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Why did ISI endorse Aman Ki Asha?

Author: Sandhya Jain
Publication: Niticentral.com
Date: May 14, 2014
URL: http://www.niticentral.com/2014/05/14/why-did-isi-endorse-aman-ki-asha-223529.html

Was the ‘Aman ki Asha’ dialogue with Kashmiri separatists and peaceniks in India, which was promoted by Pakistan’s Jang Group of newspapers in concert with a leading Indian newspaper group, a covert Track II gambit by the Pakistan Government and the ubiquitous ISI, or did the latter two merely support a genuine initiative by the Jang Group?

At a time when Track II specialists in India are trying to manipulate the incoming Narendra Modi regime into taking up the Kashmir issue with Pakistan on a priority basis – though this is not the agenda on which the BJP has sought and received votes – the exposure of Aman ki Asha due to internal differences within Islamabad is fortuitous. Coinciding with unsolicited advice to convert the Line of Control into the international border, the scandal exposes the Indian peaceniks and provides a respite to the BJP which has not yet been officially declared winner of the election, much less been sworn in.

Readers would recall that previously, the Times of India’s senior journalist Dilip Padgaonkar, an interlocutor of the Government of India on Kashmir, was found accepting hospitality from the notorious ISI-funded Ghulam Nabi Fai, who vociferously promotes the Pakistani case to acquire the whole of Kashmir. Even if one accepts Padgaonkar’s plea that he was unaware that the ISI was funding Fai, he (and Radha Kumar who attended similar conferences in Europe) could hardly be unaware of the anti-India content of the seminars.

The news that the Jang Group was backed (or prodded) by the Pakistan Government and the ISI broke out within Pakistan on May 12, 2014 when managing director Shahrukh Hassan got into a verbal spat with Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan and reminded him (Imran) that he had favoured the Aman ki Asha project. In fact, PTI leaders Asad Umar and Shafqat Mehmood are part of the Aman ki Asha committee. Imran Khan himself participated in an Aman ki Asha programme on May 8, 2012, and applauded the movement several times.

In a report to The News, the English newspaper of the Jang Group, Shahrukh Hassan admitted that Government officials were briefed about the programme and that ISI former chief Lt General (retd) Ahmed Shuja Pasha, civil society and political parties were in the loop. He said industrialists and traders also backed Aman ki Asha in the hope that improved ties with India would stimulate economic growth in the region.

By all accounts, the crisis blew up when Geo TV journalist Hamid Mir, whose car was ambushed on April 19, accused ISI chief Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam as the man possibly behind the attack. Hamid Mir was shot at by unidentified persons on motorbikes as his car was leaving the Karachi airport. Within 40 minutes of the attack, Mir’s statement that if anything happened to him, the ISI chief should be held accountable was broadcast on Geo TV. Mir was rushed to hospital and survived the attack.

Geo TV tried to retrieve the situation behind the scenes, but on April 25, Hamid Mir’s brother Amir Mir, read out a statement on his behalf from hospital, comparing the current situation in Pakistan to the time when Geo TV rose against President Musharraf’s military regime. The journalist claimed that the ISI was angry with him for reporting about the thousands of missing persons in Balochistan.

As rival newspapers, media groups and politicians rushed to curry favour with the Government and the ISI, former cricketer Imran Khan alleged that Geo TV and the Jang Group had launched the Aman ki Asha venture at the behest of India! This forced the Group to reveal that Islamabad and the ISI were in the picture from the start!

Indeed, the then ISI chief had stated on record – in the presence of the then Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) director general – that the organisation was a “partner” in Aman ki Asha. In fact, the military, through the ISPR, was continuously in touch with many activities of the venture and held detailed discussions regarding events relating to security.

Angry at Imran Khan’s allegations, the Jang Group countered that its managing director submitted details of the objectives of Aman ki Asha to the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, who endorsed the move and promised unreserved Government support. He urged Jang to take the armed forces into confidence.

Accordingly, the Jang Group met the then DG ISPR, Maj Gen Athar Abbas, and gave him a copy of the formal advice given to the Prime Minister. Later, at a meeting in Lahore with DG ISI Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the Jang Group briefed him in detail about the peace initiative; Maj Gen Athar Abbas was present. Gen Pasha reportedly asked a volley of questions on different aspects of the move and told them that Kashmir was a security issue and that the stated position of Pakistan should not be compromised.

Shahrukh Hassan reportedly informed Gen Pasha that the signing of agreements was the prerogative of the Government, and that Aman ki Asha would simply facilitate attempts towards flexibility on different issues, including Kashmir and water. The Jang managing director claimed that it was the establishment (read ISI) that suggested that the Group appoint Lt Gen Mehmud Ali Durani as security adviser as he was well versed with the Pakistan Government’s and ISI’s views on security issues, especially Kashmir. Lt Gen Durani was reportedly involved in all ‘strategic conferences’ organised by Aman ki Asha.

Senior officials of Military Intelligence (MI) attended several events where security issues were discussed or where former DG RAW, former senior military officers of India and former DG ISI were involved. The Jang Group kept all the leading political parties, including the PML-N, JI, MQM, in the loop. The Jang claims it never accepted any funds from the Government or any other source for the meetings, but as everyone in the business knows, there are ways and ways of supporting an enterprise that has official backing.

Though these revelations are nearly 48 hours late, the notoriously anti-BJP Indian media has ensured a conspiracy of silence regarding the issue.
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