Explained: Why Imran Khan’s Government Is Accusing India Of Planning Surgical Strikes Against Pakistan

Explained: Why Imran Khan’s Government Is Accusing India Of Planning Surgical Strikes Against PakistanPakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
Snapshot
  • Pakistan’s opposition alliance, which presents a credible threat to Imran Khan, is gaining momentum.

    That is why Imran Khan and Shah Mahmood Qureshi are trying to distract the country from the internal issues by claiming that India is planning a surgical strike against Pakistan.

Earlier today (18 December), Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who is currently on a diplomatic visit to the United Arab Emirates to wrest the slide in Islamabad’s relations with the Muslim world, claimed that India was planning to launch a surgical strike against his country.

Addressing the media in the UAE, Qureshi said Pakistan has learned that India was in the process of “trying to seek tacit approval” for the surgical strike from “important players who they consider to be their partners”.

“I've learned through our intelligence forces... that India is planning a surgical strike against Pakistan," Qureshi said.

Soon, in a series of tweets, Moeed Yusuf, Special Assistant to Pakistan Prime Minister on national security issues, considered close to the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence, repeated the script, claiming “specific and reliable intelligence of Indian plans to attempt surgical strikes”.

This is not the first time Pakistan has claimed that India was planning to launch strikes against it. Imran Khan has accused India, multiple times, of planning “false flag operations” to create conditions necessary for action against Pakistan.

This time, however, his government appears to have thrown its full weight behind this claim, with Qureshi addressing international media on the issue in the UAE and Yusuf threatening to "teach India a lesson it deserves". Ministers and other senior officials in Pakistan have also spoken out and tweeted on the claim, and the Pakistan media has caught on with its own claims and stories on this issue.

As with every claim that Pakistan makes against India, there is no proof accompanying statements made by Qureshi and Yusuf.

Experts say that the claim, which comes at a time of significant political upheaval in Pakistan, is Imran Khan’s attempt to distract domestic attention away from the opposition’s war against his government, which has gained considerable momentum over the last few months and poses a credible threat to him.

For the first two-and-a-half years of his term as Prime Minister, Imran Khan was on the offensive against the opposition parties in Pakistan.

Guided by the army, which had brought him to power, Khan jailed opposition leaders, including former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and former president Asif Ali Zardari, and drove the opposition into a corner on corruption charges.

With its back against the wall, and sensing an opportunity at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the economic crises resulting from mismanagement by Khan’s government, the opposition is now pushing back.

However, the protests seen over the past few weeks are very different from those Pakistan has seen over the last two decades.

One, all major political parties in the opposition have joined hands.

Three major parties — Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazlur) — have formed an alliance called the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) along with at least eight other regional and state parties.

Sharif has been in London since November 2019, when the Lahore High Court permitted him to go outside the country for treatment. Maryam Nawaz, Sharif’s daughter, has now become the face of the party.

With Zardari taking a back seat due to “several illnesses” after coming out of jail, his son Bilawal Bhutto has been leading the party.

While the two have been very active in the opposition’s joint struggle against Khan, the leadership of the PDM has been given to Rehman to avoid power-sharing conflicts between the two dynasts from PML-N and PPP.

In two rallies held so far, one in Karachi, and the other in Gujranwala, the opposition has managed to attract tens of thousands of supporters.

Two, the messaging at the joint opposition rallies is not limited to job losses, rising prices, power cuts and other economic difficulties.

In the spotlight now is Pakistan Army’s role in propping up Khan’s party through forced defections from PML-N and PPP, the rigging of the election in his favour and its interference in the making of defence and foreign policy.

In speeches delivered at opposition rallies from London, Sharif has attacked the army for political interference. He has gone so far as to name the current Pakistan Army Chief, General Qamar Bajwa, during his speech, saying he was responsible for toppling his government and installing Khan as Prime Minister.

“General Qamar Javed Bajwa, you packed up our government, which was working well, and put the nation and the country at the altar of your wishes,” the former prime minister of Pakistan said in one of his speeches.

“Bajwa is responsible for rigging the 2018 elections, curbs on the media... and forcing judges to give decisions of his choice,” Sharif added.

The Pakistan Army, Sharif said, has become a “state above the state”.

He has said that the opposition’s struggle is not against Khan, but those who installed him — the military-intelligence establishment.

Sharif’s move is extraordinary because no other leader of his stature in Pakistan has criticised a sitting army chief in a political rally the way he has, let alone accusing him of rigging an election and interfering in policy-making.

This has increased Imran Khan’s troubles. To deal with it, he has announced yet another rejig of his cabinet, bringing high-profile political ally Sheikh Rashid Ahmed to the Interior Ministry’s helm. The significance of this appointment can be understood from the fact that Rashid’s party, the Awami Muslim League, has only one seat in Pakistan’s National Assembly.

Reports say that Rashid, a close ally of the military and intelligence establishment, has been tasked to deal with the united opposition.

In the middle of this political chaos, making claims that India is planning a surgical strike against Pakistan will bring Imran Khan and Bajwa some relief as it will distract the country’s attention away from the internal stresses. It will also underscore the importance of the Pakistan Army for the country at a time when it is under attack from the united opposition for propping up Imran Khan.

Prakhar Gupta is a senior sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets @prakharkgupta.



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