MINISTER of State for External Affairs V K Singh on Monday said the Army still rules Pakistan despite Imran Khan’s election as the new Prime Minister. Perhaps the statement should not have come from a minister, though it has been known since the process for elections to the federal Parliament started in Pakistan that the Pakistani Army was favouring Imran Khan to be the next prime minister. Imran Khan had left no one in doubt about this with his radical statements during his election campaign against US interests in and positions on Afghanistan that echoed the Army’s stance. However, Imran Khan is not the first prime minister of Pakistan who is ‘propped up’ by the Army. In that country, the Army has been playing a dominating role for many years. It is not something that has developed in the recent years. It is not that the Army was reduced to a less dominating role during the tenure of Imran Khan’s recent predecessors.
As a matter of fact, the Pakistani Army has been acting often without a clear knowledge or order of the civilian government. General Shuja Pasha, former chief of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s national intelligence agency, had admitted that the Mumbai terror attack in 2008 was planned by “our people.” Gen Pasha disclosed to former Pakistani ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani shortly after the Mumbai attack, “Log hamare thay, operation hamara nahin tha,” meaning that though the operation was done by a jihadi group, men were hired and trained by them. No wonder, the Pakistan government never agreed to co-operate with the Indian investigators and prosecutors in bringing the planners, executors and handlers of the terrorists engaged in the Mumbai terror attack. In the Pathankot case, the evidence including intercepts of telephone conversations pointed to the terror groups involved in the attack doing it with the support of the Pakistani military. It is hardly surprising the Pakistan government never allowed Indian investigations into Pathankot attack to reach a logical end, despite India letting in a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) of Pakistan, comprising military, police and intelligence agencies.
It is the Army which calls the shots in Pakistan as far as the country’s strategic policies with respect to India and Afghanistan are concerned. The Army continues to support the Taliban and other terror groups in Afghanistan whose aim is to keep the country as unstable as possible. This is a policy totally contrary to the US strategy, which is to bring the Taliban to the dialogue table. The Pakistani Army wants the Taliban and the terror groups to go on troubling the US and Afghan forces. The Pakistani Army does not want a government in Kabul that would be hostile to Pakistan and friendly to India. Recently, the US withheld $500-million aid to Pakistan in order to put pressure on its government to stop supporting the terror groups in Afghanistan. But the Pakistani Army has not stopped supporting the terror groups. And there is no sign that Prime Minister Imran Khan will take steps to satisfy the US conditions before the aid is released.
Asked to comment on incidents of infiltration at the border after a change of government in Pakistan, V K Singh said, without naming Imran Khan, “Did you expect a change? I don’t know. After all, the person has been propped up by the (Pakistan) Army. The Army still rules (in Pakistan). So, let’s wait and watch how things go — whether the person remains under Army control or doesn’t remain under its control.” The past experience suggests that Pakistan’s prime ministers count for little in so far as relations with India are concerned. Previous prime ministers have tried to build up good relations with India – of course, without compromising on the Kashmir question. But every time some progress on normalization of relationship was made, the Pakistani Army and ISI carried out some action that spoiled the scene. The Pathankot case, and before that the killings on the Line of Control in Kashmir, were intended to disrupt the process that was started with the visit of Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif to the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There has been incontrovertible evidence of Pakistani military setting up training camps for terror groups and providing the recruits arms and also support in planning and executing attacks. Notwithstanding this reality, the Pakistani civilian leadership can play a role in establishing peace in Afghanistan and Kashmir. They can use popular support to push for decisions that may not be liked by the Army but will be welcomed by the Pakistani people at large. Let us hope Imran Khan finds his feet and is able to break the deadlock.