Is Pakistan Using Moeed Yusuf As ‘Front Desk’ For ‘India-Bashing’?

Former academic Moeed Yusuf recently turned his interview with Karan Thapar into an anti-India tirade. Here is why.

5 min read

What was slated to be the first interview after 5 August 2019 with a ‘high level’ Pakistani official, descended after the first five minutes virtually into a bar room brawl, even though a veteran television interviewer tried to keep the noise down.

Moeed Yusuf, once an academic, and now the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security and Strategic Policy Planning – which has wrongly been shortened wrongly to the NSA – chose to turn his interview with Karan Thapar into a tirade against India.

That’s not surprising in itself, given that Pakistanis are using all official and unofficial forums for this purpose. What’s unusual is for any official to use an Indian online channel with such deliberation to spew what he as a scholar, would surely have known to be a series of wild accusations, and take up a stance so untenable as to probably make even the Pakistani Foreign office wince.


Who Is Moeed Yusuf?

Moeed Yusuf is a newbie to government, though not to the scheming and conspiracies of its power corridors. Born and raised in Pakistan, he did his PhD in Boston University, joining the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in 2010. The USIP is funded by the US Congress, and others parts of government for specific projects. It usually does excellent work on various conflict spots, and has a whole team handling issues on Afghanistan. Its work in Pakistan entails a considerable presence on the ground, including in training police officers, and in various universities.

Initially, it produced compelling papers on Pakistan’s sectarian conflict and its decrepit police forces. All that changed as Moeed rose within the system to head the South Asia Program, and then to Associate Vice President. USIP began to shift its focus to India, and Kashmir in particular. By 2020, almost all of it was on India.

With the solid backing of the Pakistani Embassy, Moeed was able to bring in top officials for lectures, even while gaining access to the US State Department, National Security Council, Defence Department and others, and was in a position to influence policy on Pakistan, and possibly India. At least one formidable scholar demanded to know how taxpayers money was being used to host what appeared to be a Pakistani asset in the heart of Washington.

The author was able to view his influence first hand, as a Senior Fellow at the USIP, on a project to write a joint paper with Former Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jillani, on ways to mend India-Pakistan ties. That paper was never written due to Kashmir being turned into a Union Territory, and the rage among Pakistanis, including Moeed.

This might have been pardonable, except that subsequent events hosted by USIP entirely took the Pakistani view. A US think tank should have been even handed. Under Moeed’s direction it was not.

The paper never saw the light of day. But to be fair to the USIP itself, I was never denied access to the highest level of officials in Washington. It seems that the extent of Moeed’s manipulation of its South Asia desk – which continues – has never actually been realised.

Best To ‘Blame’ India Before Heads Fall?

Moeed’s coup was his deft arrangement of an interaction of Prime Minister Khan at USIP in 2019, where he was treated with kid gloves. His elevation, to the post of Chairman, Strategic Planning Cell followed, and then to his present post. Given that the Pakistani bureaucracy is not really unlike ours, as an academic and an ‘outsider’ his executive powers would be minimal. He also had the wisdom to keep a low profile.

Recently however, the milt-establishment seems to have decided to turn him into a front desk for India-bashing, using him to introduce a ridiculous map, claiming not only Kashmir but others parts of India like Junagadh, at a meeting of the NSA’s of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation – which led to Mr Ajit Doval walking out – and then the present interview.

Removing the grain from the chaff, what the interview produced was this; the establishment decided to bring in entirely new ‘information’ regarding India’s alleged involvement in the horrific 2014 Peshawar school attack.

Why they were waiting for 6 years is unclear, but what is interesting is that this occurs at a time when Pakistan’s Supreme Court has asked the government to make the Judicial Commission’s report on it public. Before heads fall, it seems its best to blame India.

Second, he made the outrageous statement that China had done nothing wrong in Xinjiang, despite UN Reports and satellite imagery proving otherwise; Third, what took the breath away was the brashness with which he practically laid down Pakistani policy as demanding ‘self determination’ for the Kashmiris in India, while flatly refusing to consider it at all for Gilgit-Baltistan, soon to become a province of Pakistan. Fourth, was his contention that India – apparently not the government – had reached out for a ‘conversation’.


Is Moeed ‘Slamming’ India To Prove His ‘Credibility’ Within Pakistan?

There are likely to be multiple reasons for this vituperative tirade. First, since he owes his unusual elevation entirely to the ‘establishment’, Moeed needs to work at keeping his head above water. After all his qualifications for the job are negligible, he has no political standing, and is eminently dispensable.

Added to this are suspicions inside Pakistan of his actual nationality and motives. What better than India-bashing to provide credibility. But that’s a matter of mere personal detail.

Second, the Pakistan Democratic Movement, an 11-party combined Opposition is gaining strength. A thrilling disclosure of India’s fell hand in terrorism will serve to divert attention from this challenge to the establishment.

Third, the vague hinting at an Indian outreach for a ‘conversation’ may be completely untrue; after all the tirade on ‘fascist’ India continues.

But if true, then Moeed’s whole position was calculated to make sure such a dialogue does not take place. As former Senator Farhatullah Babar observes, “A ‘scholar,’ diplomat and an effective civilian policy-maker would neither lay down publicly pre-conditions for talks nor would he accept hook line and sinker a brief prepared for him somewhere else…”

In short, there is no ‘Naya’ Pakistan. It’s the same show as before, with the same inept people, and a little more brilliantine on the hair.

(Dr Tara Kartha was Director, National Security Council Secretariat. She is now a Distinguished Fellow at IPCS. She tweets at @kartha_tara. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

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