Officials in the Indian security establishment, who are tracking the army facilitated political developments in Pakistan, say that former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif got into the crosshairs of the powerful Pakistan military after he, despite being asked not to, showed gestures of genuine friendshiptowards India and reacted cordially to the friendly overtures made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.He also refused to adopta muscular policy towards India, which was being pushed by officers of GHQ, Rawalpindi.
PM Sharif, according to officials, angered a large section of the Pakistan army leadership when he accepted PM Modi’s invitation to attend the latter’s swearing-in on 26 May 2014, despite being asked by the military leadership not to go to New Delhi. According to these sources, the surprise visit by PM Modi to Lahore in December 2015 and the warm cordial reception that he got from PM Sharif were the proverbial last straw, as this was seen by both the domestic and international media as a sign of normalising of relations between the two countries.
Similarly, despite, facing intense negative pressurefrom the Pakistan army, PM Sharif, in May 2016, after he underwent an open heart surgery, spoke to PM Modi. Then in June 2017, despite two terror attacks in India, in Gurdaspur and Pathankot, the two spoke again when they met in Astana,Kazakhsthan, where they had gone to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit.
This newspaper had in November 2016 prophesied that Sharif was facing the danger of losing his chair—“Gen Raheel Sharif plans judicial coup against Nawaz”—as he had seriously started working on a peace agreement with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which did not escape the omnipresent eyes and ears of the Pakistan army and the ISI.
According to an officer who worked on the Pakistan desk of an Indian security agency, but has now shifted, “When the Supreme Court of Pakistan, in its judgement in the Panama papers case, announced in April 2017 that it wanted further investigation into the corruption allegations and ordered to constitute a six-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which also included an officer from the ISI and an officer from the Military Intelligence, it was clear who was attacking Sharif, why he was being attacked and what the outcome of the JIT investigation would be. Not very surprisingly, the JIT submitted its report within 80 days.”
The two officers who represented the ISI and the military in the JIT, Brig (Retd) Muhammad Nauman Saeed (ISI) and Brig Kamran Khurshid (army) are known in Islamabad for their anti-India stance. Both were also a part of the committee that probed the Dawnleak case.
According to Indian officials, the fact that the bonhomie between Modi and Sharif did not suffer any setbacks, atleast at the personal level, despite the July 2015 Gurdaspur attack and the January 2016 Pathankot attack, further infuriated the powerful officers sitting in GHQ, Rawalpindi. “Back channel talks were going on smoothly, as the meeting between Sajjan Jindal and Nawaz Sharif showed. You will also recall that apart from making small formal statements, keeping in mind his domestic needs, Sharif even did not meddlemuch into the Burhan Wani killing in Kashmir, which further infuriated the army and the terror groups,” the officer recalled.
Officers said that the conduct of the Pakistan judiciary in the way it handled Sharif’s case had led to many voices from within the country alleging that it acted on the aid and advice of the GHQ.
“There is a serious credibility issue when it comes to the Pakistan judiciary vis-à-vis a large section of the common people. If you minutely see how the case against Sharif unfolded, it will become very clear why people are questioning the judiciary. Sharif was pronounced as guilty by a six-member group, which had two members from the same anti-India establishment which wanted Sharif out, the composition of which was decided by the Supreme Court. It was sort of a judicial coup”, a Pakistan based journalist said.
According to him, Sharif’s main competitor, Imran Khan, the leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was getting the support of both the radicals and the military as he has spoken aggressively against India and stated that he will do his best to make Pakistan an Islamic state, while going to the extent of supporting Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws that give the death penalty for any “imputation, insinuation or innuendo” against Prophet Muhammad.
Last week, Imran Khan appeared on a list—compiled by Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA)—of politicianswho are likely to be targeted by terrorists. The list also names Lashkar-e-Tayyaba founder Hafiz Saeed’s son, Talha Saeed, who is contesting the elections on an Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek party ticket.
Even Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, has said that the military in Pakistan knows the difficulties of a military coup and hence “hidden powers” are now using the judiciary to achieve its goal. He describes the whole Sharif development asa judicial coup.
Haqqani, who is presently the Director for South and Central Asia, Hudson Institute, a Washington based think-thank, wrote recently that “the outcome of Pakistan’s parliamentary and provincial elections, scheduled for July 25, can now safely be predicted as the military, the intelligence apparatus, and their allies in the superior judiciary are working overtime to ensure that the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif—dominant among ethnic Punjabis—does not win”.
He goes on to add, “Military intelligence officers have intimidated a number of PML leaders into joining cricketer Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) or other smaller parties. Those refusing to heed warnings have been charged with corruption or disqualified from contesting the election. The media’s freedom has been curtailed. Journalists and candidates routinely receive threats from intelligence operatives. Military officers are shamelessly summoning returning officers and other election staff for meetings although the law gives them no authority to do so. Sharif describes the invisible men trying to influence the election as ‘the aliens’.The military clearly wants the civilian façade to continue but wants a pliable ‘elected’ government that follows the military’s dictates. It does not want a genuinely popular civilian politician in power, backed by an electoral mandate, and certainly not one that wants a foreign or national security policy that is not made in General Headquarters (GHQ).”
That the judiciary is fearful of the Pakistan army became clear from an incident last year. When Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP), a radical group, organised a sit-in in Islamabad in 2017, paralysing the capital for almost three weeks, itwas an army brokered agreement that broke the impasse. Later, the agreement signed between the protestors and the army surfaced in the media. It had the signature of MajorGeneral Faiz Hameed, head of the Counter Intelligence wing of the ISI. Following this, the Islamabad High Court questioned the jurisdiction of the army in making such an agreement. According to Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, not a single clause of the agreement was according to the law. Justice Siddiqui, while objecting to the army being a part of the agreement expressed fears that after his remarkshe might be killed or go missing.
The same Major General Hameed was accused by Nawaz Sharif last week of breaking away candidates from his party forcibly.Interestingly, a large number of independent candidates have been allotted “Jeep” as symbol by the election commission. Jeep has for long been associated with the Pakistan army.