Nawaz Sharif’s statement to Dawn that those who attacked Mumbai in 2008 were from Pakistan created a stir in Indian media but more in political and military circles in Pakistan. In his interview he said, “Militant organizations are active. Call them non-state actors; should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?”
Coming from a former Prime Minister, naturally the hullabaloo it created was considerable, since this was taken as admission of Pakistan’s direct involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks. It may be recalled that 10 members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) had carried out coordinated attacks across Mumbai (November 26-29); 164 people died and 308 were injured, drawing widespread global condemnation.
Nawaz Sharif served as Prime Minister of Pakistan four times: from November 6, 990 to April 18, 1993; from May 26, 1993 to July 18, 1993; from February 17, 1993 to October 12, 1999, and; from June 5, 2013 to July 28, 2017. Not once during these tenures did Nawaz Sharif acknowledge that Pakistan was generating terrorists. During his last tenure as Prime Minister, his own brother Shehbaz Sharif as Chief Minister of Punjab was known to be officially funding terrorist organizations.Nawaz Sharif also maintained that he was unaware of the Kargil intrusions, which is difficult to believe. If this were true, that he was unaware of the intrusions at such massive scale then he wasn’t worth his salt as Prime Minister with the Minister of Interior Chaudhary Shujat Hussain (February 25, 1997 to October 12, 1999) loyal to him, not the army; unlike Shujat Hussain’s successor Lt Gen (R) Moinuddin Haider who was an army appointee. Nawaz Sharif had also visited Skardu before the intrusions were discussed and briefed. Musharraf, though a chronic liar, maintained that Nawaz Sharif was in picture about the intrusions.
Political power is perhaps one of the greatest addiction, if not the greatest, simply because it brings enormous power and riches. That is the reason authoritarian regimes have heads of states for life-time and the craving carries forth to other states including democracies. That is why Malaysia now has an elected Prime Minister who is 92 years. Look around the profile of politicians in India and no one wants to let go political power no matter what age. It is an addiction that cannot be easily got rid off since there are no de-addition programs for this malady. On the contrary, if the crave is blockaded, it can result in depression. It is perhaps this state of mind that made Nawaz Sharif say the above in the interview. It is no secret that he has been barred for life for contesting elections. Yet he was smart enough not to mention the LeT or the ISI, of which he obviously is fully aware.
Sharif’s question “Why can’t we complete the trial?” hinted at the army, where everyone knows army is the one that calls the shots in Pakistan. But this again raises the question why Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minsiter never mentioned once the need to hasten up and conclude the 26/11 trial, even as he could not have alleged it was being ‘unduly’ delayed. The 26/11 trial in Pakistan has entered its 10th year, not a single suspects has been punished; the case is obviously brushed under the carpet. Conversely, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, a mastermind, is out on bail and openly collecting donations for waging jihad in Kashmir. Through his interview, Nawaz was actually getting back at the army for having him ostracized from contesting elections in future, in conjunction with the judiciary, while simultaneously pushing up a global terrorist like Hafiz Saeed and his Milli Muslim League (MML) up the electoral ladder.
With elections in Pakistan slated in July, the reaction in Pakistani political circles was aggressive. Imran Khan, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) chief who has come up with radical support, denounced Sharif’s statement terming it conspiracy to undermine Pakistan’s institutions, and termed Sharif as “modern day Mir Jafer”. Sherry Rehman, leader of opposition, addressing the media said, Nawaz Sharif’s statement compromised Pakistan’s narrative in the war against terrorism and demanded that he retract his remarks, adding. “PPP rejects Nawaz Sharif’s statement and stance (on Mumbai attacks). Is he an analyst that he’s giving out such statements?” Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, former interior minister, “Pakistan was heavily criticized over the Mumbai attacks. India used the Mumbai attacks for its own despicable plans.”
The maximum commotion was in Pakistani military circles. On May 13, army spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor stated that Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was suggested to call a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) on Monday, “to discuss recent misleading media statement (by Nawaz Sharif) regarding Bombay incident”. The NSC meet was attended by the defence, foreign and finance ministers, foreign secretary, NSA, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, DG ISI and three Services Chiefs, reviewed Sharif’s statement and unanimously declared them as “misleading”. Through the NSC meet, the aim perhaps was to pressure Nawaz Sharif not to say anything more on the issue; for example it is well known that the LeT terrorists involved in 26/11 were all trained by the Pakistani military as part of the ‘Karachi Project’.
In making the statement, Nawaz Sharif may have thought that even Musharraf had made statements like “Osama-bin-Laden, Ayman-al-Zawahiri, Haqqanis are our heroes ….. We trained the LeT against India”, but then Musharraf is former army chief; army would protect Musharraf and that’s why he is roaming free despite being indicted for murder of Nawab Bugti. Till the morning of Monday, May 14, Nawaz stood by his statement while interacting with journalists (https://www.geo.tv/latest/195339-nsc-meeting-over-misleading-media-statement-on-mumbai attacks-concludes). However, with denouncements from all sides and the NSC meet, he may have realized he was crossing the redline. The thought may have crossed his mind, he could even be assassinated like Benazir Bhutto. He, and his party PML-N, therefore, took the line that his remarks had been “misinterpreted”.
But it is not going to be easy for Nawaz Sharif to wriggle out of his interview. If the army was not rattled, there would not have been the mad rush for the NSC meet. Sharif may not be targeted like Benazir Bhutto but the legal route will be followed to belittle and shackle him completely. Already resolutions against him have been brought in three provincial assemblies in Pakistan, plus two petitions filed in Lahore High Court, demanding registration of treason case against him; calls ranging from “hang Nawaz Sharif being a traitor” to “registration of FIR under Article 6 of the Constitution, Sharif is guilty of high treason as well as offences punishable in terms of the Official Secret Act, 1923”, and constitution of a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe his (Sharif’s) business links with Indian steel tycoon Jindal”.
The view in some cross-sections that China will take adverse view of Pakistan, especially with the upcoming SCO meet is naïve. China knows full well what Pakistan has been up to. On the contrary, China has been using Pakistani radicals to promote its own national interests. As far as Indo-Pak relations are concerned, we should expect no change whatsoever. The 26/11 trial in Pakistan will also remain comatose.
By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch