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The 'invisible hand'

Published : Aug 01, 2003 00:00 IST



PAKISTAN Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali surprised political and diplomatic observers in Islamabad by introducing an `Indian angle' into the Quetta mosque killings. The `invisible Indian angle' is the favourite whipping horse of Pakistani rulers whenever such incidents happen, but Jamali did not tread the familiar path. He camped in Quetta for three days and was engaged in hectic parleys with all the relevant players, including the Core Commander in the region. The Prime Minister himself made it a point to disclose it. By invoking the name of the Core Commander, he was putting the weight of the military or its assessment behind his statement.

Jamali's media managers had made it a point to gather television journalists at the Chaklala military airport, on the outskirts of Islamabad, to ensure that his statement was widely publicised. Although Jamali chose his words carefully, the finger-pointing was too direct to be missed. He described the attack as a "pre-planned foreign conspiracy to undermine the highly successful" foreign visit of President Pervez Musharraf. And then came the punch line. Jamali said that the government cannot `overlook' the opening of Indian consulates in Kandahar and Herat (in Afghanistan) and Zehadan (Iran), bordering Baluchistan, in the context of the Quetta incident. "We have to see the fallout of (the establishment of) Indian consulates," the Prime Minister said, without elaborating.

His comments assume significance as just before he embarked on his 18-day trip to Europe and the United States Musharraf had disclosed that he had expressed concern to the Afghanistan government about it allowing India to open consulates close to the Pakistan border. It is after a gap of several months, in fact more than a year, that Pakistan has talked about the possibility of an `Indian hand' in such a major terrorist strike.

Jamali's emphatic tone has surprised observers for more than one reason. To begin with he was talking about not only India but also two of its important neighbours, Afghanistan and Iran. Jamali might be a first-time Prime Minister but he is senior enough to understand the implications of his public statement. Another reason why it caught the attention of observers was that on his return from his foreign trip Musharraf had raved and ranted about a handful of `sectarian and religious extremists' who are hell bent on bringing a bad name to Pakistan. The only thing that he did not rule out was the possibility of the involvement of subversive elements from Afghanistan.

So what prompted Jamali to invoke the name of India directly and also the names of Afghanistan and Iran? The implication of his statement was that the governments of Afghanistan and Iran were ignorant or were turning a blind eye to possible anti-Pakistan activities by India from their soil - a serious allegation.

Developments between Pakistan and Afghanistan after the Quetta incident, such as the closure of the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul following a mob attack, show that all is not well in the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Notwithstanding the repeated assertions by the Pakistan government about its commitment to the Bonn process and cooperation with the Hamid Karzai regime, Islamabad has not yet come to terms with the post-Taliban situation in Afghanistan. Pakistan is very unhappy over the close ties between India and several key functionaries in the Karzai government. It is seriously worried about the prospects of New Delhi taking advantage of the situation in Afghanistan to undermine its interests. Islamabad is also convinced that the Karzai government is not representative in character, with the marginalisation of people of Pasthun ethnicity. Musharraf said it in so many words during his recent foreign tour, provoking angry reaction from Karzai. The simmering border tension, with clashes erupting over alleged incursions by Pakistani forces into Afghan territory, is another factor. In fact, the attack on the Pakistan embassy is said to be an outcome of this ongoing confrontation.

The situation vis-a-vis Iran is slightly better, but again close relations between India and Iran have been a major cause of concern for Islamabad. The report about a defence pact between India and Iran (vehemently denied by both sides) has left lingering doubts in the minds of the Pakistani military establishment. And thereby hangs a tale.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Aug 01, 2003.)



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