Washington has stepped up pressure on Pakistan to speed up the decision to restore Nato supplies to Afghanistan. High level contacts, both military and civilian, have sent signals not to dilly-dally anymore. The latest contact was the meeting held at Lahore where President Asif Zardari met the visiting US Deputy Secretary of State.
The latest turn of the screw has been the targeting of Hafiz Saeed by putting a bounty of $10 million on his head. This sudden move has evoked a harsh response from Pakistan. Without any “concrete evidence”, how can any legal action be taken, asks Islamabad.
Mr Zardari’s announced visit to India, too, has come as a surprise. It is to be a private visit to Dargah Ajmer Sharif, preceded by a lunch by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The visit does not look like something suddenly decided. The US has been all along wanting Pakistan to mend its relations with the larger eastern neighbour and statements favouring such initiatives have come from President Barack Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton. Are the two surprising news items, in any way, related to each other?
A report from New Delhi published in a national daily about the US move against Hafiz Saeed quotes the Indian Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, saying: “What this announcement will do is that it will put pressure on Pakistan and will make them take action.” The report also suggests that India knew about the US move “a week ago.” It will, therefore, not be unrealistic to assume that India might have worked behind-the-scenes to influence Washington to take the decision. The Indian Foreign Minister, S.M. Krishna, too, has “welcomed” the US announcement saying that the international community has come “together” in combating terrorism, and adding: “I have always insisted that he (Hafiz Saeed) was the brain behind the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.” One may here take note of the fact that the reasons recorded in the US ‘Rewards for Justice’ notification include a reference to the Interpol “red corner notice” issued by the Indian government against Saeed.
Hafiz Saeed’s own stand is unambiguous. He has rejected outright the accusation that he was involved in the plan to attack Mumbai. In a recent interview aired on a local TV channel, he cited the higher Pakistani courts’ judgments clearing him of the charges of terrorism. Said Saeed: “I am not hiding in caves for rewards to be announced for my capture. The US is frustrated because of our campaign against resumption of Nato supply…….Although the US has pleased India through this announcement, it is in fact more concerned over the DPC’s (Defence of Pakistan Council) popularity.”
The Hafiz Saeed case has added to the complexity of Parliament’s task to reset the terms of engagement with USA. The initial reaction of the government, as stated by the Foreign Office Spokesperson, Abdul Basit, is somewhat dismissive of the premise put forward by the US government.
Because of the differences with regard to the Parliamentary Committee’s recommendations, as aired by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and JUI Chief Maulana Fazalur Rehman, Raza Rabbani has been struggling to meet the objections raised. Nisar is right where he questions the credibility of the government in view of its failure to abide by the earlier National Assembly’s resolutions.
The PPP government finds itself sitting on the horns of a dilemma. Left to itself, it would have by now agreed to restore the ground supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan subject to certain conditions. Regarding drones, the given impression is that it is already covertly in cahoots with the Americans as dramatically revealed earlier in the Wikileaks.
Is it politic on the part of Mr Zardari to go to India at this juncture? For years, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been refusing to come to Pakistan. Yes, there have been numerous trade and cultural delegations to secure trade deals and getting the visa regime softened. This is a good time for India to make the best of the bargain because of Pakistan’s various vulnerabilities. Power outages and industry shut down has pushed the economy to a low ebb. Many vested interest groups in Pakistan are willing to be persuaded to open the country to Indian goods and services. Culturally, India has already made extensive inroads into the ‘minds and hearts’ of our youth. Our TV channels’ non-stop provide space and time to the Indian stars, heroes and heroines, little realising the inferiority complex such projections generate in Pakistan.
It is interesting to listen to the Indian peaceniks making sweet noises about our common history and culture. Interestingly enough, while the New Delhi government never tires of condemning Pakistanis for the Mumbai attacks, one hardly finds even a mention about the Samjhauta Express carnage. Our government, too, remains silent and sheepish about it. The Indian visitors say very little about the black repressive laws in occupied Kashmir and the massive militarisation of the valley and the surrounding areas. Nor do our ‘Aman Ki Asha’ jihadis ever talk about the state terrorism or pin the India army and police to the mass graves now and then discovered in various parts of occupied Kashmir. Seldom do the well meaning messengers of goodwill emphasise the need for an early settlement of disputes relating to Siachin and Sir Creek.
The fact of the matter is that a burgeoning economy and an ascendant regional power, wanting to gain access through the land routes to Afghanistan and Central Asia, is bent upon making the most of a tainted and US subservient government without yielding any substantial concessions.
Mr Zardari’s brainwave to suddenly undertake a flying visit to India could after all be an integral part of a Indo-US plan to prepare the ground for Islamabad’s yielding to New Delhi’s designs and demands.
American arrogance and interference, as evidenced by episodes linked to Raymond Davis, to the Salala strikes and the withholding of funds - all this taken along with the memogate and mehrangate cases, have adversely affected the standing and image of the security forces. While welcoming the prospects of the military moving away from interference in political affairs and appreciating General Kayani’s proven restraint, one must at the same time realise that we very much need strong and high morale armed forces in an increasingly volatile and none too friendly world. It is time for our military to finally make up their minds, do their duty resolutely and abide by their constitutional obligations, spurning the unwholesome temptation to capture political power.
The nation also wishes the Supreme Court to remain strong and determined to do justice without fear or favour to ensure the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law.
The latest salvos against the judiciary from the ruling party’s leaders are highly alarming and must be firmly addressed by the judiciary, the political opposition and the media.
The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.