Pak change of heart? Too early to say

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Madhusudhana Rao S

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has taken a huge gamble by telling the intelligence and military establishments not to interfere in civilian government’s actions against militants operating with impunity in all the four provinces.

It’s a risk fraught with the danger of being toppled by the powerful Army. But he might have thought that asserting an elected government’s wish is far more sensible than mollycoddle the men in uniform, whatever the consequences may be.

If we go by the detailed report Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper has carried about Monday’s all-party conference and an exclusive presentation made by Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry to a select group of civil and military officials at PM’s office, it is clear that the government was left with no choice but to act.

But the action the government has ordered against militant groups is vague. Dawn report doesn’t say specifically whether the crackdown includes terrorist outfits that are trained to wage a proxy war against India from the camps located along the Line of Control in occupied Kashmir. Nevertheless, there is a hint that militants include those wanted by India and the US and the organizations they head like Masood Azhar and Jaish-i-Mohmmad, Hafiz Saeed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Haqqani network.

It is common knowledge that both the civilian and military establishments in that country draw a fine line between militants and Jihadists. In the name of supporting ‘Kashmir freedom struggle’ Pak government morally, militarily and financially supports the latter. Their anti-India activities, including raids on Army bases and urban terrorist missions, are conducted with official patronage. Often, they are linked to Kashmir unrest.

Earlier too, the Pak government had ordered crackdowns many times on home-grown militants. But such actions had changed the situation little because in reality they were aimed at warding off domestic criticism and satisfying international demands.

Dawn’s sensational report and the timing of the anti-militant move raise several questions: Does Pakistan has a change of heart after it has found itself cornered by India and its blatant lies about surgical strikes were exposed by one of the police officers near the LoC who was an eyewitness to deaths and terrorist camps’ destruction?

Only credible action against people like Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed and halting export of terrorism across the border will tell whether Pakistan wants to chart a new course. More importantly, the Sharif government should be able to translate its words into action without upsetting the apple cart and rein in the radical elements within the military ranks.

Meanwhile, India should not perceive Pakistan’s reported moves as a result of Modi government’s high pressure diplomatic campaign. On the contrary, it should view the ISI chief’s statement that “the timing of action against several groups should not be seen as buckling to Indian pressure or abandoning the Kashmiri people” in proper perspective.

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