Broader issues behind Sharif’s statement on Mumbai attacks

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An interview by former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif to the Dawn newspaper has sparked controversy across the country and the globe. In the interview, Sharif said elected governments had no authority in Pakistan and its narrative on the war against terrorism could never be imposed if a man from Pakistan could cross the border and kill 150 people in a terrorist attack. Sharif was referring to the Mumbai attacks in 2008.

Sharif has not revealed anything new, as everyone knows that one of the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks, Ajmal Qasab, was assisted by banned extremist organizations in Pakistan, and Zaki Rahman Lakhvi, who has been accused of providing logistical support to Qasab, is facing a trial in the courts. The Indian media, however, are terming this interview as an admission from Pakistan that it was involved in the Mumbai attacks, which has created a very hostile situation for Sharif and his party.

Sharif’s statement regarding banned organizations clearly roaming free in Pakistan has had a global impact as well.

The timing Sharif has chosen to make this statement is very critical, as it came in the wake of deteriorating relations between Washington and Islamabad. Moreover, the military leadership in Pakistan is trying to ease tensions on the border by sending messages to its counterpart in India.

Sharif with all his experience would never make such a statement without realizing the global and local impacts and reactions. He may have won the sympathy of the global establishment, but at the same time this statement has created a backlash in Pakistan.

While the advisers to Sharif are busy in damage control by saying that Indian media have twisted his words, the fact remains that he has given his message to the world that elected governments in Pakistan are helpless in countering the extremist organizations in the country

While the advisers to Sharif are busy in damage control by saying that Indian media have twisted his words, the fact remains that he has given his message to the world that elected governments in Pakistan are helpless in countering the extremist organizations in the country and have no control over the defense narrative. This statement means that Sharif has burned all his boats, and if there was any chance for his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party to get a little space in the next election, he has surely spoiled it.

The question arises over why he issued such a statement while being almost pushed to the wall and subject to the worst victimization from the establishment, as not a single popular leader in Pakistan’s history has ever dared to criticize the defense-related narrative of the state.

Sharif is already facing the consequences now in the form of a campaign to label him as a traitor, launched with the help of big media houses and social media.

In political-warfare terms, Sharif’s strategy can be seen as retaliation, as he is being pushed to the brink of an abyss, and by making this statement he has not only retaliated but also has put pressure on the establishment, as pressure from Washington will now be put on the establishment to do more to eliminate banned organizations and extremists like Zaki ur Rahman Lakhvi and Hafiz Saeed. It seems that Sharif is ready to face the consequences, as it is considered treason to speak about extremist outfits and their backers in Pakistan.

The establishment needs to think now about why a thrice-elected prime minister and leader of a popular party has gone to the extent that he has by openly taking a position against them. But he is not the first elected and popular leader to do so.

First Sheikh Mujeeb and then Zulfikar Bhutto raised the same concerns against the establishment, and now if Sharif is also almost adopting a subversive political-warfare strategy, then the establishment badly needs to take measures to correct their mindset and policies. It needs to be understood that criticizing its role in politics or highlighting the flaws of the defense narrative is not treason; it is, in fact, a healthier sign that the political leaders and civil society are discovering flaws.

Sharif is a popular leader in Punjab and enjoys massive public support. Instead of terming him a traitor, the distrust between the elected representatives and the defense establishment should be addressed so all the pillars of the state can focus on building a peaceful and progressive nation.

It is also a fact that every popular leader in Pakistan has been declared a traitor and threat to the security of the country, from Fatimah Jinnah to Mujeeb and from Zulfikar Bhutto to now Nawaz Sharif – all were accused of being traitors. It cannot be called a coincidence that only the civilian leadership of the country are termed as traitors and threats to the country, while the military dictators who suspended the constitution and imposed martial law are hailed as heroes.

It is the height of hypocrisy that if a civilian elected leader extends the hand of friendship to India and points at our own flaws, he is declared a traitor, while if any dictator or high official in uniform does the same, he is called a great diplomat

It is the height of hypocrisy that if a civilian elected leader extends the hand of friendship to India and points at our own flaws, he is declared a traitor, while if any dictator or high official in uniform does the same, he is called a great diplomat.

Long before Sharif’s admission about banned outfits using Pakistan’s territory, the dictator Pervez Musharraf many times in interviews given to international media confessed that Pakistan trained militants and that non-state actors were also nurtured, and he has never been declared a traitor or an Indian agent.

For Sharif, the latest statement can lead to a path of immense difficulties, but he seems to be ready to face the music. It seems he is no longer in the mood to stay quiet and watch himself be victimized through the courts and the National Accountability Board.

For the majority of the conservatives in both India and Pakistan, and those who are obsessed with a delusional mindset of conquering their opponents with extremist organizations or through proxy wars on both sides of the border, they need to understand that these banned organizations have undermined Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism.

A common man in Delhi working to meet his everyday needs or a middle-class man in Lahore busy earning food for his family have no enmity, as they are busy in their own struggles and wars against poverty. It is only a peaceful relationship between the two countries that can bring progress to the region.

Once an ally of the establishment, Sharif is now on the path to take it on. He and his party will face a mammoth task of not only taking on the establishment but surviving the wrath of the extremist organizations as well.

The fact that it took only one statement to turn Sharif from statesman to traitor is an indication that both India and Pakistan are infiltrated by hate-mongers and war lovers. It could have been the same result for Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi if they had admitted that India is supporting the insurgency in Balochistan.

Whether Sharif will be allowed to be politically active or if he will be banned from politics, only time will tell. But the current tussle between Sharif and establishment is surely not healthy for the country, nor will it strengthen democracy or bring peace in Pakistan.

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