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Nawaz Sharif's admission: How Pakistan Army scuttled improvement in ties with India

“We have isolated ourselves. Despite making sacrifices, our narrative is not being accepted. Afghanistan’s narrative is being accepted, but ours is not. We must look into it," Sharif said.

, ET Bureau|
May 13, 2018, 11.54 PM IST
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NEW DELHI: Former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif’s admission that Pak-based terrorists carried out 26/11 refers to the time when he was premier had sought to cooperate with India on the trial of Pakistani citizens indicted in the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008 to improve bilateral ties and countering terrorism.

However, despite Sharif’s personal opinion, there was not much progress in prosecuting the masterminds behind the 26/11 attacks during his last tenure as PM that was cut short on corruption charges against him, primarily due to lack of cooperation from the all-powerful Pak Army, persons familiar with the process said.

“We have isolated ourselves. Despite making sacrifices, our narrative is not being accepted. Afghanistan’s narrative is being accepted, but ours is not. We must look into it. Militant organisations 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?” Sharif said, referring to the trial in Pakistan of those involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks in his sensational interview to leading Pak English daily The Dawn.

The 26/11 trial is still at a preliminary stage of investigation after ten years notwithstanding Sharif’s efforts to improve ties with India between May 2014 and Dec 2015. He defied the Army twice – while visiting Delhi for PM Narendra Modi’s swearing in ceremony and later, while hosting the Indian premier in Lahore on 25, Dec 2015 on his birthday.

It is also no secret that Sharif was upset with then Pak envoy to India Abdul Basit for engaging with the Hurriyat leaders following which the Modi government cancelled Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh’s trip to Islamabad.

During his third term as prime minister, there had been differences between Sharif and the army over various issues, especially on relations with India, a person familiar with the issue told ET. A senior expert on Pakistan affairs who did not wish to be quoted told ET that Sharifs remarks must be viewed in the context of fallout between him and Army since mid 2016 over extremist and terror groups. The fallout even compelled Sharif to sack his adviser Tareq Fatemi and Sharif has been looking for opportunity to hit back at the Army.

It is Sharif’s criticism of the delayed trial process that is likely to stir up the greatest controversy. Sharif has admitted in the past before senior American Congressmen that Pak nationals were involved in the Mumbai attacks. A leaked US embassy cable recalls that during a meeting between visiting Senator John McCain and Sharif in December 2008, he had acknowledged role of Pak nationals in 26/11.

While Pakistan started the process of prosecuting suspects behind 26/11, so far none of the seven Lashkar-e-Tayyaba terrorists have been punished. Former High Commissioner to Pakistan and seasoned diplomat G Parthasarathy told ET “Neither the Pak Army nor the ISI is keen to bring the perpetrators to justice despite earlier efforts by Sharif to improve ties with India. It may be recalled that Shuja Pasha, as ISI chief, visited Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi in jail.”

Lakhvi has been on India’s National investigation Agency’s most wanted list and the Interpol has issued a Red Corner ntice for him for his role in then Mumbai terror attacks.

The anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has finished taking the statement of all 70 prosecution witnesses. However, Pakistan has claimed it needs access to Indian witnesses to carry forward the legal process. India had replied that since the conspiracy of the attack took place on Pakistani soil, it was the responsibility of the Pakistani government to gather all evidence and present it before the trial court. In a recent setback to the trial was last month, the Pakistan interior ministry removed the chief prosecutor for “not taking the government line.”

The Modi government has made progress in the Mumbai and Pathankot attack cases one of the requirements for resumption of a dialogue process with Pakistan. In election season in Pakistan, opposition leaders have accused Sharif of being “pro-India” after his interview.

Parthasarathy felt that the remarks were a move by the former PM to not only paint the military establishment in a poor light amid international isolation but also to reach out to India and PM Narendra Modi by establishing himself as a peacenik.

“He even brought the Presidents of Russia and China into narrative to paint that even non-American powers were isolating Pakistan.”

Vivek Katju, India’s former envoy in Kabul who has dealt extensively with Islamabad, noted that Sharif has been pushed to the wall by the Army and the former Pak PM is fighting back through the interview. “You can’t run a country if you have two or three parallel governments. This has to stop. There can only be one government: the constitutional one,” Sharif said in the interview.

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