What is new in Nawaz Sharif’s latest pronouncement on Mumbai attacks? Practically nothing. The only uniqueness attached to it is the proverbial “coming from horse’s mouth”; a three-time elected PM, all of a sudden waking up to revive the memories of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, indirectly hinting that his country allowed the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) to cross border and stage those spectacular attacks. This way, he opened the floodgates (in Indian media) to another barrage of slur on the country he ruled thrice.
Whatever spin Sharif himself or his cohorts put on his “out-of-context” statement, we need to look at it from two perspectives: one is about the abundance of documentation on Mumbai attacks, most of which implicates Pakistani militant groups (LeT, JeM, etc). Even former IG Tariq Khosa wrote about it in daily Dawn (August 2015): “Pakistan has to deal with the Mumbai mayhem, planned and launched from its soil. This requires facing the truth and admitting mistakes. The entire state security apparatus must ensure that the perpetrators and masterminds of the ghastly terror attacks are brought to justice. The case has lingered on for far too long. Dilatory tactics by the defendants, frequent change of trial judges, and assassination of the case prosecutor as well as retracting from original testimony by some key witnesses have been serious setbacks for the prosecutors.”
Then came another similar statement from General Mahmud Ali Durrani, who briefly served as the national security advisor, “I hate to admit that the 26/11 Mumbai attack carried out by a terror group based in Pakistan on November 26, 2008 is a classic trans-border terrorist event.” He made these remarks at the 19th Asian Security Conference held at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses in March 2017. Durrani was swift to also clarify, “I know (this) for definite. I have very good information that the government of Pakistan or the ISI (Pakistan’s spy agency) was not involved in 26/11 (terror attack). I am 110 percent?sure.” General Musharraf and former ISI chief Hameed Gul also made veiled admissions on the involvement of Pakistan-based groups, but none pointed to any institutional collusion.
The most important aspect relates to the constitutional obligations and to the inter-institutional trust. And there is little defence or justification for the breach of these two.
In the words of noted journalist Mazhar Abbas, (via his twitter post), Sharif’s interview was more damaging for Pakistan than for him or his party as Sharif remains three time PM of the country.
Shujaat Bukhari, a Srinagar-based journalist reacted on Twitter in a similar way. “#Pakistan? PM #NawazSharif ‘s statement on #Mumbai is serious one and gives a new turn to case. #Pakistangovernment must come clear on the issue to ensure that it doesn’t aggravate the situation,” he said in a tweet.
Another colleague, Nasim Zehra, sounded equally alarmed and measured; “Yes when Nawaz talks loosely it carries weight and can be damaging. When political leaders / PMs see need for reviewing policy there is a responsible way of doing it.”
This is where Sharif has faultered, exposing his conduct – probably strained by the events surrounding the Panama case that is nearing completion.
As expected, PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif has responded to the situation but whether his passion and measured approach can save his elder brother is an altogether different question.
One would assume – based on his statement – that the ISI, being constitutionally subordinate – would have briefed him on its role – or otherwise – in the Mumbai affair. Did these agencies at all confide in Sharif some incriminating evidence on the Mumbai attacks at all?
If so, what action did he take to ameliorate the situation? If not, didn’t he violate his own oath as Prime Minister? (That, as Prime Minister of Pakistan, I will discharge my duties, and perform my functions, honestly, to the best of my ability,
faithfully in accordance with the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the law, and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well- being and prosperity of Pakistan).
Sharif also questioned the delay in the completion of the trial of seven alleged culprits. This gives the impression that his advisers most probably never read Tariq Khosa’s comments on the legal complications in the trial.
The former police official had pointed out that the anti-terrorism court conducting the trial ruled that the consent of the accused should be obtained for recording voice samples. The suspects refused and the matter was then taken up with the sessions court, which too turned down the plea, because there is no provision in Pakistan’s Evidence Act or Anti-Terrorism Act for collecting voice samples.
Sharif also said that “militant organisations are active…. Should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? This amounts to a direct indictment of the state institutions whereby he suggested that these agencies permitted non-state actors to cross the border. In the same breath, he mentioned the Russian and Chinese presidents’ concern on the issue.
Now, regardless of the veracity of the matter, will any sensible person – indeed the repository of state secrets – attribute statements of such sensitive nature – directly or otherwise – to heads of foreign state?
We had earlier faced a similar embarrassment when the then Army Chief Raheel Sharif reportedly raised the issue of the Indian spy Kulbushan Jadhav in his meeting with the visiting Iranian president.
Most foreign governments are very well informed, including those in Beijing and Moscow, about the ground realities, some of which are directly related with geopolitics.
We must not gloss over facts of politics: President Obama lied to the entire world by declaring that Raymond Davis, the private security contractor who killed three Pakistanis on January 27, 2011, was an accredited diplomat. Davis was not a diplomat at all, not even a CIA employee. Late last year, Mike Pompeo, as the CIA director, told a congressional hearing he had no evidence that Iran was violating the nuclear deal but President Donald Trump walked out of the deal last week saying he found Tehran in breach of the agreement.
Sharif’s statement instantly reminds one of the hitmen that John Perkins mentioned in his best-seller Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.
Perkins explains in the book how as a highly paid professional, he helped the U.S. cheat poor countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars by lending them more money than they could possibly repay and then take. But there is a stark difference; in Perkin’s words, he served as a hitman for the interests of the USA. In Sharif’s case, it is most probably the other way round. Has he acted as a hit man against his own country? This issue will stick, and is likely to stick badly for some time to come.
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies