For the first time ever the US has listed Pakistan among the nations providing “safe havens” to terrorists, saying terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and JeM continued to operate, train, organize and fundraise inside the country. This is a full year after the UN Assistance Mission Afghanistan (UNAMA) in its July 2016 had reported 5,166 people killed / maimed in Afghanistan (Jan-Jun 2016), total civilian casualties (Jan 2009 – 30 Jun 2016) 64,000 (23,000 killed and 41,000 injured as conservative estimated), and that bulk of these casualties were caused by Taliban, LeT, JeM, Hezb-e-Islami, IMU, IS and others.
In its annual ‘Country Report on Terrorism’ released on 19 July 2017, the US State Department stated: Mumbai attack mastermind and UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed continued to address large rallies despite being proscribed under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act; despite LeT being banned, LeT’s wings Jamaat- ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FiF) were able to openly engage in fundraising, including in the capital; the 2015 ban on media coverage of Saeed, JuD, and FiF continues but LeT chief Saeed continued to address large rallies; Pakistan was listed as one of the safe havens of terrorism with numerous terrorist groups, including Haqqani Network (HQN), LeT and JeM continued to operate from Pakistani soil in 2016; Pakistan did not take substantial action against the Afghan Taliban or Haqqani, or substantially limit their ability to threaten US interests in Afghanistan; Pakistan did not take sufficient action against other externally focused groups like , such as LeT and JeM in 2016, which continued to operate, train, organize, and fundraise in Pakistan; Haqqani network has carried out a number of kidnappings and attacks against US interests in Afghanistan.
The above report also talked of several terrorist attacks against Indian interests in Afghanistan and in India, latter from Maoist insurgents and Pakistan-based terrorists. The report did not include the nine year old Stratfor warning of 2008 that Pakistan’s ISI was forging links with the Maoists in India. The report also mentioned cross-border attacks in J&K. Terrorist attack at the IAF base in Pathankot blamed by India on JeM, deepening counter-terrorism cooperation and information sharing between India and the US and the Indian government continuing to closely monitor the domestic threat from transnational terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).
According to the State Department, the Pakistani government did not publicly reverse its December 2015 declaration that neither JuD nor FiF is banned in Pakistan, despite their listing under UN sanctions regimes, although in January 2017, Pakistan placed both organizations “under observation” pursuant to Schedule Two of the Anti-Terrorism Act. In 2016, India and the US pledged to strengthen cooperation against terrorist threats from groups including al-Qaeda, the ISIS, JeM, LeT and D-Company (Dawood Ibrahim’s group), including through greater collaboration on designations at the UN. The US and India worked together to designate JeM leader Maulana Masood Azhar, although the listing was blocked in the UN 1267 Committee.
It may be recalled that US sanctioned Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) chief Syed Salahuddin and branded him a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) coinciding with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US last month; just as Modi reached Washington for talks with President Donald Trump. Both countries agreed that HM chief Syed Salahuddin is a terrorist and this was later reflected in the joint statement too. It was a big diplomatic win for India, even though Pakistan continued to remain defiant. This act of branding Salahuddin SDGT together with the ‘Country Report on Terrorism’ indicates that the US stance on Pakistan has begun to right itself, albeit it will take much effort to ‘right’ Pakistan.
But most significantly, US has replaced the term India-administered Kashmir with Jammu and Kashmir in its order designating Syed Salahuddin as SDGT, which indicates the US acknowledges J&K as one entity. For too long successive US administrations have ignored Pakistani terrorism despite US casualties under the utopia that Pakistan will not join the Chinese camp, which Pakistan not only has but is China’s North Korea 2.0. India’s consistent diplomatic efforts and PM Modi’s personal initiatives have helped the US and many other nations realize that Pakistan is indeed a hatchery of terrorism.
But the branding of Salahuddin as SDGT is also to do with the US targeting HM’s ideological ally; the US based Muslims of America Organization (MOA) that supports Kashmiri terrorist groups. Significantly, Sheikh Gilani, MOA’s extremist leader is based in Lahore. The FBI had reported way back in 2003 that MOA was working as conduit to Pakistani terrorist groups affiliated with Al Qaeda. MOA’s affiliation with HM goes back to 1990, but what concerns US more is that MOA boasts of having 22 ‘Islamic Villages’ in the US. However, neither the HM nor MOA whose original informal name was Jamaat ul-Fuqra are yet on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
Ryan Mauro, in his article titled ‘US Group Connected to Terrorists in Kashmir’ writes that Gilani and MOA have had a long presence in Kashmir, including a village named “Gillaniville, and that MOA’s ideology favours a caliphate, theocratic sharia law and violent jihad in places like Kashmir; “multi-dimensional campaign” to “liberate” Kashmir from India. With the type of HM-MOA links under the ISI umbrella backed by China it is hardly surprising how easily the Hurriyat was roped in to radicalize youth of the Kashmir Valley. The possibility of MOA’s Gilani and Hurriyat’s Geelani being same progeny also remains given the crossbreeding in terrorists.
Same day as the ‘Country Report on Terrorism’ was released (July 19), President Trump also reportedly chaired a rare meeting of his national security team on the future of the US war effort in Afghanistan. Trump had already given Defense Secretary Jim Mattis authority to send 3,900 additional troops to Afghanistan over a month back but the executive orders are yet to be issued by Mattis, apparently waiting for an overall final strategy on Afghanistan to be chalked out by the US administration. Currently, US troops in Afghanistan number some 8,500.
According to a former US official, “Mattis is either not persuaded that there’s a strategic rationale for the troops or he’s not persuaded that the decision will ultimately fly with the president — or both.” The meeting chaired by Trump, reportedly reviewed broader US approach to Af-Pak region and its strategy regarding Pakistan, which has provided a haven for the Taliban. National Security Advisor HR McMaster and US commanders in Afghanistan favour more punitive approach to Pakistan aimed at forcing it to cut ties to the Afghan Taliban, however, a cross-section in the US administration are of the view this would cause more instability – an euphemism for maintain status quo. McMaster’s view reportedly is of no negotiations with the Taliban while they are still ascendant. However, the ascendancy of Taliban can unlikely be checked without harsher punitive action against Pakistan much beyond the fiscal given the defiant rouge she has become.
In June 2017, a bipartisan bill was tabled in the US House of Representatives by Republican Congressmen Ted Poe and Democratic lawmaker Riick Nolan to revoke Pakistan’s non-NATO ally status. The legislation calls for revoking MNNA status of Pakistan, which was granted to it in 2004 by the then President, George Bush, in an effort to get the country to help the US fight al-Qaida and Taliban. Ted Poe, who is also member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Chairman of the Sub Committee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade stated during the motion, “Pakistan must be held accountable for the American blood on its hands.
For years, Pakistan has acted as a Benedict Arnold ally (Benedict Arnold’ is a byword in the US for treason or betrayal) of the US. From harbouring Osama bin laden to backing the Taliban, Pakistan has stubbornly refused to go after, in any meaningful way, terrorists that actively seek to harm opposing ideologies. We must make a clean break with Pakistan, but at the very least, we should stop providing them the eligibility to obtain our own sophisticated weaponry in an expedited process granting them a privileged status reserved for our closest allies.”
In a recent step, US has blocked $350 million aid to Pakistan for not acting against the Haqqani network albeit Pentagon had also blocked $300 million in reimbursement to Pakistan during 2016 too without any change in the Pakistani stance..
What the US administration must realize is that revoking Pakistan’s MNNA status and sending additional 3,900 US troops to Afghanistan will unlikely to make any difference to Pakistan who is already cocking a snoot at the US through massive public rallies by terrorist mullahs like Hafiz Saeed and Syed Salahuddin with ISI and Pakistani politicians rubbing shoulders with them. The Chinese backing to Pakistan is unlikely to deflate the putrid gas accumulated by Pakistan.
It is time the US acknowledges that the evil China-Pakistan-North Korea axis is the most dangerous to the world, Pakistan being bigger threat than North Korea. US officials in the past often queried if US is expected to attack a nuclear armed Pakistan. The answer is yes and no – yes being attack in hybrid form in conjunction strategic partners and alies, definite no for exclusive conventional. Significantly, the Atlantic Council of US urged the Trump administration through a policy paper released last month saying, “Given the advancements that China has made both economically and militarily, the US will need to channel considerable resources to assert its global and regional primacy.”
Given that the US is past master in hybrid warfare, the China-Pakistan combine will need to be addressed covertly, consistently and effectively in a manner that doesn’t affect US economy. As for the crippling Pakistani terrorism, the recent Trump-Putin meeting concerning a joint cyber grouping would definitely help.