Pak­istan: ‘ground zero’ for the ter­ror­ist threat

The Myanmar Times - - News - BRAHMA CHELLANEY news­room@mm­times.com

AL­MOST seven decades af­ter it was cre­ated as the first Is­lamic repub­lic of the post­colo­nial era, Pak­istan is tee­ter­ing on the edge of an abyss. The econ­omy is stag­nant, un­em­ploy­ment is high and re­sources are scarce. The gov­ern­ment is un­sta­ble, in­ef­fec­tive and plagued by debt. The mil­i­tary – along with its rogue In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence (ISI) agency, com­pris­ing the coun­try’s spies and se­cret po­lice – is ex­empt from civil­ian over­sight, en­abling it to main­tain and deepen its ter­ror­ist ties.

Nu­clear-armed Pak­istan is now at risk of be­com­ing a failed state. But even if it does not fail, the nexus be­tween ter­ror­ist groups and Pak­istan’s pow­er­ful mil­i­tary raises the spec­tre of nu­clear ter­ror­ism – a men­ace so large that the United States has pre­pared a con­tin­gency plan to take out the coun­try’s fast-grow­ing nu­clear arse­nal should the need arise.

Make no mis­take: Pak­istan is “ground zero” for the ter­ror­ist threat the world faces. The foot­prints of many ter­ror­ist at­tacks in the West have been traced to Pak­istan, in­clud­ing the 2005 Lon­don bomb­ings and the 2015 San Bernardino killings. Two key ac­tors be­hind the Septem­ber 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks in the United States – Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheik Mo­hammed – were found en­sconced in Pak­istan. In the re­cent Man­hat­tan and New Jer­sey bomb­ings, the ar­rested sus­pect, Ahmad Khan Ra­hami, was trained in a Pak­istan sem­i­nary lo­cated near the Pak­istani mil­i­tary’s hide­out for the Afghan Tal­iban lead­er­ship.

But it is Pak­istan’s neigh­bours that are bear­ing the brunt of its state-spon­sored ter­ror­ism. Ma­jor ter­ror­ist at­tacks in South Asia, like the 2008 Mum­bai strikes and the 2008 and 2011 as­saults on the In­dian and US em­bassies in Afghanistan, re­spec­tively, were ap­par­ently or­ches­trated by the ISI, which has reared ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mo­ham­mad and the Haqqani net­work to do its bid­ding. This is no hearsay; for­mer Pak­istani mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor Pervez Mushar­raf has largely ac­knowl­edged it.

In In­dia, in par­tic­u­lar, the Pak­istani mil­i­tary – which, de­spite be­ing the world’s sixth largest, would have lit­tle chance of win­ning a con­ven­tional war against its gi­ant neigh­bour – uses its ter­ror­ist prox­ies to wage a clan­des­tine war. This year alone, Pak­istani mil­i­tary-backed ter­ror­ists have crossed the bor­der twice to carry out at­tacks on In­dian mil­i­tary bases.

In Jan­uary, Jaish-e-Mo­ham­mad struck In­dia’s Pathankot air base, ini­ti­at­ing days of fight­ing that left seven In­dian sol­diers dead. Last month, mem­bers of the same group crossed the bor­der again to strike the In­dian army base at Uri, killing 19 sol­diers and prompt­ing In­dia to carry out a re­tal­ia­tory sur­gi­cal strike against mil­i­tant stag­ing ar­eas across the line of con­trol in dis­puted and di­vided Kash­mir.

Afghanistan and Bangladesh also ac­cuse ISI of un­der­min­ing their se­cu­rity through ter­ror­ist sur­ro­gates. They blame Pak­istan for the re­cent grisly at­tacks in their re­spec­tive cap­i­tals, Kabul and Dhaka, in which a univer­sity and a café were among the tar­gets.

Such ac­tiv­i­ties have left Pak­istan iso­lated. Just re­cently, its re­gional neigh­bours – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, In­dia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka – pulled the plug on a South Asian As­so­ci­a­tion for Re­gional Co­op­er­a­tion sum­mit that was sched­uled for early next month in Pak­istan’s cap­i­tal, Islamabad. Sri Lanka’s prime min­is­ter, Ranil Wick­remesinghe, has warned that “cross-bor­der ter­ror­ism” im­per­ils the very fu­ture of SAARC.

But di­min­ished in­ter­na­tional stand­ing and grow­ing re­gional iso­la­tion have been in­suf­fi­cient to in­duce Pak­istan’s dom­i­nant mil­i­tary to re­think its stance on ter­ror­ism. One rea­son is that Pak­istan re­tains some pow­er­ful pa­trons. Beyond re­ceiv­ing fi­nan­cial sup­port from Saudi Ara­bia, Pak­istan has, in some ways, be­come a client of China, which pro­vides po­lit­i­cal pro­tec­tion – even for Pak­istan­based ter­ror­ists – at the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

This month, China tor­pe­doed, for the fifth time in two years, pro­posed UN sanc­tions on Ma­sood Azhar, the Pak­istan-based head of Jaish-eMo­hammed, which the UN des­ig­nated as a ter­ror­ist out­fit years ago. The sanc­tions were backed by all other mem­bers of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s an­titer­ror com­mit­tee, not least be­cause In­dia had pre­sented ev­i­dence link­ing Azhar to the ter­ror­ist killings at its two mil­i­tary bases.

In terms of fi­nan­cial aid, how­ever, it is the US that serves as Pak­istan’s big­gest bene­fac­tor. Yes, even af­ter find­ing Bin Laden on Pak­istani soil, the US – the coun­try that has spear­headed the so-called War on Ter­ror – not only con­tin­ues to de­liver bil­lions of dol­lars in aid to Pak­istan, but also sup­plies it with large amounts of lethal weapons. US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion also op­poses a move in Congress that would of­fi­cially brand Pak­istan a state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism.

This ap­proach re­flects Obama’s com­mit­ment to us­ing in­duce­ments to coax the Pak­istani mil­i­tary to per­suade the Tal­iban to agree to a peace deal in Afghanistan. But that pol­icy has failed. The US re­mains stuck in the long­est war in its his­tory, as a resur­gent Tal­iban car­ries out in­creas­ingly dar­ing at­tacks in Afghanistan with the aid of their com­mand-and-con­trol struc­ture in – you guessed it – Pak­istan. No coun­tert­er­ror­ism cam­paign has ever suc­ceeded when mil­i­tants have en­joyed such cross-bor­der havens.

Achiev­ing peace in Afghanistan, like stem­ming the spread of in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism, will be im­pos­si­ble with­out mak­ing the Pak­istani mil­i­tary ac­count­able to the coun­try’s civil­ian gov­ern­ment. The US has a lot of lever­age: Pak­istan has one of the world’s low­est tax-to-GDP ra­tios, and is highly de­pen­dent on Amer­i­can and other for­eign aid. It should use that lever­age to en­sure that the Pak­istani mil­i­tary is brought to heel – and held to ac­count. – Project Syn­di­cate

Brahma Chellaney, pro­fes­sor of strate­gic stud­ies at the New Delhi-based Cen­ter for Pol­icy Re­search and Fel­low at the Robert Bosch Academy in Ber­lin, is the au­thor of nine books.

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