Prime Minister Gilani: The ISI’s New Poster Boy

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is emerging as the poster boy of the Establishment in the country implying the Army and the ISI. This is a very deft transformation of a man who was clobbered by the Pakistani media and the public alike when he offered to send the chief of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to New Delhi immediately after the Mumbai strike.

While Gilanis' overtures never materialized for he was soon put in his place by a press release from the all powerful voice of the Inter Services Public Relations in Islamabad, there are increasing signs that the Premier who many believe in Pakistan has problems in articulating in Queens English which is a compliment to him in any case, is emerging as the front man for the Establishment.

Thus all leading statements in the country are coming from Mr Gilani. Witness the latest on Friday, 9 January, 'India's blame game, its vilification campaign against Pakistan on its media, and war-mongering ... has only brought us to square one in terms of the confidence-building measures.' Gilani followed it up with another canard that the Pakistani side had provided information to India through the CIA. Apart from being the most unlikely route for sharing information, the Indian side refuted that any such communication had been received.

Sacking of the national security adviser Major-General (Retd) Mahmud Ali Durrani after he told Indian news channel CNN-IBN that Ajmal Kasab was a Pakistani is another firm indication that Gilani has emerged as the voice of the Establishment. Durrani is a close confidant of President Zardari and a person prominent in the Track II circuit. By telling the truth on Kasab he was clearly creating space for a rapprochement with India. Given that human rights activists in Pakistan are active in finding out the truth, Durrani was probably attempting to prevent an embarrassment.

Pakistan human rights activist and former minister Ansar Burney who had dispatched a team from the Ansar Burney Trust brought out that Kasab's parents were missing from the village. ``Where are the parents of Ajmal Kasab and who took them out from the village? This is another question that would create further doubts,' Mr Burney said recently. Removal of Durrani was not enough, even the parents of Kasab had to be taken away undoubtedly to a safe location under the watchful eye of an intelligence agency. The Establishment hopes that they would be hidden from the public eye forever.

The acceptance of Ajmal Kasab as a Pakistani citizen should ideally have set the ball rolling for measures which would lead to Indo Pakistan rapprochement. But there are obviously differences in the top hierarchy on how to deal with the situation and full blown d'tente would not be evident just yet, only the winds are blowing in a positive direction. Instead the establishment continues to blow hot and cold.

The interview by the ISI Chief, Lt General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, to Die Spiegel is also exceptional and its release indicates that the government is clearly in a mood to reduce the tension that has been building up for a long time. This is the type of maturity which should mark the pronouncements from both sides, though the Pakistani establishment is not likely to appreciate the statement of his willingness to visit India. All these issues would fall in place in due course.

What needs to be seen is if this is a temporary response by the Establishment to get the heat off or is it a measure to tilt the balance in favor of a rapprochement with India remains to be seen. The aim of the Pakistani leadership has been clear so far, this is four fold as given below:

  • Firstly to stave off the Indian diplomatic offensive over the Mumbai attack by a series of denials, diversions and disinformation.
  • Secondly take limited action against the terrorist groups who are reportedly involved in the blasts to avoid pressure at large.
  • Charge India with involvement in the terror activities in Pakistan.
  • In case all fails then sacrifice the key leaders of the groups as the Lashkar e Taiyyaba just as they did in the case of A Q Khan, but shelter the Establishment at all costs.

All this shields the government of Pakistan from acting against not just the Lashkar e Taiyyaba but other terrorist groups who are involved in acts of violence across the country. Thus the presence of the Taliban and the Al Qaeda in FATA is growing. Recently a missile from a CIA drone killed the head of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, Usama al-Kini and his fellow-Kenyan, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Sawedanm, these were behind the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed 60 people, and involved in suicide attack on Ms Benazir Bhutto's convoy as it travelled through Karachi upon her arrival in Pakistan on October 18, 2007.

The United States has been able to track these terrorists and bring them to book thereby supporting these initiatives would be in Pakistan's interests. But there is not much public support to these strikes which is one reason why the situation in FATA continues to deteriorate. The Pakistani public fed by the intelligence agencies feels that the main enemy is India and also increasingly the United States and not the Taliban, Lashkar e Taiyyaba, Jaish e Mohammad and the like.

The general feeling in Pakistan therefore is that terrorism is paying as a strategy and is not bad to counter Indian influence so this should be continued. This ignores the rot that is setting in the society within the country which would claim many lives in the months ahead. Mr Gilani through his denial, delay and disinformation is only contributing to destruction of peace and stability in the country as well as in the Sub Continent. It is time that President Zardari finds someone who is more mature and will not be a putty of the Establishment.


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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