A keen Pakistan watcher, Gopalaswami Parthasarathy, former Indian high commissioner in Islamabad, talks to Sanjib Kr Baruah about the turbulent dynamics between the two South Asian neighbours in the aftermath of the Uri attack and the surgical strikes by India.
We start with the latest media report in Pakis-tan’s Dawn newspaper, which said that the Pakistani civilian government has come down heavily on the Army and ISI.
The Dawn is the most respected newspaper in Pakistan with global credibility. It has come out with a sensational news where the civilian government has exposed the military’s supportive role for the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Haqqani network in Afghanistan that has given Pakistan a very bad name as a state sponsor of terrorism. The report comes at a time when the Pakistani Army has assumed an unusual and unprecedented role in which not only is it involved in security operations but also in day-to-day affairs of the government.
The credibility of the government has gone down so badly that the US vice-president calls upon the Pakistan general when he visits Pakistan. The Afghan President starts his visit to Pakistan with a visit to the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and not the Prime Minister or the President. The government has no authority now. And when Prime Minister Narendra Modi drops in at Nawaz Sharif’s home, the Pathankot attack takes place after that. So the Pakistani Army has made it clear that its role, not only in Jammu and Kashmir but also across the country, will continue.
How deep is the Pak Army’s role?
Day-to-day foreign policy is being conducted by the military. On Wednesday, Gen. Raheel Sharif addressed the fresh batch of officers at the GHQ in Rawalpindi where he lauded the use and role of the Air Force for bombing the Pashtuns in the tribal areas. Twenty per cent of the Army is Pashtuns. And Operation Zarb-e-Azb has resulted in 50,000 Pashtuns fleeing to Afghanistan. Pakistani Army has led the country into disaster. Now all this has been done without the approval of the civilian government or of Parliament granting approval.
So, where is it building up to?
Don’t they realise that in two out of four provinces in Pakistan, its own Air Force is being used to bomb their own people — the Balochis and Pashtuns. So at some stage Mr Sharif had to stand up. And he has chosen his time carefully. Of course, he had been bogged down by corruption charges, but right now Gen. Sharif is due to retire in about one and half months and in the next 15-20 days he will have to name his successor. Once Gen. Sharif retires, he becomes a lame duck.
How should India react to it?
India should just watch from the sidelines and not interfere with the internal affairs of that country. Let it have its own dynamics. People of Pakistan should understand that supporting the Army is leading them into a deeper mess.
Did India’s announcement of military surgical strikes come as a surprise to you? What has changed in this government’s response compared to previous regimes?
Such strikes had taken place in the past. But an attack at this level when one used helicopter gunships, certain elements of fire power, with about more than hundred people and knock them as bad as we did and inflicting a lot of casualties is something that is substantially different.
But the policy of brinkmanship between two nuclear countries isn’t it dangerous?
After Pakistan’s constant threats to use nuclear weapons, there has been a certain reluctance in India to put that to test. I think in the Indian side the apprehensions are logically unjustified. Pakistan’s Army officers may be adventuresome or they may be full of rhetoric, but they are not suicidal. So you have a lot of space to conduct military operations sensibly. This nuclear deterrence is a mind-game.
On the surgical strikes…
I am very sorry that this issue is being politicised in this manner. The very fact of a statement and its veracity being questioned after having been read out by the director general of military operations (DGMO) is very wrong.
Does the strike imply a gradual shift of India from a soft state image towards a hard one?
I wouldn’t make generalisations like that. Because in what has happened, diplomacy has played a major role. If you take the reactions after Uri, all, including our South Asian neigbhours have backed us starting with Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who also feel the pain of Pakistan’s terrorism. The US, European Parliament, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Qatar, were severely critical of the Uri attack. Such support is unprecedented. You cannot carry out a military operation in isolation. And it has been carried out in the background of a successful diplomatic strike. Germany and Russia came out very strongly in India’s support. Even China has not offered unqualified support to Pakistan.
What do you think of the government’s stand that video footage of the strikes won’t be made public?
There is a huge amount of satellite-based information and from the drones. You should not expose what your assets are. That is a decision which only the military and intelligence agencies can help take. This is a decision best left to the government and the Prime Minister.
Why is the Pakistan government denying that such a strike ever took place?
The Pakistan Army is a joke because of such blatant lies. Nobody takes it seriously any more.
Where do you see the bilateral relations going to from here? Do you see an escalation?
Pakistan military is chaffing. It will try to take revenge and we should be prepared for it. Also, let us not function in a manner that is dehumanising. There is no harm in school children coming to India, relatives visiting, for Sufi tourism or for hospital treatment. We should welcome these because the narrative becomes what they see for themselves in India — which is much different from the lessons of hate in their history books.
India’s neighbours like Sri Lanka are clearly tiring of the India-Pak hostility. How relevant is Saarc now and what future does it have?
We should gradually disengage from Saarc. It has become a propaganda for Pakistani obstructionism. Unlike our relations with Asean, which have not progressed, relations with Saarc has not.
What would be the implications of Pakistan being declared a terrorist state?
I don’t think that will happen in the near future for the simple reason that it is a country with nuclear weapons. Ostracising Pakistan completely is not realistic. How will it be meaningful if China doesn’t support it?