Sharif versus Sharif: Coup in Pakistan in the offing?

Islamabad/New Delhi/Washington: Reports quoting Pakistani and US sources suggest that there is yet another coup in the making in Pakistan.

A war of wits has been going on between the civilian establishment led by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the military establishment led by Pakistan Army Chief Raheel Sharif. The Sharif versus Sharif game has been going on for some time but it surfaced suddenly on October 3 when the civilian leadership asked the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), an agency run by the army, to stop abetting terrorist activity. The army took offence and is understood to have told the civilian administration not to cross its limits.

The Thursday issue of Dawn, the influential and highly respected newspaper in Pakistan, reported a tussle between the political and military bosses. The unprecedented internal crisis followed major differences between Nawaz Sharif and Raheel Sharif on the question of supporting the Jihadist forces.

It is known that the Pakistani army has been standing by these forces which have been responsible for violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Differences between the civilian and military Sharif came into the open when Pakistan PM wanted the ISI to end terrorism and help complete investigations into the 26/11 Mumbai attack, recent terrorist attacks on Pathankot and Uri.

The military establishment, however, argued that doing so would amount to pleading guilty and that kind of attitude would harm Pakistani interests in Kashmir. It was reported that there was a brainstorming session between the civilian officials led by Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry and the ISI representatives led by its chief General Rizwan Akhtar where the differences came to the fore.

It was said that Aizaz had given a ‘blunt, orchestrated and unprecedented warning to the ISI asking it not to interfere with the law enforcing agencies that are acting against Jihadists in anti-terrorism courts.

This concern expressed by the civilian authorities was on account of the fact that Pakistan has been feeling isolated and it found no supporter except China which is also unhappy with the violence perpetrated by the Jihadists.

Pakistani diplomats feel there is indifference in important capitals around the world towards Pakistan. ISI chief, however, made it clear that changing the tactics at this stage would be seen as buckling down under Indian pressure and abandoning the people of Kashmir.

Pakistan’s special Kashmir envoy in the UN, Mushahid Hussain Syed, had warned in Washington on Wednesday that his government may be forced to move towards China and Russia as the US influence is waning.

It is a fact that the US has been putting a lot of pressure on Pakistan to tone down support to the Jihadists post Uri attack. Mushahid Hussain’s warning is aimed at bluntly telling the US administration that if it continues its pressure Pakistan would have to look up to China and Russia for support. Observers say that Russia had moved very close to Pakistan in recent times. There is even a talk of Pakistan-China-Russia axis.

It is to be seen if the mandate of the crucial meeting that Gen Rizwan Akhtar of ISI and the National Security Advisor Nasser Janjua have to jointly visit four provinces with a message that the intelligence agencies should keep off the anti-terrorist courts would be sincerely implemented.

But Pakistan observers feel that the purported revolt by Prime Minister Sharif cannot last long given the strangle hold of the army on the administrative agencies as well as public opinion. Moreover, Raheel Sharif is to retire soon and he would like to continue to call the shots by toppling the civilian government and declaring martial law, if necessary. He can take advantage of the aggressive posture adopted by the Indian government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  

Nawaz Sharif commented that the story appeared in ‘Dawn’ is half true. After some time, he described the same story as completely untrue. Once bitten twice shy, Nawaz Sharif whose civilian government was toppled by General Musharaff in the wake of the Kargil war, would think twice before antagonizing General Raheel Sharif.

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