“One of the numerous reports that the United States government compiled on Pakistan and terrorism maintained, ‘if one were to make a map of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction collection at this moment, all roads would meet in Pakistan,” write Italian journalists Francesca Marino and Beniamino Natale in their book Apocalypse Pakistan: An Anatomy of ‘the World’s Most Dangerous Nation’ in 2013.
They further write, “The problem is that where terrorism is concerned the agendas and priorities of Islamabad and Washington diverge. The United States is interested to resolve the Afghan conflict, while Islamabad has no interest whatsoever in striking at the fighters, in and around Kabul. Pakistan is considerably irritated by the growing Indian influence in Kabul, and trusts in the Taliban and the fundamentalists, as it has done for some time, to restore its own influence.”
‘Naya Pakistan’: Old Wine, New Bottle
Today, even six years later, with the Taliban peace talks crashing suddenly and the Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir making headlines once again, the problem remains the same in the region, with the US continuing to navigate the troubled waters. And the loud chorus of ‘Naya Pakistan’ being the same old wine in a new bottle.
This is why it isn’t surprising when a sitting Prime Minister of Pakistan, namely, Imran Khan, while speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations’ event in the US, confesses that “Pakistan Army, and ISI, trained Al-Qaeda and all these groups to fight in Afghanistan. There were always links between Pakistan and them.”
The statement interestingly comes ahead of his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, which is quite expectedly going to largely be against India on Kashmir, without a mention of Pakistan-based terror groups (designated by the US State Department and yet operating in Kashmir), including Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Hizbul Mujahideen.
The ‘confession’ also comes on a day when the Afghan National Security Council revealed details of a joint operation carried out by US forces in the Helmand province of Afghanistan where the main courier of Al-Qaeda leaders Asim Umar and Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed — apart from a dozen other Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists who were embedded together. Interestingly, Afghan forces took in their custody six Pakistani women from the location of the operation, one of them being the wife of Asim Umar.
Trump’s Message — to ‘Fight Radical Islamic Terrorism’ — Hasn’t Reached Islamabad
Imran Khan’s image hasn’t changed even as he has completed more than a year in office. Khan has been one of the most vocal political supporters of the Taliban in his country, at one point even lobbying for a central office for Taliban in Pakistan. Weeks before assuming his (present) office, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party was in the news for a large grant to the ‘University of Jihad’ run by ‘Father of Taliban’ Sami-ul-Haq, who was later killed in his home.
The Taliban has remained on the US radar, even more so since 9/11 shook the entire globe. For what it’s worth, on the 18th anniversary of 9/11, the US designated Noor Wali Mehsud, the Chief of the banned Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as a global terrorist.
Yet, the state patronage to such terror outfits hasn’t ended, and instead has often been used by Islamabad as a form of ‘alternate diplomacy’ to build pressure on India and Afghanistan.
US President Donald Trump’s public announcement at the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, to fight ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ together with India, has done little to send across a message to Islamabad. Within twenty four hours of the statement, in New York, ahead of the meeting with Imran Khan, Trump referred to Modi’s strong statement on Pakistan — and yet offered to ‘mediate’ between India and Pakistan again, if both countries were on board.
US Must Realise That Trusting Pakistan Isn’t a Gamble Worth Taking
Efforts to mediate by the US may just be for optics, but what Washington doesn’t realise is that trusting Pakistan could just be a gamble not worth taking, without any shred of evidence of Islamabad’s contribution in fighting terror, or resolving any conflict for larger peace. Globally designated terrorists Hafiz Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar, continue to remain underground in Pakistan under state protection, amidst pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) which could even blacklist Islamabad in its October plenary. Washington’s renewed trust in Islamabad is more from its desperation to tackle Iran amidst Saudi oil attacks, and also vacate Afghanistan after a ‘peace process’ and elections in the country.
Little did Trump realise that while he was smiling at the generous praises from Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Houston on Sunday, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was holding a press briefing on Kashmir in New York, alongside a convicted felon and ISI’s old asset, Ghulam Nabi Fai. Fai who was arrested by the FBI —in connection with illegal lobbying for Islamabad to influence the US government on Kashmir against India and for receiving undeclared money from the Pakistan government — had pleaded guilty, and even spent time in prison. The same man was being paraded before the Pakistan government yet again, to influence Capitol Hill.
Pakistan’s Kashmir propaganda in the United States didn’t begin with Fai. When asked about the dominance of radicals over moderate Islam, and use of blasphemy laws against minorities, Imran Khan rubbished the categorisation as merely ‘hearsay’, referring to Islam as one for all. “Let me clear one thing. There is only one Islam. There is no such thing as moderate Islam or radical Islam,” he said.
With the Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat issuing a fresh warning to Pakistan of a ‘counter-attack’ which could go beyond Balakot — a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the world to fight a ‘decisive battle’ against terror — attention has yet again shifted to terror camps sheltered by Pakistan. “Let me tell you, Balakot has been reactivated by Pakistan, very recently. This shows Balakot was affected, it was damaged and destroyed; it highlights some action was taken by the Indian Air Force at Balakot and now they have got the people back there,” the Indian Army Chief had said while interacting with journalists. This, even as reports indicate that over 500 terrorists are waiting at their launchpads in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) to infiltrate India, while government data indicates that more than 270 terrorists are already active in Kashmir.
Essence of Pakistan’s ‘Proxy War’ Against India
Former Pakistan ISI Chief, Asad Durrani, in his book Pakistan Adrift writes, “When the adversaries — insurgents, dissidents, even terrorists — are our own nationals and enjoy support or sympathy from a faction of the population, the state should not, and often does not, give up the option of a negotiated solution.”
Therein lies the essence of Pakistan’s ‘proxy war’ against India.
To think that Islamabad will genuinely fight terror and target safe havens of these terror groups, undermines the global fight against terror. The US has supported the Pakistani military over the years, in the hope that it would move away from radical Islamists. Instead, the radicals have become more powerful than ever in Pakistan, in the guise of being ‘protectors’ of the faith. If the United States ignores the lies, deceit and deception of Pakistan today, it will not only strengthen so-called “jihad” in Kashmir, but the menace it ignores today will one day come knocking on its own doors.
(Aditya Raj Kaul has a decade long experience in covering conflict, internal security and foreign policy for various national media outlets. He tweets at @AdityaRajKaul. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)