The sinister side of Pakistan’s Sharif brothers – by Rajeev Sharma

For decades the Indian political and military establishments have been convinced that the deep anti-India mindset in Pakistan is rooted in Pakistan Army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). However, available indications are that the rot is much deeper, wider. The anti-India and the fulminant form of Islam in Pakistan have political as well as societal backing.

The fresh crop of Wikileaks Cablegate says Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, younger brother of Pakistan’s Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had “tipped off” the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) about the United Nations’ sanctions after the LeT’s terror operation in Mumbai in November 2008, the biggest-ever terror strikes in India. As a result of this tip-off, the LeT clean swept its bank accounts, leaving ludicrously small sums to mock at the authorities.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari gave this information to the US ambassador in Islamabad Anne Patterson, the Wikileaks cable said in January 2009. “Information from the ministry of the interior does indicate that bank accounts contained surprisingly small amounts,” the cable said. This was contested by Shahbaz Sharif’s adviser Senator Pervaiz Rashid, who said: “There’s nothing true in it. Zardari is our political opponent and he wants to topple our government.”

Even more serious – and dangerous – aspect is the Sharif brothers’ linkages with the Saudi Arabian royal family. On March 21, 2010, Pakistan’s Daily Times reported a significant disclosure by former ISI official Khalid Khawaja that he arranged five meetings in the past between Nawaz Sharif and al Qaida chief Osama Bin Laden on separate occasions – all in Saudi Arabia. Khawaja said Nawaz Sharif asked bin Laden for a sum of 500 million Pakistani rupees for “development projects”. Eventually, bin Laden did give him money but much lesser than the original demand. “I still remember that Osama provided me funds that I handed over to then Punjab chief minister Nawaz to toppleBenazir Bhutto’s government,” said Khawaja.

The al Qaida Chief gave money to Nawaz Sharif after obtaining assurance from him that he would make Pakistan a complete Islamic state. Khawaja also claimed that Nawaz Sharif had met leaders of Islamic movements around the world. Osama also arranged a meeting for Nawaz Sharif with the Saudi royal family. “During his first visit to Saudi Arabia as chief minister of Punjab in the late 1980s, no one from the royal family gave Nawaz importance,” he said. “Thereafter, on Nawaz’s request, Osama introduced him to the royal family,” said Khwaja. “A close aide of the Sharif family and I arranged at least five meetings between Nawaz and Osama in Saudi Arabia.”

The Daily Times came up with another report on March 23, 2010, saying a Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif suggested that Talibanwork outa “separate peace” with Punjab province. Shahbaz’s rabid suggestion was “Cease targeting Punjab” and focus on the other three provinces. The comment triggered off a nation-wide furore. “Kayani summoned him and upbraided him in language he won’t soon forget. But this didn’t deter Nawaz Sharif from bragging about his ‘old friendship’ with Osama bin Laden,” the Pakistani newspaper said. Nawaz Sharif’s linkages with Osama bin Laden had rankled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto too and she had discussed this with George Bush Senior in 1989, Zardari told an American channel recently.

Clearly Pakistan’s anti-India mindset has permeated so deeply in the Pakistani polity and society that no Pakistani leader can even dream of normalizing relations with India, no matter howsoever genuine his or her desire to make up with India is. This is borne by Zardari’s frank talk with the US National Security Advisor General James Jones in Islamabad on June 25, 2009. Zardari said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not understand the constraints under which he was functioning and had no clue of what it takes to change the mindset of the Pakistani establishment. Though he praised Manmohan Singh as an “excellent economist” (implying that Singh was a better economist than politician), he said Singh was unaware of what it took to change the mindset of the Pakistani establishment. Zardari is perhaps alluding to the Sharif brothers’ propensities and their questionable dealings with state and non-state actors that makes it well nigh impossible for any Pakistani leader to think out of the box to smoke the peace pipe with India.

A new leaf has been added to the Saudi saga by the Wikileaks cables. One cable quotes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as saying in December 2009 that Saudi Arabia is the world’s most significant source of funds for Sunni terrorists. Apart from Saudi Arabia, Clinton has also named Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Qatar as terrorism’s major bankers. These countries, the cables say, keep the terror machinery of Al Qaida, Taliban and Lashkar e Toiba well oiled.

This is ominous as it denotes business as usual for the terrorism’s bankers despite the US setting up an Af-Pak specific task force months earlier in 2009 – The Illicit Finance Task Force — to prevent funds flowing to terror groups. This is how excerpts from a Saudi-specific cable read: “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide… It’s been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority. More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for Al-Qaida, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Toiba and other terrorist groups, including Hamas, which probably raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources, often during Hajj and Ramadan.” The cables quote Clinton as saying that the American intelligence reports suggest that Riyadh’s charity groups and multilateral organisations are the conduits for transfer of money out of Saudi Arabia to fund terrorists.

On Kuwait, the cables show that Clinton is worried that the oil rich country is not doing enough to stop flow of money to terror outfits. “Al-Qaida and other groups continue to exploit Kuwait, both as a source of funds and as a key transit point,” one cable says. Qatar, the country that just won the right to host the 2022 Soccer World Cup, too is a source of funds for Al Qaida, Taliban and LeT, says another cable. “Qatar’s overall level of CT (Counter Terrorism) cooperation with the US is considered the worst in the region. They’ve been hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the US and provoking reprisals.” Ironically, Qatar is a member of the Illicit Finance Task Force and in view of this Clinton has suggested handling Qatar with kid gloves.

The recent disclosures about the Sharif brothers should help India’s cause in one way. India would now know better which dramatis personae in Pakistan it should pursue and which ones it should not just ignore but prepare suitable policies to deal with them. Shahbaz has ambitions, as one of the Wikileaks cables shows, to become Prime Minister of Pakistan, provided his brother agrees. If that were to happen it would be a huge strategic setback to India now that the Sharif brothers’ true colours are known. India’s Pakistan policy makers need to evolve effective counters for such an eventuality, and better still, prevent such a disaster from happening in the first place.

(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and a strategic analyst. He can be reached at

Source: Eurasia Review



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