By Amit Barua/The Hindu
Islamabad, May 17: The Pakistan Army is ready to formally inject itself into any dialogue process with India, the country’s military spokesman indicated to a group of visiting South Asian journalists in a rare on-the-record conversation on Sunday. Pakistan’s Army chiefs have engaged with India after assuming power directly but have shied away from talking to New Delhi when a civilian government holds power in Islamabad.
Other foreign leaders routinely meet the current Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa in Rawalpindi, as was the case with his predecessors. “We have passed that stage,” Major-General Asif Ghafoor, Director-General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Directorate, said when asked by The Hindu whether the Army chief would join Pakistan’s civilian leaders in talking to India or meeting his Indian Army counterpart.
India has long felt that the Pakistan Army is not on the same page with the country’s civilian government when it engages in talks with New Delhi, and could sabotage the process like what happened with the Lahore “breakthrough” in 1999.
After the 2016 Uri terror strike, New Delhi scrapped plans to attend the SAARC summit in Islamabad.
The bilateral dialogue process has also been put on hold. NSAs Ajit Doval and Nazir Janjua have, however, been meeting and interacting on a range of issues. Asked whether the Army envisaged a grand reconciliation with India or small steps in the direction of peace, Gen. Ghafoor said the two countries could not jump to the moon. “Initial steps have to be taken,” he said.
Gen. Ghafoor also told The Hindu that groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba would have to be mainstreamed and that Pakistan was awaiting “evidence” from India to conclude the trial in the November 2006 Mumbai terror strikes.
He said Pakistan had been much misunderstood abroad. Westerners feel that Pakistanis dress like Osama bin Laden with nuclear bombs in hand. “The same red blood runs in our veins,” he stressed.
Gen. Ghafoor also indicated that Pakistan was ready to consider participating in any multilateral exercise that involved Indian troops under Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) auspices. Both India and Pakistan are now members of SCO, a grouping in which the Chinese have taken the lead.
Conceding that there was a “trust deficit” between India and Pakistan, he said the time had come to move forward. He said SAARC could be a most effective forum if it could be revived. “Let us make SAARC effective.”
On former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s statement that militant groups were active in Pakistan and questioning why the Mumbai attack trial could not be completed, Gen. Ghafoor said the remarks had gotten more play in the Indian media than in Pakistan.
Mr. Sharif, however, has not backed down from his comments despite a meeting of Pakistan’s National Security Council, which comprises the top brass of the country’s military.
Demanding a national truth commission, Mr. Sharif, who is at loggerheads with the Army, said on Tuesday, “We should find out who laid the foundation of terrorism in the country. Pakistan is not becoming isolated; it is already isolated. Tell me which country stands with us.”
Mr. Sharif’s nominee as Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who demits office at the end of May as a caretaker government comes in ahead of general elections, has defended his former boss.
(The featured image at the too shows the Pakistan Army Spokesman, Maj.Gen. Asif Ghafoor)