South Asia

The Hype, Lies and Deflections of Nawaz Sharif's Envoys on Kashmir

The goal of Mushahid Hussain Syed and Shezra Mansab Khan Ali seems to have been to shame and scare the US and India through sarcasm, untruths and half-truths served with a large helping of self-promotion.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Credit: PTI

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Credit: PTI

Washington: The world must immediately apologise to Pakistan for getting this well-meaning country so wrong for so long. All the intelligence agencies, including the 16 that the US operates, have failed miserably at their job, their mass surveillance notwithstanding.

Pakistan is wronged not just by India, but also by the US, Afghanistan and Europe. But Pakistan has new patrons and newer friends who will watch its back and by “Allah’s grace” protect its military-jihadi complex into the next phase along with all the nuclear bombs on the ready.

Who cares about the US anymore? “It’s no longer a world power. It’s a declining power. Forget about it,” a Pakistani envoy sent to change American minds was heard saying. China is closer, has more bucks in the bank and Russia wants to sell weapons. America, you are so yesterday.

And terrorism is a matter of opinion. Your terrorist is Pakistan’s cuddly bear – with a beard and a kaffiyeh to boot. Wasn’t Ronald Reagan the world’s “greatest” jihadi when he welcomed Gulbudin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani in the White House during the heydays of the Afghan jihad against the Soviets?

If you want peace and stability in Afghanistan, you have to “ensure that Kashmir is not burning.” Until then, your soldiers and your embassies will remain targets. And by the way, “the Kashmir dispute” should be settled according to Pakistan (army’s) wishes.

This was the drift of Mushahid Hussain Syed, one of the 22 Pakistani envoys sent to world capitals to denounce India, highlight the unrest in Jammu and Kashmir and defend Pakistan’s miserable record on terrorism, cross-border attacks and being a giant headache in the world’s collective head.

But the on-steroids Hussian isn’t getting much attention. So far he has met Richard Olson, the state department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Olson has no choice but to listen. It helps that Olson is a believer and quietly accepted a dossier on Indian “crimes” in Kashmir.

Two think tanks gave Hussain and Shezra Mansab Khan Ali, a parliamentarian from Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party, a platform but couldn’t muster a good audience. Apart from four or five retired Americans, it was the lonely South Asia hearts club band in attendance – Indian journalists, Pakistani activists and in house interns. Even the Pakistani journalists didn’t bother to show up in great numbers.

The public appearance at The Atlantic Council actually became an embarrassment because Pakistan’s underbelly showed up in full force – Baloch, Sindhi and Gilgit-Baltistani activists drowned the speakers with hard questions about forced disappearances, ISI brutality and taking American money to kill American soldiers. As a Washington observer said, “It boomeranged on them”.

The encounter at the Stimson Centre was smoother, mainly because the hosts were oh-so-careful. The many claims of Hussain and Ali went unchallenged, but anyone with any knowledge of history would have been embarrassed.

Hussain didn’t answer a single question directly and instead deflected everything on either India or America. When asked about the disappearing Baloch, he called the phenomenon an “aberration” and said it was just like the US police killing black men. And didn’t 1,000 Muslims die in Gujarat riots? And who was the chief minister then?

For a college debate, the performance would have fit well with all the sarcasm, sneers and jeers, but as a representative of a government that wants to be taken seriously, it was a failure.

At times Hussain was so clever he hurt himself and his “cause.” When asked why Pakistan was extolling Burhan Wani as a “martyr” when Wani was a self-confessed commander of a terrorist organisation, Hussain countered: wasn’t Nathuram Godse extolled by some in India for killing Mahatma Gandhi?

Whether Hussain realised it or not, he was counting himself with the worst elements in Indian society.

The gist of the Hussain-Ali presentations: the Uri attack didn’t come from Pakistan; give us the intelligence to prove it; Pakistan doesn’t benefit from Uri; allow UN military observer group to decide on the facts; Afghanistan will burn until Kashmir burns; if you talk about Balochistan; we will talk about Nagaland, Sikkim, Maoists and your grandmother; and don’t get too cocky because Pakistan has the support of Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, who all want a piece of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) action. (In other words, CPEC is where it’s at – the centre of the new geopolitical universe). And stop whining about Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar – give us evidence that they are terrorists.

When pressed, Ali, who has a Ph.D. in literature, called them “remnants” of the fight that Pakistan has “bravely” waged against terrorism. I wonder if Ali would be able to tell Saeed face-to-face that he is a mere remnant.

As for Pakistan, it has always done the right thing. It hosts Afghan refugees, it is a victim of terrorism, it is fighting so hard that it doesn’t know good terrorists from bad, it has been used by the Americans mercilessly for their geopolitical ends and India is a giant just waiting to swallow it.

Hussain and Ali’s presentations were designed to shame and scare the US and India through sarcasm, untruths and half-truths served with a large helping of self-promotion. The nuclear umbrella hung heavy with several unseemly references.

At one stage, Hussain claimed that former Manmohan Singh was so scared of his minders – Natwar Singh and M.K. Narayanan – that the former Indian prime minister told Hussain in a washroom of a New York hotel that he would “lose his job” if he made any promises after a round of talks with Pervez Musharraf. Hussain described Natwar and Narayanan as total “hawks” who literally prevented the prime minister from making a deal. “They never smiled.” And peace eluded us all.

Hussain’s US hosts duly took notes – if a Pakistani senator says so it must be true – as he described how he followed Manmohan into the washroom and proceeded to badger him in Punjabi to agree to visit Pakistan. “You must do something,” the senator recalled saying.

No one else can confirm or deny this account except for the former prime minister, who most likely will not stoop to washroom diplomacy. But it was a perfect anecdote designed to sway the Americans – the Pakistanis have done it so well and for so long that it comes naturally and the Americans like listening to the stories.

But post-Uri, the Pakistani establishment is in turmoil with the civilian government apparently trying to reassert its authority against the army after being banished to the washrooms of politics.

Dawn’s account that was published on Thursday, claiming that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had demanded action from the ISI against known and visible terrorist leaders, because Pakistan stood isolated in the international community, created a sensation. Speculation is rife around whether the story was an artful fabrication designed to ultimately help the one institution that actually calls the shot – the military – or whether the beleaguered and shrunken prime minister is making a last bid at asserting authority.

The article said that the ISI chief told the prime minister that the government could arrest anyone it deemed necessary, meaning that the responsibility was on the civilian authorities. In other words, go ahead and arrest Saeed and Azhar if you dare, and get ready to face the music.

After a point, reading the tea leaves of Pakistan’s civilian-military balance becomes academic because it’s Pakistan’s actions that are important, and the official spokesmen that Sharif sent to Washington had a clear message: do as we say or we will do worse.