Border tensions: How Pakistan army calls the shots

pak-firing1In the summer of 2013, having led his party to electoral victory in Pakistan, Mian Nawaz Sharif pledged to normalise ties with India as his country’s Prime Minister.

A little over a year since, an enfeebled prime minister finds himself reduced to sabre-rattling as India-Pakistan tensions on the Line of Control (LoC) and the border escalate. A statement issued on October 10 at the end of a meeting of the Pakistan’s National Security Committee (NSC), chaired by Mr Sharif, warned India that, “ any attempt to challenge the Pakistan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty will be responded with full force”. The statement went so far as to refer to the nuclear arsenal of the two neighbours noting that “that both countries are aware of each other’s capabilities”.

Yet, amidst the current shrill rhetoric of Pakistan’s civilian government and its attempts yet again to internationalise the Kashmir issue —- it approached the UN —-those in the Indian establishment know only too well that it’s the all-powerful Pak army that’s calling the shots.

Attempting to provoke India with incessant ceasefire violations and raising the Kashmir bogey is merely one way to divert attention from domestic issues and a policy paralysis within Pakistan feel observers. “All this is posturing for a domestic audience and highlights the fact that Nawaz Sharif has already ceded space to the Pakistan  Army,” said an observer.

Agrees Kanwal Sibal, India’s former foreign secretary: “The Nawaz Sharif government’s position has been weakened while the armed forces have regained their position,” he said. “The heightened tensions within the Pak system are producing the tension with India,” he underlined. At the same time, he noted that the ceasefire violations are merely a continuation of what Pakistan has been doing in the past.

Yet another reason for ratcheting up tensions along the LoC and border could be Pakistan’s attempts to push infiltrators into Kashmir as it heads for assembly elections, said Mr Sibal.

Having enervated the civilian government, another concern for the Pakistan army remains the difficulties it’s facing in the  anti-militants offensive launched in the country’s restive North Waziristan region in June. India suspects the Pakistan army is looking to pull out troops from there. The current tensions are being seen as a pretext, a face-saving one at that, for the army so it can move out from the volatile region towards the Indian theatre.

In an apparent bid to paper over the cracks with his country’s military establishment, Mr Sharif visited the volatile north Waziristan region on October 10. Accompanied by Army Chief General Raheel Sharif, Mr Sharif became the first elected head of government to visit this area in the last two decades.

However, it’s only too obvious that a weakened Nawaz Sharif has had to give in to the army’s diktats. Indeed, the Sharif government had accused the Pakistan army of backing the strident protests recently in the heart of Islamabad protests led by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) chief Dr Tahirul Qadri.

pak-sartazPakistan’s  renewed Kashmir rhetoric and its bid to internationalise the matter is yet another instance of the military exercising its might on the foreign policy front.  Not having not uttered the K-word during his May visit to India for the Modi government’s swearing-in, Mr Sharif then raked it up during his address before the UN General Assembly in New York late last month.

On October 11, Sartaj Aziz, adviser to Pakistan’s Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, wrote to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon seeking resolution of the Kashmir issue. Pakistan also asked that the letter be circulated as an official document of the Security Council. It’s being asked here if this really would serve any purpose as the “good offices” can be used only if both sides are amenable to its use.

While India maintains it’s ready to talk to Pakistan, including a dialogue on Kashmir, it first wants de-escalation. New Delhi wants the talks on Kashmir to be under the framework of the Simla agreement and the Lahore Declaration.

akbar-meaIn the meantime, the Modi government is not mincing any words amid heightened tensions, as external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin’s statement on October 10 showed. Asked about Pakistan’s accusations that it’s India causing the provocation by violating the ceasefire, Mr Akbaruddin said “these allegations are being levelled by those who harboured al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden for over a decade at a military garrison town inside Pakistan while telling their western partners who provided them assistance and military aid that they were supporting the global war on counter-terrorism against Al Qaeda. I rest my case beyond that.”

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