What’s common between the young Pakistani woman in a black leather jacket and the 11th anniversary of the Mumbai terror attacks?
The continued importance of the Pakistan Army.
The video of activist Arooj Aurangzeb’s take on Bismil Azimabadi’s ‘sarfaroshi ki tamanna’ verse, as she stomps around at the recently concluded Faiz festival in Lahore, has gone viral. The protesters demanded ‘de-securitisation’ of campuses and lower fees. Other Punjab University students in Pakistan have also taken inspiration from Kanhaiya Kumar’s 2016 electrifying “azaadi” speech that he recited in JNU, and brought out their own version.
But, can half a swallow a summer make? It’s a good thing that young Pakistanis, many of them possibly with dual passports and citizenships in the West, are protesting on the ground, even if the grounds are barricaded for their protection.
Outside the spaces these beautiful people occupy in Lahore, Pakistan’s army is fully in charge. That is why when the army reportedly hanged a former Brigadier on spying charges, no one even said a word.
Is it any surprise then that the conspiracy trial in the Mumbai terror attacks, in which more than 160 people were killed, is languishing in Pakistani court? It’s a sham. The so-called masterminds, like Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and others, have been in and out of Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail for the last 11 years, with Lakhvi even fathering a child.
It’s clear that the Pakistani army is happy to allow him his conjugal rights and every elected civilian government either has no qualms or is so busy trying to survive that it doesn’t have the courage to oppose anything the army proposes.
Today’s Pakistan doesn’t have the stomach to bring the Mumbai attacks accused to justice. That’s why Arooj Aurangzeb’s antics, reciting beloved poets of the subcontinent, are cathartic for Pakistanis – even if it is just a superficial feel-good.
Pakistan establishment & Imran Khan
So, the wheel of fate in the subcontinent is turning again.
Nawaz Sharif has been allowed to leave a Lahore jail and go abroad for medical treatment – much to the chagrin of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. The latter is probably wondering if the Army-ISI establishment is once again shifting its gaze and, therefore, its fond attention from him to someone else. Certainly, Nawaz Sharif couldn’t have left Pakistan if the establishment hadn’t relented.
Former president Asif Ali Zardari remains in jail – the same one in which Lakhvi is occasionally incarcerated – in deteriorating health, even as his family hopes and prays he will be released on the same grounds as Nawaz Sharif has been.
Zardari’s supposedly secular son Bilawal Bhutto, meanwhile, is not averse to sharing stage with Islamist politician Fazlur Rehman, head of the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), whose ‘Azaadi march’ and sit-in in Islamabad earlier this month startled Imran Khan and the country, both wondering whether the deep establishment was putting Imran Khan on notice.
CPEC & Pakistan’s all-weather friend
Pakistan believes it can continue to spurn India’s need for closure on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks – perhaps because it has China’s unquestioned support.
Although, on the eve of the India-US 2+2 dialogue in the US in mid-December, top US diplomat for South Asia Alice Wells in no uncertain terms said that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is like a noose around Pakistan’s neck. She slammed the Chinese model of tying down poorer nations with large amounts of aid. The CPEC, she said, would take a severe toll on Pakistan’s economy.
For example, she said, the CPEC’s Peshawar-Karachi railway project was estimated to cost $8.2 billion when it was first announced about two years ago, but then in October 2018, Pakistan railways minister said the actual cost was $6.2 billion while recent media reports now said that the cost had escalated to $9 billion.
“So why doesn’t the Pakistan public know the price for CPEC’s most expensive project and how it’s being determined,” Wells asked.
Pakistani politicians reacted with glee at Wells’ dismay. Perhaps, Pakistan believes that it is better to be China’s client state today than the US’. From Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar, Imran Khan’s ministers have rejected the contention that China is an imperialist power.
Many admissions, no action
This is what gives Pakistan the chutzpah to look away from India’s demands for justice.
This is despite former ISI chief Shuja Pasha telling former CIA chief Michael Hayden (quoted in his book, Playing to the Edge) that Pasha’s investigations had “revealed that some former ISI members were involved (in Mumbai attacks) with Lashkar-e-Taiba…”.
Despite former Pakistani NSA Mahmud Durrani admitting in 2017 that the “26/11 Mumbai attack carried out by a terror group based in Pakistan was a classic trans-border terrorist event…”. Durrani, of course, lost his job in 2009 when he admitted that Ajmal Kasab was a Pakistani national.
And despite Nawaz Sharif plaintively saying in 2018 that “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?”