Opinion

From a press leak and a tweet to beheadings and ICJ: The story behind the Indo-Pak standoff

As Indo-Pak relations hit rock bottom, the civil-military standoff in Pakistan has flared into the open. Could there be a link between the two?

As India-Pakistan relations took a turn for the worse at the beginning of May with the killing and mutilation of two Indian soldiers in the Krishna Ghati sector, followed by India’s decision to take the Kulbhushan Jadhav case to the Internal Court of Justice, internal differences between the Pakistani civilian and military leadership flared into the open. Could there be a link between the two developments?

For the past fortnight, speculation was rife about differences between Rawalpindi (Pakistan Army headquarters) and Islamabad (Pakistan capital) till a face to face meeting between Chief of Army Staff Gen Bajwa and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif cleared the air and back to back press conferences were held by Director General (Inter Services Public Relations) Major General Asif Ghafoor and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali on May 10 and 11, indicating that the matter was settled.

Cyril Almeida. Image courtesy: Facebook/ The International Centre Goa
Cyril Almeida. Image courtesy: Facebook/ The International Centre Goa

The Dawnleaks

On October 6 last year Pakistani daily Dawn carried a story “Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military” (dubbed Dawnleaks), reporting on a meeting held on October 3 between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, other cabinet ministers including Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif with Director General Inter-Services Intelligence Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar and other military officers. At the meeting, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry provided a briefing about Pakistan’s diplomatic isolation and the need to show forward movement on Indian demands relating to the Pathankot investigation and the Mumbai 2008 attack as well as action against Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar. He added that these suggestions were coming from the United States which wanted action against Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani group and even China privately. Shahbaz Sharif complained that the civilian government’s actions against the militants were consistently undermined by the military who managed to get them released, leading to a heated exchange between the civilians and military brass present.

Initially, the Dawn story was rejected as “baseless” but the army was convinced that the story had been deliberately leaked by the Prime Minister’s Office to discredit the army and the outgoing Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif. Subsequently, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif called on Gen Sharif to clarify matters. The first casualty was Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s trusted Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid who resigned, taking the rap for not having been able to prevent the story from being published. Under pressure from the army, a seven-member Inquiry Committee headed by a retired Judge Aamer Raza Khan with representatives from the ISI, Intelligence Bureau and Military Intelligence, Home and Information ministries was set up to investigate the leak. By now, the authenticity of the story was no longer being questioned. The author, Cyril Almeida was put on the Exit Control List which barred him from leaving the country though after a public hue and cry, this order was withdrawn.

The report of the Inquiry Committee was presented by the Interior Minister to Nawaz Sharif on April 26. Based on the Committee’s recommendations, Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary Fawad Hassan Fawad issued a notification on April 29 withdrawing the portfolio of Foreign Affairs from Prime Minsiter’s Special Assistant Syed Tareq Fatemi, departmental proceedings against Principal Information Officer Rao Tehsin Ali and asked the All Pakistan Newspapers Society to examine the role of Dawn, its editor and the reporter, for appropriate action.

An Incendiary Tweet

Hours later, Director General (Inter Services Public Relations) tweeted:

The tweet led to a veritable firestorm. The rejection of an establishment order from the PMO was a clear sign that the army was unhappy. Civilian leaders called it a zeher-e-quatil for Pakistani democracy. There were rumours that Principal Secretary Fawad had proceeded on leave, but these were later denied.

Meanwhile, it was reported that Indian businessman Sajjan Jindal had met Nawaz Sharif in Murree on April 27.

Dissatisfied by Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Sharif’s tweet that Jindal was an “old friend”, questions were asked by the opposition regarding the meeting.

Jindal had played a role in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore on December 25 in 2015 and there was speculation that perhaps Jindal had carried a message from Modi this time too.

This could be related to Kulbhushan Jadhav’s fate or the possibility of a bilateral meeting between the two leaders in Astana where both would be present for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting.

As the firestorm continued, the first fallout was Fatemi’s resignation. A 1967 batch foreign service officer, Fatemi had served as Additional Secretary in the PMO during 1998-99 and after retiring from service had joined Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). He had been appointed Special Assistant with the rank of Minister of State. Then came the incident on the Line of Control clearly orchestrated by the Pakistani military. The Indian army has already announced that there shall be retaliatory action, at a time and place of its choosing. Repeated rejection of Indian requests for consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav who had been sentenced to death by a field general court martial prompted India to approach the International Court of Justice on May 10.

Nawaz Sharif Image Courtesy: Daily Motion/ Video grab
Nawaz Sharif Image Courtesy: Daily Motion/ Video grab

Resetting the Limits

Meanwhile Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa met Nawaz Sharif for a frank and private chat on May 4, followed up by efforts by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali to work out a retreat on both sides. On May 10, the army issued a statement indicating that “the military spokesman tweet stands withdrawn”. It added that tweet had not been aimed at any person and the army supports the democratic process and the constitution. The following day, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali held a press conference where he announced that the matter had been settled.

Reading between the lines, the army seems to have made it clear that it will remain in the driver’s seat as far as Pakistan’s India policy is concerned. Freewheeling initiatives are not to be encouraged. With the stand-off, Bajwa has reassured his colleagues that he will not be a pliable chief of army staff, but will look after the army’s interests.

Nawaz Sharif knows that a military takeover in 2017 is much more difficult than in 1999 when he was deposed in a coup by Gen Pervez Musharraf. In the post-Zia period of 1988-99, the army had successfully manipulated the political parties. Witness the numerous changes in the prime ministership – Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif twice each, in addition to interim occupants like Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Balakhsher Mazari, Moeen Qureshi and Malik Meraj Mohammed.

After 2008, there is a greater assertion of civilian authority. The 18th constitutional amendment in 2010 removed the president’s unilateral powers (first introduced by Gen Zia) to dismiss a prime minister. This is why Nawaz Sharif is not averse to testing the waters on how to wrest control of policy in areas which the army has traditionally guarded as its exclusive preserve. The army has made the red lines clear to him. But it is an uneasy truce. It remains to be seen whether Nawaz Sharif will continue to question the limits or adopt a more cautious posture till the elections next year.

Former diplomat Rakesh Sood was the Prime Minister’s special envoy for disarmament and non-proliferation till May 2014. He is currently Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.