By M D Nalapat
After the Balakot strike, GHQ Rawalpindi had warned its nominee Imran Khan that he had failed the ‘Modi test’. He had been unable to influence the Prime Minister of India to make security concessions.
Washington: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is meeting US President Donald J. Trump on 22 July in an effort to win him over as completely as General Pervez Musharraf succeeded with George W. Bush. Before removing Nawaz Sharif in a judicial coup predicted by this newspaper, the three-star generals at GHQ Rawalpindi and at field commands who are the “competent authority” in Pakistan had wanted a replacement who (in their view) had the public relations skill needed to lull India’s leaders into the same complacency that gave the then Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Musharraf an opportunity to infiltrate and occupy the Kargil heights by the dawn of 1999 in an effort at retaliation for the surprise occupation of the Siachen glacier by the Indian Army in 1984. While Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had taken seriously Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s promises of good behaviour, and had communicated this assessment to Army commanders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was expected to similarly accept Prime Minister Khan’s promises of yet another “new dawn” in relations between Islamabad and Delhi. It was expected by the strategists in GHQ Rawalpindi that such bonhomie between the two Prime Ministers would lead to (1) a lowering of the guard by Indian forces on the border and (2) the effective legitimisation of the veto power of the (President Clinton-created) All Parties Hurriyat Conference in matters of policy pertaining to Kashmir, a power that had informally been ceded to them by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti during 2016-18 without visible intervention by the Ministry of Home Affairs or the BJP Deputy Chief Minister in the PDP-led government. It had been expected by the ISI that a “Mehbooba-like situation without Mehbooba” could be ensured in Jammu & Kashmir should Imran Khan convince Modi of his bona fides the way Nawaz Sharif had convinced Vajpayee. However, despite several essentially cosmetic gestures (such as the immediate release of Wing Commander Abhinandan from captivity), PM Modi remained firm on taking a strong stand on the illicit activities of GHQ Rawalpindi in India, going to the unprecedented extent of personally ordering a lightning strike by frontline military aircraft on a terror training camp in Balakot deep inside Pakistan. After the strike, GHQ Rawalpindi warned its nominee Imran Khan that he had failed the “Modi test”. He had been unable to influence the Prime Minister of India to make security concessions. Instead of pandering to the wishes of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference the way Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh had, Narendra Modi ordered that its members should be put in jail for anti-national activities. For the first time in the history of the Kashmir valley, the Income-Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate were given freedom to act against “overground” pro-Pakistan groups and individuals, who are suddenly finding themselves being held to account. While as yet responsibility for the decision to permit the BJP in the state to temporarily be the B-team of the PDP has not been fixed, at least in public, Prime Minister Modi has since ensured that the battle against terrorists and separatists in Kashmir is proceeding at a pace unprecedented since the 1990s.
The three major powers that matter the most in GHQ Rawalpindi’s calculus are China, the US and India. In the case of China, relations with Beijing are handled almost exclusively by the men in uniform, rather than the civilian establishment. In the case of the US, the civilian establishment is often made the “face” of GHQ’s views in meetings with agencies, including on occasion the NSC and the Pentagon. This has come about because of the growing disillusionment within the Pentagon about the Pakistan military, which has been exposed multiple times for its two-faced actions. In the case of India, fear of recruitment by R&AW has prevented significant interaction between the Pakistan military and its counterparts in India. The interface is largely conducted by the civilian establishment, where the Pakistan Prime Minister is expected to handle his counterpart in India in such a way as to mask the objectives of the ISI. The effort is to make the Government of India go ahead with “confidence building measures” that in reality only build up the relative strength of pro-Pakistan forces in theatres of asymmetric Indo-Pak conflict in India. Despite repeated efforts at winning the trust of Prime Minister Modi, who is seen as the key to decision making in government, thus far Imran Khan has failed to make a dent in Modi’s armour of doubt concerning Pakistan. During the UPA decade, while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was cultivated openly, AICC president Sonia Gandhi was sought to be influenced when senior Congress leaders visited London, Dubai and other locations where “Treffs” (below the radar) meetings could be held with elements of the security establishment in Pakistan and their associates. Family members of the UPA chairperson were also identified for such “accidental” or “personal” meetings designed to ensure a lowering of the guard by our side on the activities of the Pakistan military and its auxiliaries and associates. To dismay from within GHQ Rawalpindi, Imran Khan seems to have failed the “Modi test”, being unable to break through his resolve and establish a zone of trust with the Prime Minister of India. In such a situation, it has become a matter of political survival for Imran Khan to establish in President Trump a level of confidence in the former that would smoothen the way for the White House to facilitate GHQ Rawalpindi strategies for re-establishing suzerainty in Afghanistan through the entry and eventual takeover of the Afghan government by the Taliban.
Separately, Pakistan has joined hands with two other countries to influence public opinion in India as well as create a bureaucratic consensus in the Lutyens Zone against either a de facto or de jure security alliance between India and the US. Such a partnership would be a nightmare to the Pakistan army, as it has the potential to significantly ramp up the defensive and offensive capabilities of the Indian armed forces. A similar effort is ongoing in Washington that is designed to portray the Indian establishment as being “big talkers but not doers” and as “unreliable” security partners. Casting doubt on India’s bona fides and boosting confidence in Pakistan as an ally are the twin objectives sought to be met through Prime Minister Imran Khan in his current US charm offensive. Former relatives of his in the UK have, for reasons of sentiment, been assisting in the “selling” of Imran Khan to influential individuals in New York and Washington. President Trump is in essence being invited to leave Afghanistan to the Taliban and simultaneously declare victory by a withdrawal of US forces that would weaken the capacity of Ashraf Ghani to resist the steady takeover of his country by GHQ proxies in the same way as was done during the Clinton presidency.
The coming week will show whether Imran Khan has passed the “Trump test”. Should he fail in his efforts at influencing policy with the US President just as he has had no success with the Prime Minister of India, the odds are high that GHQ Rawalpindi will begin the search for a replacement. Imran Khan’s future is forfeit if he cannot win over Donald Trump to the plan of action favoured by the ISI in Afghanistan. The good news for him is that Washington has repeatedly fallen for similar promises from Islamabad in the past, and that the Trump team contains several individuals who have made a career out of being close to the Pakistan military. The elected regime in Afghanistan will need to wait while its fate is being decided.
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