After long years of civilian-army asymmetry in Pakistan, Pak army’s game of cornering the large funding provided by the US in the ‘war on terror’ - without seriously countering the rise of Islamic extremism on its own territory - and that country’s clumsy pretence of helping the return of peace to Afghanistan, Pakistan has finally landed in a situation where the world community has squarely condemned it for providing ‘safe havens’ to terrorists. The US has excluded Pakistan from geo-political consultations on Afghanistan and the American defence secretary James Mattis has warned that country that it had one last chance of proving its bona fide in the fight against Islamic terror.
For India it is a matter of deep satisfaction that the unfortunate distinction that the US made right till the Obama administration between ‘good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists’ to the advantage of Pakistan, was finally given up in the joint statement that was issued after the first meeting of prime minister Modi with President Donald Trump at Washington last June. The US, for the first time, condemned cross border terrorism against India, asked Pakistan to bring to book the perpetrators of 26/11, Pathankot and other attacks and designated Syed Salahuddin of the United Jehad Council that was directing terror activity in Kashmir, as a ‘specially designated global terrorist’.
Following up in quick succession the BRICS summit at Xiamen in early September and the India-EU summit held in Delhi a few days back called for ‘decisive’ action by Pakistan against the terror outfits across the spectrum- including ISIS, Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad for attacks in Mumbai, Pathankot, Uri, Srinagar, Paris, Brussels, London and Manchester and pledged fullest cooperation to India in jointly dealing with the menace of Islamic terror. In a period of last few months, the international community has moved rapidly to declare Pakistan as the harbourer of terrorists and upheld India’s charge that Pakistan was fomenting cross border terrorism in Kashmir.
The reactions of the civilian and military leadership of Pakistan to these developments betray a certain degree of panic particularly over the stance of the US under Trump, an attempt to live down the stigma of establishment’s links to terror outfits and an incipient streak of defiance that must be taken note of. The first response of the Pak civilian leaders and even of the chief of LeT was an outburst of anger against what was seen as a turn around of the American position on Indo-Pak relations - from a marked tilt in favour of Pakistan throughout the years of the ‘war on terror’ to a decidedly pro-India stance particularly on terror. The terror groups like LeT and JeM-sheltered by ISI-exclusively targeted India and operated with immunity on the presumption that US was beholden to Pak army for the latter’s cooperation in putting down radical forces of Al Qaeda- Taliban combine as well as ISIS. They believed that Americans were prepared to look the other way on the issue of cross border terrorism.
As the developments in Pak-Afghan belt brought out the duplicitous conduct of the Pak army in the war on terror against Islamic radicals, the US policy makers came to realise that Pakistan had, in fact, allowed its territory to become the breeding ground and the launching pad for all kinds of Islamic terrorists with the intention of using them as a political instrument. A series of terror attacks in Europe and US woke up the Trump administration to the need for going after the violence of the Islamic extremists of all hues and putting Pakistan on notice finally. The US- led West has also not taken kindly to the China-Pakistan military axis and has noted some statements of Pak leaders that expressed deep loyalty to China-considering the latter as a counter foil to the diminishing US support to Pakistan.
The Pak leadership has tried to retrieve the situation for it by giving out that many of the terror outfits - particularly LeT which was funded by Saudi Arabia and guided by Pak ISI - were in fact put on the frontline of anti-Soviet arm- ed combat in Afghanistan by US and that Americans were fine with the use of the slogan of Jehad in that campaign. Pakistan’s foreign minister Khawaja Asif on a visit to Washington has lashed out at the US recalling how the latter had given funding and training support to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan and dismissed the ‘hollow allegations’ about Pakistan harboring terrorists as ‘not acceptable’. Interestingly a spokes- person of ISI is reported to have tried to clarify that while his agency had ‘links’ with outfits like LeT it did not ‘support’ them.
It is possible that the Pak army- ISI combine will make an effort to get back into the good books of the Trump administration. James Mattis is to visit Pakistan to follow on the view expressed by him earlier that Pakistan could be tried ‘one more time’. As the American emphasis is on Pakistan's failure to check terrorists attacking Afghan targets from their bases on Pak soil the Pak army may try to convince the visiting dignitary of its intent and commitment on the Afghan border. Pakistan would be desperate about not letting India have a say in Afghanistan at the former’s cost. India would do well to take the stand that even if the US chose to give some more time to Pakistan to show results this should be tested on both Pak-Afghan and Indo-Pak fronts and that the Americans must clearly condemn the Pak-instigated cross border terrorism in Kashmir. India must also caution the US against the history of how Pentagon had been showing a marked empathy towards the Pak Generals all these years.
Pakistan is now beginning to play a mind game with the US policy makers on its defence of the Sino-Pak strategic alliance. It is treating this axis as a geo-political asset. Pakistan has responded to the joint opposition of India and the US to China Pakistan Economic Corridor that passes through the disputed territory of POK, by ass erting that the project was for development and that it aimed at the betterment of the people in the region. While parroting this lame excuse given by China, Pakis- tan is covering up for the ‘territorial intrusion’ in POK by advancing the worn out plea of implementation of Security Council resolutions on Kashmir. Both US and India must jointly deal with this new-found recalcitrance of Pakistan. The interplay of US-Pak and Indo-US ties should not be allowed to cut against the interests of India.
(The writer is a former director of IB)