Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Is Pak Army preparing to turn on the Lashkar and Jaish?

No Lal Masjid-style crackdown, new army chief to rely on ISI squeeze

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Jan 17

In Pakistan, a new year and a new army chief appear to be heralding a new approach towards reining in anti-India jihadis like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

Business Standard learns from senior Pakistan Army sources that General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who took over as Chief of Army Staff (COAS) from General Raheel Sharif on November 28 has told key advisors that open-ended confrontation with India must be curbed, without compromising Pakistan’s self-respect.

A senior Pakistani officer who held a detailed discussion with Bajwa tells Business Standard the new army chief understands fully that reducing tensions with India would require action against the LeT and JeM.

But Pakistan’s top general believes the LeT and JeM are now more troublesome than useful. He believes the Uri terror strike in September provided India respite in the UN General Assembly, allowing New Delhi to shift the spotlight from unrest in the Kashmir valley to Pakistan-backed terrorism.

Bajwa, unlike his predecessors, has begun setting the stage to act against those groups, says the source. This will not involve an overt military crackdown like former President and army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, unleashed in July 2007 on radical militants in the Lal Masjid in Islamabad.

Instead, there will be a slow squeeze on Punjab-based militant groups, by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). “The ISI exercises a degree of influence over the leadership of these tanzeems (groups). The top leaders, who are the ideological drivers of their jihad, are beholden to the ISI for patronage, funding and protection from law enforcement agencies”, says a senior Pakistani official.

In fact, the ISI has the ability to influence the LeT and JeM only up to a point. Over the last decade, leaders like the LeT’s Hafeez Saeed, have developed larger-than-life individual profiles. According to jihadi lore, Saeed’s immediate family alone includes 23 widows of “mujahideen” who were killed fighting in J&K.

Besides, LeT front organisations like the Jamaat-ud-Daawa have won public favour by providing humanitarian aid, especially after the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 and devastating floods in 2008 and 2010.

New Delhi will be justifiably sceptical of such expressions of intent from Pakistan, after repeated disappointments in the past. On January 11, 2002, with the Indian Army mobilised for war after the JeM terrorist strike on Parliament the month before, General Pervez Musharraf proscribed five militant groups, including the LeT and JeM. But, most resurfaced quickly under changed names.

Similarly, in January 2004, Pakistan solemnly committed to “not allow its soil or territory under its control to be used for terrorism against India.” That promise too was violated repeatedly, including in the Mumbai train bombings in 2006 and the armed LeT terrorist strikes in 2008.

Over preceding years, the Pakistan Army has battled terrorist groups along the Afghanistan border, notably the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which vows jihad against Islamabad. But it soft-pedalled against “strategic assets” like the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban; and left the Punjabi groups like the LeT and JeM unaddressed.

Islamabad claimed it was overstretched with battling the TTP. However, nobody considered it a coincidence that the groups that were spared happened to be useful proxies to wield influence in Afghanistan, and to strike at India.

Although New Delhi has good reason to be sceptical, a new confluence of factors makes it worth watching unfolding events in Pakistan with guarded optimism.

The first is General Qamar Bajwa himself, reputedly a bold mover. Soon after taking over charge, Geo News quoted him as stating: “The situation on the LoC (Line of Control with India) will improve soon”. That has proved correct.

In his initial visits to military establishments, Bajwa has reportedly been telling his officers: “Aap mulk ko chalaane ke baarey na sochein, aap apni nazar fauj ko theek se chalaane par hi rakhein” (don’t preoccupy yourself with how the country is being run, focus your attention on running the army properly).

The tone of Rawalpindi’s statements against India has moderated noticeably. In October, the Pakistan army “rejected absurd Indian claims of hoax surgical strikes as attempt to divert world’s attention from brutalities by Indian Army against innocent Kashmiris.”

In contrast, an official tweet last week declared: “Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa rejects self defeating claims by Indian COAS about ‘so called surg[ical] strikes’ and its possible recurrence.”

Bajwa has been ruthless is creating the space to act. Within days of taking command, he dismantled the core team of his hawkish predecessor, General Raheel Sharif, with a decisiveness that a senior Pakistani journalist described to Business Standard as “brutal”.

Raheel’s ISI chief, Lieutenant General Rizwan Akhtar, was shunted out to the National Defence University, a non-operational appointment. He was replaced by Lieutenant General Naveed Mukhtar, whose views mirror those of Bajwa and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Already while appointing Bajwa as COAS, Nawaz Sharif side-lined the hawkish Lieutenant General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, the powerful Chief of General Staff (CGS) who was a front-runner for the army chief post. Hayat was potentially a dangerous power centre also because he is one of three brothers, who are all serving generals. Hayat was kicked upstairs to the toothless, four-star appointment of Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

Zubair Hayat’s younger brother, Major General Ahmed Hayat, a pivotal officer in the ISI, was marginalised and superseded.

Simultaneously, Raheel’s activist media chief, Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa (no relation to the army chief), was moved out to the inconsequential post of “Inspector General Arms”. In his place has come Major General Asif Ghafoor.

The new chief also, as is customary, switched a number of corps commanders and other posts, replacing Raheel’s appointees with trusted officers of his own. With Raheel himself moving to Saudi Arabia to command the 39-nation Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT), the decks are clear for Bajwa.

At the apex level, there is agreement between the key decision-makers who would face the brunt of campaign against the LeT and JeM --- Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and Generals Qamar Bajwa and Naved.

However, not everyone believes Nawaz Sharif has the stomach for the fight. Pakistani journalist, Cyril Almeida, wrote in Dawn recently: “The boys (army) want to go in to clean up the sectarian mess and the anti-Pakistan stuff. But Nawaz can’t let them… [He] can’t have troops stomping around Punjab doing counterterrorism stuff.”

Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP) on countering terrorism, which was agreed to in an all-party meeting in December 2014 after terrorists rampaged through an army school in Peshawar, provides a comprehensive framework for tackling terrorism. However, the potential repercussions of confronting jihadis in the Punjab heartland demands political will to fully implement the NAP.

Pakistani leaders remember the suicide attacks in the Punjab heartland that followed the storming of the Lal Masjid. “From every brick of the Lal Masjid, a suicide attacker seemed to have been born”, recalls a senior Pakistani official.

A tight-wire act for Pakistan’s army chief will be to take on the LeT and JeM without being seen to be acting under pressure from India. A senior Pakistan Army officer warns that triumphalism from New Delhi could derail Bajwa far more effectively than jihadi reprisals would. The response from South Block, and from the Indian media, would therefore be crucial.

12 comments:

babu.BS said...

It augers well!India instead of being squeamish & in no talk mode ... Must explore subtle & nuanced interactions with Pak especially start a dialog between the generals of the 2 countries if need be? A framework for interactions with Pak under various scenarios should be worked out such that whatever be the situation ... India must not move out of talk mode with Pak or drive away normal citizen to citizen interplay & travel ? Let us call it Surgical relationship? ha

Unknown said...

Lets and pray half of rolls true. The internal dynamics of Pakistan can change in a jiffy. There is no doubt the Pakistani Terrorists looking West will soon modify their modus operandi and curry favour with the ISI & COAS with a few diversionary strikes. The recent killing of the unarmed GREF labour in Akhnoor is one such incident. Indians cannot simply let down its guard. The Army needs its night vision to be improved even if means quickly importing it off the shelf!!

Alok Asthana said...

This will make Gen Bajwa more powerful than Rahil was. And, in the long run, a strong Chief in Pak is bad for India. We're enemies on an active basis --thanks to electoral compulsions leading to stupid policies of BJP-- so a strong Chief on the other side is obviously bad for India.

Anonymous said...

zebras dont... change... stripes... wishful thinking... daydreaming... weak hearted... indians...

Anonymous said...

3 labourers died in terrorist attacks this week. Their lives are not important, Ajai?
How has the situation improved?

You are also forgetting that in winter time attacks generally reduce. Just wait for March.

Eagleeye47 said...

Let's just hope that the General's succeeds in cleaning up the mess, because it's as much in the interest of Pakistan's well-being as it's for India.A win win situation for the people on both sides.

raw13 said...

You got it, Gen Hayat is lethal. He is the one that pushed through the Babur III test. His role is critical, with SFC playing a bigger role in Pakistan. Bajwa needs to act fast with or without NS's support in Punjab. Everyone and their auntie knows that punjab needs to be cleared and fast. He has perhaps 6 months, after which Corps commander meetings will start to get interesting. His other handicap is lack of experience on the western front. Most of the officers that are coming up and promoted heavily by the last two chiefs are mainly from those units....and they want action, not talk.

With you PM, RM and COAS regularly threatening us, he will have no option but to allow the boyz to take indian scalps on regular basis. To be honest I cannot see him getting a breather with the sabre rattling that comes out of New Delhi and the way IA continues to treat the Kashmiris?

Kaustav said...

Fond hopes and wishful thinking are the hallmarks of lotus eaters. You sort out your own problems and the enemy. The enemy has a clear agenda. Time India got it's act together

Anonymous said...

The whole exercise is a drama. NS is realizing fast that the upcoming regime in DC will not be favorable to Paki mischief.

Anonymous said...

NSR sys ---

I must be very frank and candid on this particular article...

Two terrorists were killed at LOC and their bodies are still in the open to be picked up...

Three armed force workers killed by terrorists few days ago and the terrorists walked back to Pakistan at a Royal pace before army could even mobilize...

I do not know what Col. Shukla was drinking or smoking...ha ha ha...you fell for Bogus news source...

ISI will not stop...just see what happened in Afghanistan...3 attacks ...two near Parliament...one of these days they will get in like they did in Hellmnad Governor palace...

Kindly double and triple check about the veracity of your souorces when it comes to Pakistan reporting...

kashmiri said...

@NSR,

why is it that the ISI could not stop two attacks taking place in Balouchistan last month? Why is it they failed to stop attacks on GHQ, PAF, Sindh Rangers in karachi or PN bases?

Reality check: ISI is not a GOD. Do not worship it!!!

They do not control every movement or action taking place in Pak or in the neighbourhood. You like most moodi bhakts have never been to Kashmir, never mind the border. The border is such that a man can pass you by 10 meters away, you won't see him or hear him. Many a man have pissed their pants on hearing a goat grazing there. The way you write you are all mouth or is it ass?

Moodi and his goan muppet have politicised the LoC. How many Indians have been killed at the border since their "SUR JAY KAL" strikes? If things continue and they keep beating their chests, I can assure you many more will be this year. If you have courage of your convictions, come guard the border. I recommend you use a butt plug as we do not wish to smell you in Azad Kashmir.

The trouble mainly re-started after the brutal crack down on the civilian Kashmiri's. Do you know how many Kashmiri's your army has blinded and killed? Well in Pakistan we have some young men that then want to take revenge. That's our culture and sign of real courage. If you want peace get out of Kashmir.

Anonymous said...

@Kashmiri,

The topic is about the change in Pakistan Army policy...

Get some English reading, comprehension, and writing skills...

There is a sign in the lobby of Pakistan Army GHQ which says that the motto of Pak Army is Jihad....

So Pakistani Army and ISI are like a dog's tail...you can never straighten them as long as they believe in Jihad to kill and convert other religious people and their lands...
So I want you and also the article write to understand that Jihad is contrary to this article...

I laugh at your stupidity...
For milleniums, from Kailash Manasarovar in Himalayas to Kanyakumari was and is all Bharat, India, Hindu, Budhism, Jainism, etc...

Muslim invaders came and killed our men and boys and stole our women folks to procreate and multiply their numbers and religious numbers...

So go and look in mirror and see at yourself as you look more like an Hindu/Budhist/Jainist as the mother who gave birth to you...
Try looking your face and in mirror and it will tell you the stupidity of your comments...
Just because muslims are in majority does not mean it needs to get independence...

On the other hand, you can try to migrate back to the wonderlands from where you came here and see if you get any respect...

What a shame - Muslims are never happy in their own or other lands...

Most of the Indian Muslims do hate the brand of your thinking...

India is a great and wonderful and multi-ethnic and cultural country...There is no place for an ingrate like you so to speak...