Despite the denials coming out of Pakistan, experts in key frontline states against terror say that their preliminary investigations into the involvement of GHQ Rawalpindi, Pakistan in the 1 January 2016 terror attack on the Pathankot airbase “conclusively show” that the optimists who believed that the Pakistan army higher command supported Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s stated policy of detente with India, are “flat out wrong”. On the contrary, they say that the Pathankot attack is only the first in what will be a chain of incidents designed to discredit the India story to global investors, and domestically seek to trip Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a leader capable of ensuring the safety and security of India. “Unlike most Indian Prime Ministers, Modi has the will to exercise the option of conflict, and this has unnerved GHQ, which has been used to spineless leaders in the past”, a source based out of London said. A colleague added that “GHQ has received multiple inputs that the new government is not tied to the pacifist approach of its immediate predecessors, and this is worrying the generals”.
“Unlike what media reports portray, the Pathankot operation was not about destroying Indian Air Force assets, but about killing personnel, and thereby showing that security measures were ineffective”, a source based in the US claimed, adding that “the equipment given to the terrorists showed such an intent rather than a focus on the destruction of air assets”. Another expert warned that “several squads have infiltrated into India during the past four months through the narcotics-hawala channel”, and that those responsible for the Pathankot operation were only one of them. While there has been much praise of the National Security Guard (NSG) in the Indian media, analysts outside are less complimentary, pointing out that “the NSG officer placed in charge of the counter-terrorist operation in the Air Force base was from a tank regiment, and hence lacked the commando or infantry experience needed to tackle such a station”. A US expert judged the present Director General (DG) of the NSG, R.C. Tayal to be “a political appointee rather than a professional choice”. However, this is disputed by sources within India, who say that the DG is an “outstanding counter-terrorism specialist”.
The outside sources were unanimous that Nawaz Sharif “is the weakest Prime Minister since M.K. Junejo (who held the post under General Zia-ul-Haq)” and therefore “to expect Nawaz Sharif to rein in GHQ and its ancillary, the ISI, is futile”. No information has emerged from either Islamabad or Delhi about the specifics of the meeting in Bangkok between Pakistan National Security Advisor N.K. Janjua and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval. A source in London, however, claimed that Janjua “assured Doval, PMO advisor Asif Ibrahim and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar that the Pakistan army higher command was behind Nawaz Sharif and also that both the Sharifs (PM and Chief of Army Staff) were sincere in seeking peace with India”. The impression sought to be conveyed through the meeting was that “the Pakistan army was on board in taking steps to ensure that terror operations against India that originated in Pakistan ceased”. However, a high level source in Delhi said that “it was certain that Doval, with his vast experience, would not have believed his Pakistani counterpart’s assurances of good conduct”. He pointed out that the present chief of RAW “was specifically chosen by Doval because of his expertise with Pakistan”, thereby underlining the centrality of that country in the national security calculus of the present NSA. External sources tracking GHQ Rawalpindi confirmed that Janjua would say “only what General Raheel Sharif wanted him to say”, which was “to distance GHQ from terror operations in India despite the continued backing given to such groups on the excuse that they are related to Kashmir”.
The experts spoken to said that Prime Minister Modi’s lightning decision to call upon Nawaz Sharif on his birthday was a “masterstroke”, in that “it removed any lingering impression that he (PM Modi) was a warmonger”. The visit ensured that PM Modi “has been shown across the globe to be a leader sincere about peace with Pakistan”. However, they added that “although PM Modi must have known that Sharif was powerless to influence operations against India, he decided to show his support for the civilian authority (in Pakistan) and to peace”. A source in the US claimed that the national security establishment in Kabul was “very unhappy at the Lahore stopover, as they had given Prime Minister Modi a detailed dossier on the hostile actions of GHQ against Afghanistan and India”, and was, therefore, “taken by surprise at the Prime Minister’s decision to stop over in Lahore before reaching Delhi”. A special aircraft had been sent to Moscow to take PM Modi from there to Kabul, as the usual Air India jumbo aircraft “lacked the means to ensure safety in hostile skies”. According to sources in Delhi, the PM travelled in this second (and smaller) aircraft from Moscow to Kabul and from there to Delhi via Lahore.
Apart from GHQ’s assessment that Prime Minister Modi would “stop at nothing” where action against Pakistan-based terror groups was conceded, and, therefore, needed to be discredited in the public mind through terror attacks, “GHQ Rawalpindi was also gravely concerned about the diplomatic breakthrough achieved (by Modi) on the US front”, as well as the PM’s skill in “balancing relations with China and Russia”. Such successes resulted in the plan to “provoke a reaction early in the BJP regime, when Pakistan is better prepared to respond rather than later, when economic and diplomatic successes may further tilt the scales in favour of India”, an outside source claimed. He added that “Pathankot was the result of such a plan” and warned that “this is just the beginning”, and that more such attacks would take place “to test Prime Minister Modi”. These attacks would be undertaken by local modules so that there would be no apparent trace of involvement from across the border. If the PM responds with conventional force, “he would lose international support”, and enter on a conflict with an indeterminate outcome, “thereby affecting his economic plans, especially that of securing huge investments from abroad”. But if he remains passive, “Modi would lose domestic support”. The calculation of General Raheel Shaif is that “either way Modi loses”, and that “the Pakistan army has prepared strategies for an Indian attack together with its ongoing terror operations with India, but are worried that a period of stability may see India growing too big in military strength for Pakistan to counter”. They claimed that General Raheel Sharif, the present Chief of Army Staff (COAS), is determined to “punish India” for the 1971 war, and to “win concessions on Kashmir that would go far beyond any offered by previous Prime Ministers of India”, and that he believed that “only terror would force the Indian side to seriously negotiate”, despite “public utterances to the contrary”.
According to a US source, General Sharif is “as powerful as Musharraf was in his time”. He pointed out that the COAS had “visited Kabul multiple times in full military uniform and met Presdent Ashraf Ghani to demonstrate who controlled policy towards Afghanistan in Pakistan”. A London-based source said that “General Sharif was received with Cabinet-level honours in China, the US and even Russia”, pointing out that China had given the Pakistan side advanced Ju-17 aircraft, while Russia had broken with earlier policy and supplied MI 35 attack helicopters to Pakistan after General Sharif’s visit to Moscow. Another source said that the Pakistan side had made a careful study of the Indian response to the Pathankot attack, and pointed out that on the five recent occasions when military installations were attacked by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistan army had cleared the area “within 6 to 19 hours”, in contrast to the Indian side, which took three days before an “all clear” was sounded at Pathankot. Outside sources warned that “GHQ has received confusing signals from some on the Indian side that Delhi was ready to launch into serious discussions on Kashmir and other issues, especially on Siachen and Sir Creek, on the lines followed by the A.B. Vajpayee government” and that “such a signal has whetted their appetite for concessions”. They say that “domestic terror networks have been set up in India that will communicate not with handlers in Pakistan but in West Asia”, and that “these are being activated to launch terror operations across India”, in which the Pakistan signature is absent, “but which form part of the overall GHQ plan to discredit and weaken Prime Minister Narendra Modi and derail his plans for the economy”. Pathankot was just a “test run for a new template of operations against India”, in their view, and the Indian security establishment needs to brace for more, “no matter what the diplomats from Islamabad or their apologists say”. After Punjab in the 1980s and Kashmir in the 1990s, GHQ is “fine-tuning a pan-Indian strategy involving local proxies” in their drive to ensure that India under PM Modi fails to reach its potential. Interestingly, other components of this strategy include ongoing efforts to discredit India globally as being a hotbed of fanaticism and intolerance, and as a country where minorities, women and the underprivileged are not safe. “All such covert tracks filled with disinformation will accelerate in the coming months, in locations across the globe”, even while India confronts a fresh round of terror designed to slow down its trajectory towards Middle Income status.