Who broke the consensus? | Ahmed Quraishi

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At the peak of the popular anti-India movement in Kashmir, a leak was orchestrated from within the Prime Minister House in Islamabad that strengthened India’s position on this conflict and on two other issues of priority to Indian foreign policy: the Pathankot incident and the Mumbai terror attack.

The alleged leak explicitly mentioned them and warned that Pakistan faced diplomatic isolation – which coincidentally was a declared objective in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Pakistan policy at the time. The report that eventually appeared in Dawn on October 6 was based on “conversations with Dawn of individuals present in the crucial meetings this week”, according to the published report.

The PM House had apparently accepted in the inquiry committee that the newspaper report came from inside the office of the chief executive of the country.

The Dawn report raised disturbing questions. First, why would the government release a self-defeating confession that Pakistan is diplomatically isolated, an argument that India is promoting and our diplomacy is contesting? Second, why would the government orchestrate a media leak that basically suggests that Pakistan’s military is responsible for terrorism inside Indian-occupied Kashmir?

The alleged leak and the newspaper report served to drag the country’s military into the spotlight. India pounced on the report to say it corroborated New Delhi’s position that the unrest in Kashmir is not indigenous but Pakistan-orchestrated. Overall, this was an unnecessary distraction for Pakistan when it was time to use the Kashmir unrest to convince India to restart peace talks to resolve the conflict. A Pakistan distracted by a civil-military dispute when India is at its weakest in Kashmir? This was a godsend.

In other words: the Dawn leaks controversy was a hit at both the Pakistani military and Kashmir. In other words: someone in the PM House in Pakistan engineered a media leak that strengthened India’s position. And in simpler words: if the government’s intention was to work with its military to counter terrorism, this could have been done quietly when the military itself was cooperative. What was the purpose of a leak that showed the military in a bad light?

The message that this crisis sent to the rank and file of our armed forces must have been devastating. This could explain why Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa has been facing direct questions from juniors on the results of the Dawn leaks inquiry. Though such interactions between the command and junior officers are routine, the frequency of the questions underlined how seriously the orchestrated leak was taken within the military.

Rumours were also rife that the army leadership had compromised with the government on the results of the inquiry into the leak. The DG ISPR’s tweet clears this misconception. If there is any attempt underway to bury the findings of the Dawn inquiry, it is not coming from the military leadership. It was crucial that this message reached the army ranks and file and the Pakistani public. And it has now.

There is another reason why the army is justified in its rage at the PM House’s notification. The DG ISPR’s tweet was not a knee-jerk reaction. It came after exhaustive understandings between the PM House and the GHQ on the next steps in the inquiry, steps that the PM House has violated. The prime minister is the ultimate authority in deciding the next steps after the inquiry. And since the military was the direct aggrieved party, it worked diligently with the prime minister and his aides to convey why urgent and appropriate action was necessary and how best it could be done. The inputs of the PM House and the GHQ were incorporated. The prime minister and the GHQ worked closely on this and a consensus was reached that met the legal requirements, according to civilian and military sources close to the investigation.

In short: a full consensus between the PM House and army was achieved on the next steps. Who broke this consensus through this notification? There was a clear understanding as to what will come in the notification – hence the word ‘incomplete’ in the DG ISPR’s online statement.

In some quarters, the word ‘misleading’ is being used. The PM House misled the military. The notification as it stands now destroys the huge efforts that both politicians and the military made in stabilising our political system and building trust.

While the prime minister is the ultimate authority, there would have been no harm if he had taken his military into confidence on a matter of national security where the military was the aggrieved party by the illegal actions taken by individuals within the PM House in the first place.

The military was probably left with no option but to clear its position in the manner it did, a measured and appropriate response to a PM House that is unwilling to listen on a matter that directly impacts the reputation of the military and its leadership.

The government notification was a display of poor judgement and the intent to ignore the army’s concerns and mislead the GHQ in the worst-case scenario. It had ‘We don’t care’ written all over it.

There is no question that the use of the word ‘reject’ is unusual. But the context cannot be ignored. Why is the PM House protecting those involved in a serious security breach and will not work with a cooperative military? The responsibility for sabotaging civil-military relations in Pakistan lies with the PM House in this case. It is unable or unwilling to take its military onboard.

The author is a journalist and researcher.