lahore. However, for 2014-15 fiscal, the budget head LQ 4320 under which the grant to Mudrike was listed in 2013-14 was glaringly inconspicuous. Instead, it read — Grant to Health and Educational Institutions — to the tune of Rs 6.2 crore after the global hullabaloo. This shot up further under the same head to Rs 6.59 crore and Rs 6.66 crore in 2015-16 and 2016-17 respectively.

Toxic ideology and anti-Indianism is taught and imparted at the JuD institutions. In the theatre of the absurd that goes under the name of Pakistan, imagine that a Pakistani court in late February served a notice on the Punjab government seeking a reply on the petition filed by JuD chief Hafiz Saeed, a man with a 10 million bounty on his head and four others challenging their house arrest under the anti-terrorism act. A two-member bench of the Lahore High Court headed by Justice Sardar Muhammad Shamim Khan held a hearing on Saeed’s petition and sought a reply from the Punjab government. Mumbai attack mastermind Saeed, Malik Zafar Iqbal, Abdur Rehman Abid, Qazi Kashif Hussain and Abdullah Ubaid had filed the petition in the Lahore High Court challenging their detention through senior advocate A K Dogar. The government on January 30 had put Saeed and the four leaders of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD)and Falah-e-Insaniat (FIF) under house arrest in Lahore under the country’s anti- terrorism act.

As was reported in 2011, Punjab had been paying Lashkar e Jhangvi overlord Malik Ishaq and this sympathetic attitude towards militants by the government of Punjab has served to embolden the terrorists in the state. Reports in the international media in the past have also exposed Taliban openly raising funds in the fertile breeding ground of Punjab. And Jamaat-ud-Dawa has been one of the biggest beneficiaries for years, nurtured, sponsored and financed as it has been by the state. In the crucial civil-military balance of power in Pakistan, where the Fauj appears to be over bearing, the new equations will call for a reset. In the growing distance between Sharif’s Islamabad and Qamar Javed Bajwa’s Rawalpindi, GHQ may find doing business with the other Sharif more amenable for he is more practical and pragmatic given that he is basically a businessman. Gen Bajwa was previously posted as the Inspector General for Training and Evaluation at the General Headquarters, the same post held by General Raheel Sharif before he took over as army chief. Bajwa a veteran of  the Rawalpindi-based 10 Corps, which is responsible for guarding the Line of Control (LoC) has been instrumental in upping the ante against India. Although, his time at 10 Corps was a period of relative quiet following the 2003 ceasefire accord.

Curiously, Bajwa had some unusual advice when top officers gathered for his first speech last year — read an American academic’s book on how India has succeeded in keeping the military out of politics. The army has no business trying to run the government, Bajwa told the gathering of army officers of Rawalpindi Garrison at the general headquarters auditorium in the last week of December, according to The Nation newspaper. Bajwa’s first speech as army chief, described by the daily as “an articulation of his vision”, was delivered “in a poised manner” and his views were communicated “to his officers in unequivocal terms”. The general urged the officers to read Army and Nation: The Military and Indian Democracy since Independence, written by Steven I Wilkinson, the Nilekani professor of India and South Asian Studies at Yale University.

In the smoke and mirrors which epitomises Pakistan, where the relationship between elected leaders and the Fauj are the lifeblood of local gossip, this speech was a revelation. More importantly, “A careful review of General Bajwa’s profile clearly reflects that his pro-democracy credentials earned him the post of chief of army staff, leading Pakistani newspaper The News had commented, a day after PM Sharif appointed General Bajwa to succeed General Raheel Sharif as the army chief. Pakistan watcher and former High Commissioner G Parthasarthy answers the myriad questions about Pakistan’s future succicintly — There have been differences between Nawaz and the army on issues like the terrorist attacks by the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pathankot and Uri. There are also differences on supporting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. The army reacted strongly. It sought and secured the sacking of Sharif's personal foreign policy adviser Tareq Fatemi for leaking information about these differences. The army will seek to split Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League Party through its links with senior leaders like interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. While Shahbaz Sharif has maintained a closer relationship with army generals than his elder brother Nawaz, the ISI will spare no effort to discredit and marginalise Nawaz. While Nawaz had a wide range of contacts with international leaders and knew his way around in summit diplomacy, Shahbaz lacks such international experience and will concede an even more domineering role to the military, on relations with India, US, Afghanistan and China. Shahbaz will also face problems in conduct of economic policy.

Where does ISI DG Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar stand in all this is another vital imponderable? Known to be related to Mian Nawaz Sharif, he too will play an important part in the new set up. This has to be viewed from the prism of what happened last December when Pakistan’s new army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa abruptly removed the head of the country’s spy agency ISI and made several other significant changes in the army’s top brass, as part of a major reshuffle. Gen Bajwa, who took over from Gen Raheel Sharif appointed Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar as Director-General of the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), replacing Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, the army had said in a statement. Lt Gen Akhtar, who was at the centre of controversy following a Dawn newspaper report which said that Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif-led government had told the army to either act against terrorists or face international diplomatic isolation.

The new ISI chief Lt Gen Mukhtar possess a vast experience in the field of intelligence and has headed the counter-terrorism wing of the spy agency in Islamabad. He was commissioned in the Armoured Corps regiment in 1983. He too will need to be watched carefully for the dominoes that began falling after Nawaz Sharif returned from Maldives last week have some way to go. Meanwhile, India needs to be careful.
sandeep.bamzai@mydigitalfc.com