Strangely, the Pakistani terrorist attack on the Pathankot air base is getting internationalized, and not at the asking of India. Pakistan’s mortification is unprecedented.

Instead of hurling volleys of accusation, New Delhi silently but carefully gathered crucial evidence, which implicates Jaish-e-Muhammad for hatching the conspiracy under close guidance of the ISI.

The evidence which India has presented to Nawaz Sharif and also to Washington is irrefutable. In his telephone conversation with Modi, Nawaz Sharif assured him that his government would take prompt and decisive action against the terrorists.

Earlier, a spokesman from the Pakistan foreign office condemned the terrorist attack on the Pathankot air base. The Pakistan Foreign Ministry also issued an unusual statement late in the evening that it would “follow up” on the leads provided to it regarding the Pathankot attackers.

This reflects a conspicuous change in Pakistan’s traditional reaction to the allegations New Delhi has been bringing to her doorsteps – and by this I mean the tradition of deniability.

Hours after Nawaz Sharif’s assurance that action would be taken, US State Department spokesman John Kirby came out with an unusually strong statement saying, “the US expects Pakistan will take action against the perpetrators of the terror attack on the IAF base in Pathankot. The government of Pakistan has spoken very powerfully to this and it’s certainly our expectation that they’ll treat this exactly the way they’ve said they would.” Apparently the U.S. is convinced of the Pak factor.

Describing terrorism as a “shared challenge” in South Asia, the U.S. also asked all countries in the region to work together to disrupt and dismantle terrorist networks and bring justice to the perpetrators of the Pathankot terrorist attack: “We urge all the countries in the region to work together to disrupt and dismantle terrorist networks and to bring justice to the perpetrators of this particular attack.”

“We have been clear with the highest levels of the government of Pakistan that it must continue to target all militant groups,” Kirby said. “The government of Pakistan has said publicly and privately that it’s not going to discriminate among terrorist groups as part of its counter-terrorism operation.”

This is a statement pregnant with more meaning than what meets the eye. It asks for Pakistan’s reiteration of the commitment made to meet the terrorist challenge, as she herself is also its victim.

The statement categorically holds Pakistani terrorists responsible for masterminding the attack, and hence demands action be taken against the “perpetrators of terror attacks.”

The U.S. is clear who the “perpetrators” of terror are and where they draw strength from. The question is this: Has Nawaz Sharif the strength to bring the perpetrators to book when he knows that they are the creation of the ISI and the army?  Should we take United States’ prompting of Nawaz Sharif to take action to mean that the U.S. would lend outright support to any action he takes?

If yes, it will bode ill for Pakistan Army. The army will be left with two options. Either it must submit to the democratically elected government’s policy or it must repeat Musharraf’s prescription of 1999.

The point is that the U.S. recognizes that Pakistan is committed to working with other countries to meet the challenge of terrorism and disrupt and dismantle terrorist networks. The inference is that now is the time for Pakistan to dismantle the terrorist structures within its own country. India would certainly lend assistance in that venture.

The structures obliquely referred to are the jihadi organizations – LeT, JM, TTP and many others – most of whom receive outright patronage from the Pakistan Army and the ISI. Therefore, the prompting in no ambiguous words is that Islamabad take on these outfits and uproot them lock, stock and barrel.

Under growing pressure from the U.S., the ISI played its traditional card. The United Jihad Council headed by a terrorist of Kashmir origin came out with a statement accepting responsibility for the attack. This, in the eyes of the ISI, is to deflect the pressure from the aforementioned jihadi organizations already banned and to divert the attention to Kashmir’s so-called freedom fighters’ organization.

It will be noted that this confession by the UJC came only after the last terrorist holed up in a building on the Pathankot air base was gunned down. That is four days after the attack was launched. Why did the UJC wait for four days? The reason is simple: It had the strong apprehension that Indian security forces were delaying the combing up operation with the specific purpose of capturing at least one or two of the terrorists alive. If that had happened, UJC would not have claimed responsibility. It did so afterwards thinking that it would succeed in throwing dust into the eyes of the world.

But that notwithstanding, convincing and irrefutable evidence has been provided to the U.S. that the albatross is around the neck of Pakistan. Kirby mentioned more than once that Pakistan had clarified that it did not discriminate between good and bad terrorists. That is an indirect way of saying that those claiming to be the “freedom fighters” (as in Kashmir) cannot be discriminated from terrorists because the UJC has owned responsibility for the Pathankot terrorist attack. It is now for the separatist leadership in Kashmir to relocate themselves politically.

Two more contextual points need to be taken into consideration. One is an article published in the Daily Beast by Bruce Riedel, who worked in the National Security Council of the White House and was among the few present at the Bill Clinton-Nawaz Sharif meeting in 1999 during the Kargil war. Without mincing words, he writes, “The attack is designed to prevent any detente between India and Pakistan after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise Christmas Day visit to Pakistan.” He goes on to say that the attacks in Pathankot and on the Indian Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan was the handiwork of Pakistani terror group Jaish-e-Muhammad, which the ISI created 15 years ago.”

Riedel, a former CIA officer, goes on to state that the ISI is under the generals’ command and is composed of army officers, so the spies are controlled by the Pakistani army, which justifies its large budget and nuclear weapons program by citing the Indian menace.

“Any diminution in tensions with India might risk the army’s lock on its control of Pakistan’s national security policy. The army continues to distinguish between ‘good’ terrorists like JEM and LET and ‘bad’ terrorists like the Pakistani Taliban, despite decades of lectures from American leaders,” he said, adding that the Pakistan Army has long distrusted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has advocated a detente with India since the 1990s.

In final analysis, circumstances are changing rapidly in Pakistan, and the elected government is coming into direct confrontation with the GHQ. Islamabad seems to be trying to assert the uni-polarity of power in Pakistan, an option which GHQ will never allow. On what strength it has issued this challenge to the army, we cannot say. The two capitals agreeing not to allow the Pathankot attack disrupt impending foreign secretary meeting is a slap on the face of the Pakistan Army. The inference is simple. If Nawaz has the green signal from Washington, the army has to eat its humble pie; if not, then he is riding a tiger.


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