Indo-Pak relations hostage to Pakistan denial, deceit
M. M. Khajooria
The current phase of Indo-Pak relations – a serious and sensitive issue by any standard had been reduced to a perennial farce since the mega oath taking ceremony of Narender Modi as the Prime Minister. The bonhomie between Prime Ministers, Modi and Nawaz primarily caricatured by our Prime Minister and an unprecedented shift from classical diplomacy to social outreach as the medium of nurturing relations between the two hostile neighbours were the only constants since- a period otherwise marked by 180degree policy U turns. The plot, however thickened with National Security Advisors of two countries holding a “Secret’ meeting in Bangkok proceedings whereof were interestingly officially broadcast, the encounter between Modi and Nawaz in Paris and the visit of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who appeared to have suddenly discovered the need and urgency of wooing the country conducting a proxy war against India for over quarter of a century in which thousands had perished and whose Military doctrine placed India as “enemy number one to be bled by thousand cuts”. And then came the high drama of Modi inviting himself to Lahore to wish Nawaz Shrief “Many happy returns of the day” on his birth day and his participation in the marriage of Shriefs’ grand daughter at his ancestral home where he also paid respects to Pakistan Prime Ministers mother. Inspired by the exchange of gifts for mothers of two prime minister a suggestion emerged in the public domain that grand old ladies summon their sons and make them sort out their problems in their benign presence like good boys. While Modis’ men in the BJP were gloating over their leaders “master stroke” and common man in Pakistan appreciated Modis, “good manners” the high value strategic asset of Pathankot Air Base came under attack from Paki terrorists. Many across the borders saw this as repeat of Vajpayees’ Pak visit fallowed by the Kargil aggression. Of course ,minus the theatrical that preceded the Pathankot episode
For some unexplained reason the reaction to the war like act evidently perpetrated from the soil of Pakistan that outraged the entire nation , Prime Minister Modi’s reaction was uncharacteristically subdued .He feebly blamed “the enemies of the humanity who did not want good relations between the two countries” for the dastardly act – a far cry from the “chest thumping and lesson teaching” stance that had become his trade mark in dealing with belligerent neighbour. Who ever coined this “enemy’s of humanity” jibe dwarfed the Indian Prime Ministers stature in the eyes of the people of India. The entire ruling fraternity appeared to be under orders not to blame Pakistan Government, Pak Army or even ISI for the despicable crime. Significantly, Prime Minister Nawaz Shrief and his foreign ministry also did not go into traditional denial mode, condemned the attack and undertook to fallow the “leads provide by India”.
In a telephone conversation with his Indian counterpart following the attack, Prime Minister Sharif had assured Narendra Modi that Islamabad would not hesitate to take “prompt and decisive action” if the involvement of Pakistan-based elements in the attack on the Indian airbase was proved beyond doubt.” On the strength of hard evidence collected till then, India found that Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists based in Pakistan were responsible for the Pathankot Air Base attack on 2nd January which left seven Indian security personnel dead. This details of evidentiary clues were conveyed to Pakistan. Significantly, Moulana Masood Azhar, the JEM supremo was named as the ‘Mastermind’. The ‘Plot’ was hatched in Markaz in Pakistan.
On 13th January Pak Minister’s office claimed that the government had made “considerable progress” in investigating the attack, and it wanted to send a team of special investigators to the Pathankot Air Base in India. adding that “Based on the initial investigations in Pakistan, and the information provided, several individuals belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammad, have been apprehended. The offices of the organisation are also being traced and sealed”. The statement was released after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chaired a high-level civil-military meeting to discuss the regional security situation and the investigation into the Pathankot Air Base terrorist attack. The meeting was attended by top civilian and military leaders, including Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, Director-General (DG) Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lieutenant General Rizwan Akhtar, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, PM’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, and other senior officials.
Pakistan media quoted official sources to say that Azhar Massod, the JEM chief, his brother Raouf and number of their associates had been taken into “custody”, which was later described as “protective custody”, whatever it meant. This was confirmed by a Pakistan minister. News of “the arrests” were released 48 hours before the meeting between the foreign secretaries of the two countries was tentatively scheduled. The “action take by Pakistan Government was welcomed all around.
In its editorial captioned Crackdown on JeM dated 14th January, 2016 daily Dawn commented “For too long, militant groups that have been banned by the state have simply changed their names or gone temporarily into hiding, only for them to reappear stronger and more resilient. In the case of JeM, the state’s failures have been exceptionally egregious. Until yesterday, when he was reportedly detained, Masood Azhar was a free man; other well-known leaders of the group apparently routinely roam the country preaching jihad. It is fairly obvious that leaders of banned outfits publicly exhorting violence is likely to lead to some kind of disaster or crisis. Pathankot has certainly been the former, though mature political leadership on both sides of the border has prevented it from becoming a full-blown crisis.
For the state here, the challenge will be to ensure that the initial actions against JeM are converted into sustained and meaningful measures that ensure the long-term dismantling of militant groups. Too often steps taken in haste have unravelled over time”. “But why was the group still able to plan and execute such an audacious and sophisticated attack on the air force base” it demanded to know and declared “Whatever the JeM militants intended to achieve with the Pathankot attack the Governments of India and Pakistan appear to have thwarted with their mature responses”. It may be noted that according to the Dawn editorial, Masood Azhar was reportedly detained on 13th January, 2016
Now about the mature response. Pak PM spoke of “considerable progress” in investigating the attack”. What kind of investigation was he talking about in absence of registration of any criminal case under its own laws? And what about the detention, ‘Protective” or otherwise of Masood Azhar? Affirmations and contradictions of detention of Masood Azher were a galore. Pak Foreign Affairs spokesperson Qazi Khalillulah finding himself on very slippery grounds prefaced his address with words ” am selecting my words very carefully”. I have no knowledge about the detention of the Jaish Chief Massod Azhar.” he said. Announcing that the scheduled Foreign Secretary level had been deferred, he claimed that “Pakistan and India are in touch to firm up a date for the Foreign Secretary level talks.”As for as the Indian position, the Pak press reported that the Indian and Pakistan NSA’s were to meet in Paris and India would take a position only after NSA Doval’s briefing .Indian Foreign Office spokesperson called the postponement of talks to a later date a matter of “mutual convenience”, but the announcement at the last hour indicated that India had held out for more action from Pakistan against the perpetrators of the Pathankot attack before the talks scheduled for 15th January.
The claims and contradiction about the “detention” of Massod had to be viewed in the historical perspective. Azhar was apprehended by Indian security forces in Kashmir in February 1994 and imprisoned for his terrorist activities. In 1995, foreign tourists were kidnapped in Jammu and Kashmir. The demands of ‘Al-Faran’ kidnapper included the release of Masood Azhar. He was later freed In Kandahar December 1999 exchange of passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814 (IC814). The hijackers of IC814 were led by Masood Azhar’s brother, Ibrahim Athar. His younger brother Abdul Rauf Asghar had planned this attack. The hijackers fled to Pakistani after Masood Azhar was handed over to them. Pakistan assured the world community that the hijackers would be arrested if found in Pak territory. The Pakistani government had previously indicated that Azhar would be allowed to return home since “he did not face any charges there.”
Shortly after his release, Azhar made a public address to an estimated crowd of 10,000 in Karachi in which he vowed to liberate Kashmir from Indian yoke and proclaimed, “I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed India.”
Jaish-e-Mohammed led Masood Azhar’s carried out a string of deadly attacks against Indian targets, including the attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001 that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of a full-scale war. Soon thereafter, Pakistani authorities went through the motions of his sham house arrest” with all facilities including free communications and access to his ‘commanders’ assured .He was never formally charged. The Lahore High Court lifted the restraint on 14th December 2002.
On 7th December, 2008, it was claimed that he was among several arrested by the Pakistani Government after a military raid on a camp located on the outskirts of Muzaffarabad in connection with the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Pakistan Government denied his arrest and claimed to be unaware of his whereabouts. Six years later Masood Azhar reappeared in public on 26th Jan, 2011. He addressed a rally in Muzaffarabad, calling for the resumption of Jihad in Kashmir.
There was thus a clearly discernable pattern to Pak authorities dealing with their protege, Masood Azhar. Only the tone and tenor of official statements/ press briefings had changed. The core content remained intact.