A perusal of the recently released ‘Country Reports on Terrorism’ in respect of Pakistan for 2019 reveals that both those in the US State Department who prepared it as well as the mandarins of Pakistan’s Foreign Office (FO) who replied may not have had to burn the midnight oil. Since Pakistan has done nothing new in its much-hyped war on terror, all that the former had to do was to pull out its 2018 report, make some minor changes in dates and places- and lo and behold, the 2019 report was done and dusted! The same seems to be the case with the FO- a simple document ‘search’ of its ‘rebuttal archives’ conveniently stored in the ‘terrorism accusation’ folder would have thrown up scores of well-drafted scripts used by Islamabad in the past to defend the indefensible.
By noting that “Pakistan continued to serve as a safe haven for certain regionally focused terrorist groups,” the current report blows Islamabad’s counter terrorism narrative into smithereens. It goes on to state that Pakistan has “allowed groups targeting Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban and affiliated HQN (Haqqani network), as well as groups targeting India, including LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) and its affiliated front organisations, and JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammad), to operate from its territory.” What needs to be noted that Washington’s observation regarding Pakistan using terrorist groups to wage proxy wars in India and Afghanistan buttresses New Delhi and Kabul’s assertions. Infact, its observation that “Thus far, however, Islamabad has yet to take decisive actions against Indian- and Afghanistan-focused militants who would undermine their operational capability” leaves no doubt regarding this grim reality.
While the report acknowledges that “Pakistani authorities indicted LeT co-founder Hafiz Saeed and 12 of his associates on December 11,” it also highlights the fact that “they (the establishment) have made no effort to use domestic authorities to prosecute other terrorist leaders such as JeM founder Masood Azhar and Sajid Mir, the mastermind of LeT’s 2008 Mumbai attacks, both of whom are widely believed to reside in Pakistan under the protection of the state, despite government denials.” (Readers would recall that after the JeM-orchestrated Pulwama attack, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had admitted that its chief Masood Azhar “is in Pakistan.” But army media head Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor contradicted Qureshi by saying that “JeM doesn’t exist in Pakistan.”) But the US State Department report however makes it abundantly clear that everyone else, Washington isn’t buying Rawalpindi’s ‘no JeM in Pakistan’ story.
After the dastardly Uri attack by Pakistani terrorists in 2016, India pulled out of SAARC summit in Islamabad citing “increasing cross-border terrorist attacks” and in solidarity with New Delhi, all member states (except Pakistan) did the same. While Islamabad denied any involvement in the Uri attack, Pakistani FO spokesperson Mohammed Nafees Zakaria even trivialised this issue by saying, that “As for the excuse used by India, the world knows that it is India that has been perpetrating and financing terrorism in Pakistan.”
But four years down the line, one finds that US State Department hasn’t found any substance in Islamabad’s allegation of India perpetuating terrorism in Pakistan. Au contraire, by mentioning that in 2016, “all other SAARC member states boycotted the planned Islamabad summit following terrorist attacks on Indian security personnel committed by Pakistani groups,” Washington has not only endorsed New Delhi’s decision but clearly put Islamabad in the dock by confirming that “Pakistani groups” were involved in the Uri attacks.
The terrorism report goes on to mention ‘grey-listing’ of Pakistan by Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in 2018, which had “expressed serious concern at its October 2019 plenary about Pakistan’s continued deficiencies.” The report also states that “In 2018, Pakistan was designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. It was re-designated as a CPC in 2019.” But just like 2018 (and all previous years right from the nineties onwards), this time too Islamabad has “rejected” this report, expressing “disappointment” on the grounds that it is “self-contradictory and selective in its characterisation of Pakistan’s efforts for countering terrorism and terrorist financing.”
Commenting on the report, FO spokesperson Aisha Farooqui also went on to say that “We reject any insinuation about any safe haven,” adding that “Pakistan will not allow any group or entity to use its territory against any country.” Unfortunately, facts belie her assertions as the LeT and JeM are very much alive and kicking in Pakistan. She also mentioned Pakistan being targeted by “externally-based and foreign-sponsored groups” like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K), lamenting that “The (US) report is again either silent or vague on the origins and locations of these terrorist groups.” From this statement it’s obvious that Islamabad is actually quite upset by the fact just that like all other countries, even Washington has outrightly rejected unsubstantiated and laughable claims that these terrorist groups operating from bases in Afghanistan are being patronised by India.
What has irked Pakistan even more is that in its corresponding report on terrorism in India, US State Department has noted the following:
- “Prime Minister Modi and other senior Indian leaders made numerous statements to condemn domestic terrorist attacks and bring to justice the perpetrators of terrorism, in cooperation with the United States and other like-minded countries.”
- “The United States and India increased CT cooperation in 2019.”
- “The United States hosted the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, in which the ministers called for concerted action against all terrorist networks, including AQ, ISIS/Daesh, LeT, JeM, HQN, Hizbul Mujahideen, and TTP.”
- “India’s state-level law enforcement agencies play a significant role in detecting, deterring, and preventing acts of terrorism.”
- “Indian security agencies are effective in disrupting terror threats despite some gaps in intelligence and information sharing.”
- “Indian CT (counter terrorism) forces, at the federal and state levels, were active in detecting and disrupting transnational and regional terrorist groups, such as ISIS, its local affiliate ISIS-Bangladesh, and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).”
- The report also gives India a ‘thumbs ups’ in the fields of ‘countering the financing of terrorism, violent extremism, as well as ‘international and regional cooperation’ on tackling terror.
Besides humungous shortcomings and the glaring duplicity on Pakistan’s counter terrorism strategy that have been exposed in the report, Islamabad’s official press release on its response to US State Department’s 2019 ‘Country Report on Terrorism’ is also influenced by America’s appreciation of India’s unconditional commitment on tackling terrorism. Besides other complaints, Islamabad’s reply notes that the US report “fails to acknowledge the full extent of Pakistan’s support for the Afghan peace process,” and that it “neglects to mention Pakistan’s crucial role in decimating Al Qaeda, thereby diminishing the threat that the terrorist group once posed to the world.”
Islamabad doesn’t seem to realise that the fig leaf of Afghan peace process is grossly insufficient to hide its perverse counter terrorism philosophy. Pakistan undoubtedly deserves full credit for the US -Taliban dialogue process, but even this has a negative flip side. Is it not a fact that Islamabad has been able to achieve this only because, as Sartaj Aziz, (in capacity of Adviser to the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Foreign Affairs) honestly put it, “We have some influence over them (Afghan Taliban) because their leadership is in Pakistan and they get some medical facilities. Their families are here; we can use those levers to pressurise them to say-Come to the table.”
Any sensible person will agree that his by not something that Pakistan should be proud of!
Islamabad’s second contention of Al Qaeda not being as menacing as it was in the past is correct. But the actual role played by Pakistan army in emasculating Al Qaeda isn’t very clear, because of its legendary infatuation with this terrorist organisation. Pakistan always denied having any knowledge that its founder Osama bin Laden (OBL) was living comfortably with his family in Abbottabad. But, during an interview aired by Fox News on November 18, 2018, US President Donald Trump hit the nail on the head by saying “But living in Pakistan right next to the military academy, everybody in Pakistan knew he (OBL) was there.” Due to this there’s a strong possibility that OBL’s successor Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri too may have been tucked away by the army in some safe place within Pakistan.
Therefore, to doubt Islamabad’s claim of “downgrading of the Al Qaeda threat,” is but natural because with Prime Minister Imran Khan stating in the National Assembly just a few days ago that the Al Qaeda founder had been “martyred” by US forces, it appears unlikely that the Pakistan army would have indulged in the ‘sacrilegious’ act of “decimating” Al Qaeda fighters.