Ufa and civil-military relations in Pakistan

A view from Pakistan on the civilian government’s rationale for the joint statement with India at Ufa and the military’s response to it.

July 15, 2015 12:04 am | Updated April 01, 2016 02:57 pm IST

POSITIVE INTENT: “Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s team insists that instead of creating further tensions, it agreed to include ‘doables’ in the joint statement.” Picture shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Pakistani counterpart in Ufa.

POSITIVE INTENT: “Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s team insists that instead of creating further tensions, it agreed to include ‘doables’ in the joint statement.” Picture shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Pakistani counterpart in Ufa.

There is a certain degree of change in civil-military relations in Pakistan that has brought the two establishments (at least the national government and the security establishment) on the same page on some issues such as tackling terror. There are differences too, for example in the manner in which the security establishment perceives the >joint statement between India and Pakistan in Ufa, Russia. But India should note the changing equations as well.

As Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “walked the talk” across the long corridor of the conference hall in Ufa, Army chief General Raheel Sharif, along with his Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief, was in Balochistan visiting the Headquarters of the Southern Command in Quetta. Not too long ago, the ISI had accused India’s Research and Analysis Wing of providing support to the Baloch separatists.

Mr. Nawaz Sharif left for Ufa to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit, after several rounds of talks with the military and ISI leadership, where Gen. Raheel Sharif was present. What General Sharif was looking for was an assurance from the Indian side at Ufa that New Delhi would ensure peace on Pakistan’s eastern borders. He knows that his Army doesn’t have the luxury to look eastwards now, at a time when the military operation against militants in Waziristan near the Afghan border is in its final stages.

After some of the recent attacks along the Line of Control, it was clear to Rawalpindi that the 2003 ceasefire mechanism was not working. The Pakistani Army has been raising the issue with other countries of late. When he visited Russia last month, General Sharif had discussed the issue of recurring attacks across the LoC in his talks with leaders in Moscow. China, with its renewed interest in Afghanistan, also prefers peace along the Indo-Pak border so that the Pakistani military can remain fully focussed on the Pak-Afghan border.

“Pakistan’s importance in regional politics and connectivity is not lost on New Delhi, especially the warming of ties with Moscow. India realises it is being isolated itself in trying to ‘isolate’ Pakistan,” says Syed Mushahid Hussain, Chairman of Pakistan’s Senate Standing Committee on Defence. “The international community realises that the road to peace in Kabul lies through Islamabad. Besides, Pakistan’s outreach to Russia and the China has changed the regional dynamics in favour of Pakistan,” he adds. Both the military and civilian leadership are aware of it.

Civil-military equations It is time for India to concentrate on the changing scenario in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Though the Pakistani Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi remains all- powerful, the Army knows that it cannot deliver on its own.

“Over the past one year, military-civilian relations have improved beyond imagination. There has been a lot of give and take where Nawaz stepped aside from the Pervez Musharraf case and GHQ [General Headquarters] started to support Nawaz,” says an official from the security establishment. The government’s decision to brief the military leadership on July 6 about the Ufa meeting is a case in point.

However, it appears that the Joint Statement issued by India and Pakistan has not gone down well with those in Rawalpindi. Prime Minister Sharif’s team admits that the meeting did not achieve any breakthrough, but was a good beginning and should lead to formal talks. The Sharif government is feeling the heat for succumbing to Mr. Modi’s style of “limited engagement” instead of reverting to composite dialogue.

There is a feeling that instead of a joint statement that did not include sensitive issues like Kashmir, Sir Creek and Siachen, separate statements would have been more palatable. Prime Minister Sharif’s team insists that instead of creating further tensions, it agreed to include “doables” in the joint statement and let the respective National Security Advisors revisit other contentious issues.

“The general attitude in the Army camp is to be cautious and not move on Mr. Modi’s terms. Normalisation is on the basis of sovereignty. The joint statement has not gone down well with military bosses despite the fact that relations between civilian and military leadership have improved,” says Zahid Hussain, a journalist and author.

Mr. Sharif in Ufa But the Pakistani Foreign Ministry says its main concern is to improve bilateral ties with India and “create an environment for meaningful talks”. Says Syed Tariq Fatemi, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs: “The talks went so well. Pakistan wanted to inject something positive into the meeting so that there could be a basic minimum agreement. It was because of the excellent rapport between the leadership that we decided to have a joint statement.”

Prime Minister Sharif was certainly at his diplomatic best, say his aides, when he told Mr. Modi that he followed all his speeches, including the one he gave recently in Dhaka. Mr. Modi remained silent, unlike earlier when he complained to his Pakistani counterpart about being bothered by Pakistani flags in the Kashmir Valley.

Islamabad says its decision to discuss sensitive issues like Kashmir, Sir Creek, and Siachin Glacier through backdoor diplomacy gives it more “flexibility” in dealing with these issues. But sources from the security establishment say it’s too early to comment on the move.

Pakistan says that it will remain firm on its commitment given to India on the Mumbai terror case. It will cooperate fully with New Delhi to find ways to expedite the Mumbai case trial, including providing additional information like voice samples. It demanded “additional information” but this was in recognition of the need that more information is needed to expedite the trial and not to stymie the progress in the trial.

“Look, all along we stood our ground and did not bend (when it came to bilateral relations). Now we hear this refusal that Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi will not give a voice sample. We have to be part of a civilised world. We have held out an assurance in the joint statement. We cannot embarrass our friends and many others who stood by us like brothers,” said Mr. Fatemi, who was present at the Ufa meeting.

The security establishment view Senior officials say that the refusal by the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, has also surprised the security establishment because recently they were disappointed on two counts: first, when the Punjab government reinstated Rana Sanaullah (known to have strong links with jihadists ) as the Interior Minister and second, when Lakhvi was set free on bail.

“There is a course correction in the General Headquarters where the Army Chief General Raheel Sharif has said that after fighting the war in Waziristan we have to take the battle to the urban areas and fight all terrorists and militants,” our sources confided. On July 13, Gen. Sharif said in Lahore, capital of Punjab, which harbours jihadists , that he would take his battle to these urban areas and not spare a single terrorist. His corps commander in Karachi, Gen. Naveed Mukhtar, in the face of opposition from political parties, has already started to flush out all schools of terrorists, including those in madrasas.

In sum, there is a definite emphasis by the Army to take on jihadists beyond Waziristan even as the civilian government focussed on “doables” in the joint statement with India, which has to be duly noted.

(Mariana Baabar is a senior journalist in Pakistan.)


>>The byline in the Perspective page article, "Ufa and civil-military relations in Pakistan" (July 15, 2015), should have been Mariana Baabar. The sentence, “Mr. Nawaz Sharif left for Ufa …, after several rounds of talks with the military and ISI leadership, unlike in the past, where Gen. Raheel Sharif was present.” should be recast – dropping the words - unlike in the past - to read as follows: “Mr. Nawaz Sharif left for Ufa …, after several rounds of talks with the military and ISI leadership, where Gen. Raheel Sharif was present.”

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