We have long known that terrorism is not natural to occur in Pakistan. The footprints of American CIA and Black Water agents, Israeli Mossad, and RAW have been found at the scene of every act of violence. Rehman Malik warned that foreign elements were spreading terrorism in Pakistan when he was Interior Minister, and Chaudhry Nisar has continued the same during his term. In the media, retired military officers have been protesting that India’s intelligence agency is behind every act of terrorism in the country, but this week charges of Indian responsibility for terrorism were given the ultimate stamp when GHQ made the accusation in an official release from ISPR. The question now is what happens next?
Some analysts are privately expressing concern that GHQ is feeling nervous that their reputation is slipping and has turned up the heat in an effort to divert attention from sore subjects and to unify the nation behind the Army again. The timing of the announcement is being noted in these discussions. In recent weeks, MQM was accused of being a RAW front group, and RAW has been accused of being behind the murder of Sabeen Mahmud.
It is the situation with Sabeen Mahmud that has left certain analysts concerned about the timing of ISPR’s statement, though. As a political party, MQM has its share of controversy and therefore accusations are understood to be complicated by political matters. With Sabeen, however, things are very different. The brutal killing of an innocent woman has shocked the nation and has once again painted Pakistan in a poor light around the world. The fact that she was killed when she was leaving a discussion on Balochistan unfortunately left many publicly laying responsibility at the feet of national institutions. The speed with which this narrative took hold seems to have shaken the nerves of the military leadership, and an attempt to turn the tide of this backlash began to take shape. Certain media personalities like Ahmed Quraishi began to strongly push the message that Sabeen was killed by Baloch separatists in a ‘false flag’ type of attack meant to defame Army and ISI.
ISI’s reputation problem goes much deeper than an emotional reaction to the murder of one activist, though. The agency has been accused of being involved in attacks against Saleem Shahzad, Umar Cheema, Hamid Mir, Kamran Shafi, and other journalists who were allegedly asking the wrong questions. The agency has also been under the spot light of the Courts with reference to missing persons cases, while international human rights organisations have continued to press the matter also.
By raising the spectre of RAW at the highest levels of Pakistan’s national security institutions, the Army leadership has changed the conversation away from questions about alleged abuses to one of existential crisis. However it is one thing to announce that you are holding the trump cards and another thing entirely to play them. ISPR’s statement has bought some time, but now we must either show our hand or be accused of bluffing. This was one thing when the bluffing was done by politicians or retired officers, but with the latest report, it is now GHQ’s reputation which is on the line.