Rattled by global isolation after India’s diplomatic blitz over Pakistan’s pro-terror policy, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has told the country’s all-powerful ISI to crack down on terrorists and end the Mumbai attack trial and the probe into the Pathankot strike — New Delhi’s two key conditions to resume peace talks with Islamabad.
Sharif’s blunt demand came at a high-level meeting of civilian officials with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief, Gen. Rizwan Akhtar, the influential Dawn newspaper reported on Thursday.
But the Pakistan government dismissed as “not only speculative but misleading and factually incorrect” the Dawn report about the meeting on security issues.
Dawn reported that Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry told the meeting on Wednesday that Pakistan faced diplomatic isolation and its talking points had been met with indifference in major world capitals.
Even China, Pakistan’s closest ally, had questioned the logic of repeatedly putting on technical hold a UN ban on Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar, Chaudhry said, according to Dawn.
Also, amid worsening India-Pakistan relations, a group of Senators asked Islamabad to resume its back-channel talks with New Delhi.
And on Thursday, PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan denounced the government over its failure to curb non-state actors, leading to the country’s diplomatic isolation.
The Wednesday meeting — where there was an extraordinary verbal clash between the ISI chief and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the Prime Minister’s younger brother — came amid worsening ties with India.
India called for Pakistan’s diplomatic isolation after the September 18 attack at an army camp in Kashmir that left 19 soldiers dead.
India says the attackers came from Pakistan and belonged to the Jaish that was also blamed for the January 2016 Pathankot attack on an IAF base that killed seven security personnel.
The Uri attack was followed by the Indian Army’s surgical strikes, dismantling at least seven terror launch pad and killing an unknown number of terrorists and their sympathisers across the de facto border in Kashmir.
India’s diplomatic war on Pakistan led to the cancellation of the Saarc summit that Islamabad was to host in November. Major world countries have supported India’s demand to Pakistan to act against terrorist groups patronised by the ISI.
Dawn reported that the government on Wednesday informed the ISI about the “growing international isolation of Pakistan and sought consensus on several key actions by the state” to reverse the situation.
The daily said the government, in a “blunt, orchestrated and unprecedented warning”, asked military-led intelligence agencies “not to interfere if law enforcement acts against militant groups that are banned or until now considered off-limits for civilian action”.
“Nawaz Sharif has directed that fresh attempts be made to conclude the Pathankot investigation and restart the stalled Mumbai attacks-related trials in a Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court,” the daily said.
Chaudhry said relations with the US had also deteriorated and may further deteriorate because of the American demand that action be taken against the Haqqani network, which is active in Afghanistan. The network has been blamed for attacks on Indian establishments in Afghanistan.
Talking about worsening ties with New Delhi, the Foreign Secretary said India’s main demands were the completion of the investigation into the Pathankot attack and “some visible action” against the Jaish.
“To a hushed but surprised room, Chaudhry suggested that while China has reiterated its support for Pakistan, it too has indicated a preference for a change in course by Pakistan,” Dawn reported.
“The Foreign Secretary’s unexpectedly blunt conclusions triggered an astonishing and potentially ground-shifting exchange between the ISI chief and several civilian officials.”
Shahbaz Sharif complained to the ISI chief that whenever action had been taken against certain groups by civilian authorities, the security establishment had worked behind the scenes to set the arrested men free.
The Dawn quoted those at the meeting as saying that the Foreign Secretary’s comments and Shahbaz Sharif’s intervention were orchestrated by the Prime Minister to stir the military into action.
The ISI chief cautioned that action against terrorist groups now could be seen as “buckling to Indian pressure or abandoning the Kashmiri people”.