Written By: Shamshad Ahmed
Lately, India's Narendra Modi has been claiming that he will isolate Pakistan. What he doesn't know is that in this region if there is any country already suffering a congenital isolation, it is India which, because of its overbearing size and hegemonic clout, is generating many problems in the region including fear of domination among its smaller neighbours and a host of border conflicts and water disputes with them. It stands more or less alone as an 'exclusive' state without having to be identified in tandem with the rest of the countries in the region.
Ironically, all South Asian countries except Afghanistan share borders with India as the largest state of the region but not with each other. With this unique geographic feature seriously limiting its scope for genuine regional cooperation, SAARC even after three decades of its existence has not been able to deliver on its promise or potential. Now, in his typically belligerent mode, Modi has struck a fatal blow to SAARC by orchestrating the last minute cancellation of its summit meeting that was scheduled to be held last month in Islamabad.
What else could one expect from a man who as chief minister of India's Gujarat State was responsible for the 2002 Gujarat riots that killed over 2000 Muslims and who for this reason was blacklisted as persona non grata by the EU and the U.S.? What now remains is SAARC's final burial and the best locale for the unceremonious event would be the place where it was born in 1985. Ironically, Modi's best partner in this inauspicious event could be none other than his Bangladeshi counterpart, known for her anti-Pakistan obsession. But when it comes to anti-Pakistan obsession, nobody can beat Modi.
His cold-blooded realpolitik has lately been manifesting in the ongoing Kashmir brutality. To divert global attention from this massive Kashmiri revolt against India's illegal military occupation of their state, he first engineered Pathankot incident and then the Uri drama. He also claimed an evidence-less 'surgical strike' allegedly somewhere across the Line of Control which turned out to be no more than a hoax. What is clear is that Modi's objective has been to destabilize Pakistan and weaken its armed forces which over the decades have emerged as the only cohesive force defending the country against external and internal threats.
Modi may have been kept from conducting a military 'surgical strike' across the Line of Control but surely did manage an intrusive media 'surgical strike' in the heart of Pakistan through a ‘false and fabricated story’ on the proceedings of an extraordinary high-level closed-door meeting planted in a major English daily of Pakistan. The PM office initially tried to deny the story but with the messenger refusing to disown it, came out with another statement expressing concern over the publication of a “fabricated news story” which was termed as "clearly violative of universally acknowledged principles of reporting on national security issues."
According to the statement, "the published story had risked the vital state interests through inclusion of inaccurate and misleading contents which had no relevance to actual discussion and facts.” Taking serious notice of the violation, the Prime Minister directed that those responsible should be identified for stern action. Meanwhile, a strongly worded statement issued by ISPR after former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif chaired a meeting of his Corps Commanders also expressed serious concern over what was claimed as "feeding of false and fabricated story of an important security meeting at PM House" and viewed it as “breach of national security”.
This statement clearly suggested the story in question was planted with malafide purpose and the reporter only played into the hands of vested interests who wanted to show the country in a poor light. To complicate things, the government having first tried to rubbish the report then quickly placed the reporter on Exit Control List. However, in next few days the travel ban was lifted with no explanation and the so-called reporter was allowed to leave the country. A delegation of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) and the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) after a meeting with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan claimed they had persuaded him to withdraw the ban.
With media going into its usual frenzy, feigning anger and frustration, speculating outlandish scenarios and spinning all sorts of wild theories, one is left with a question as to who really was behind this 'false and fabricated' story drama, and why. While the government apparently was looking for the people who 'leaked' the story, the debate in Pakistan quickly turned to whether the newspaper and its reporter should have done the story at all. Most people were of the view that by accepting a story fed from vested interests both had either acted irresponsibly or had fallen into a trap laid out by the enemy. On its part, the newspaper in question insisted on record that "it handled the story in a professional manner and carried it only after verification from multiple sources."
A federal minister in charge of Information and Broadcasting was then suddenly asked to step down for what was stated as a 'lapse' on his part in preventing the false and fabricated story. A commission was then established to investigate the whole episode. Whatever the findings of investigation, one thing is beyond doubt; given the timing and overall backdrop of domestic as well as external security situation, the whole episode smacks of intrigue. If it is really so, there is nothing new for us because we have seen such intrigues before. The 2011 Memogate was perhaps the most sophisticated version of a Byzantine intrigue in which the state itself was seen conspiring against its own sovereignty and integrity.
The notorious 'Memo' purportedly had solicited Washington’s behind-the-scenes intervention to put the Pakistan Army on the spot. In the present case too, the planted story seemed to have been motivated by the same lurking desire that seeks to weaken the army. In fact, since 2008, ineptitude and vulnerability has been the order of the day, with efforts surreptitiously seeking to weaken the armed forces. These sorts of things are being done to keep the armed forces at bay. But such efforts are self-defeating as Pakistan's state institutions are strong enough to defend the national interest and guarantee the security of the motherland.
No wonder, debate on civil-military relations have been an integral part of our body politic. With frequent political breakdowns and overall deterioration of various institutions, the institution of Pakistan Armed Forces has emerged as a primus inter pares, or first among equals. If there have been instances of military intervention in the past, it was only due to effective governance issues and lack of requisite strategic vision or talent in the ruling cadres leaving a vacuum to be filled by whosoever had the power and strategic proficiency.
At least during the last ten years of rule, the armed forces remained steadfast in their constitutional role and in a way providing every opportunity to other state institutions to do their job. Not only restricting to this, the armed forces assisted other state institutions in doing good things.
The disgraceful Memogate and now the surreptitious handling of the news leak (feed) issue only show insecurity at best or malafide at worst. What should be clear by now is that on vital security-related issues in a perilously-located country as ours, the pivotal role of so-called ‘establishment’ is indispensable for the preservation of the state's independence and integrity on which is predicated survival and growth of other institutions.
There is a need that other state institutions should be looking at the country's armed forces as their strength and an asset, not an adversary. Pakistan cannot afford any institutional clashes; these weaken the state. Vested foreign and local interests exploit the situation. A country remains vulnerable externally if it is weak domestically. Today, Pakistan is facing an exceptionally dangerous challenge with aggressive rhetoric as well as belligerent threats from India with equally hostile and ominous narratives emanating from Afghanistan and Washington.
As we remain engaged in a decisive battle for our security and survival, Pakistan is being subverted from within. Instead of walking into the traps, we should be joining together in reinforcing the elements of our nationhood. We badly need domestic cohesion and mutual confidence among the state institutions. To keep our country strong and stable, we must root out from our body politic the mindset of heresy, sedition and treachery that provides fertile ground for enemy maneuvers against Pakistan. It is also time our mainstream media owned its national responsibility by upholding our national ethos and defending the country’s independence, security and national integrity.
The writer is a former foreign secretary.