Pakistan’s role in supporting the growth of global terrorism

In the recently released Country Reports on Terrorism 2020, the Bureau of Counterterrorism of the U.S. Department of State has once again underlined Pakistan’s persistence as the fountainhead of terrorism, posing a threat to regional stability and international security. The American report is another evidence of Pakistan’s continued duplicity on the issue of terrorism and its use of terrorist groups as proxies in its geopolitical pursuits. But Pakistani establishment continues to live in a denial mode.

The annual report noted that in 2020 terrorist groups targeting Afghanistan — including the Afghan Taliban and affiliated Haqqani Network, and groups targeting India, including Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and its affiliated front organisations Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) — have continued to operate from Pakistani territory.[1] According to the State Department, Pakistan made limited progress on “the most difficult aspects of its 2015 National Action Plan to counter-terrorism, specifically in its pledge to dismantle all terrorist organizations without delay or discrimination.”

It also highlighted that Pakistan “did not take action against other known terrorists such as JeM founder and UN-designated terrorist Masood Azhar and 2008 Mumbai attack “project manager” Sajid Mir.” The report added that both the terrorists are believed to remain free in Pakistan.[2]

As a matter of fact, media reports in August 2021 had noted that Masood Azhar had written a column “Manzil Ki Taraf” in JeM’s online magazine Al Noor congratulating the Afghan Taliban for its takeover of Kabul. He had also commented that the “defeat of America means it has lost the status of being the superpower in the world.”[3] Other reports had also noted that Azhar had met Taliban leaders, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, to seek “help” for operations in the Kashmir valley.[4]

The U.S. report also mentioned the release of terrorist Omar Shaikh, accused of murdering journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. In December last year, the Sindh High Court had overturned the convictions of Omar Sheikh and three co-conspirators for the 2002 abduction and murder of Pearl and ordered their release. The Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld this decision of the Sindh High Court.[5] This incident once again showed Pakistan’s flawed justice system and its impact on counter-terrorism investigations.

Besides, the report has underlined the persisting problem of madrassas imparting violent extremist teachings. It noted that “many madrassas failed to register with the government, provide documentation of their sources of funding, or comply with laws governing acceptance of foreign students.”[6] As a researcher from the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), Anne Heckendorff had recently noted these madrassas have served as birthplaces and cradles for the Taliban, Haqqani Network, LeT, JeM, and other terrorist organisations in the country.[7] Moreover, these madrassas often instil a “distorted, ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam still flourish uninhibitedly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

Not just before 9/11, but before that too, many terrorist attacks worldwide have their trails going back to Pakistan. It pursued the policy of cross-border terrorism in its quest to “inflict a thousand cuts to bleed India.” As a result, sponsoring terrorism has become an essential part of Pakistani statecraft,

making it into ‘a land of pure terrorism’ – a safe haven for terrorists.[8] In Jammu and Kashmir, recent events have shown how Pakistan-sponsored terrorist groups promote the Pakistani agenda by targeting minorities and security forces.

And Pakistan has never been sincere whenever it assured the global community that it would perform its counter-terrorism obligations. This Pakistani duplicity has been on display since the 9/11 attacks. To escape the international scrutiny of its terrorist ecosystem, Islamabad has only engaged in a cosmetic crackdown on this network.

This network, including terrorist groups, and madrassas were often temporarily shut, relocated to other places or asked to keep a low profile – which gave a false sense to the global community of a ‘crackdown’ and a decline in their activities. In reality, these groups and networks remained intact. After a short gap, these were reactivated. Now, with the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan, these madrasas are gearing up to scale their activities, demanding the implementation of Sharia in Pakistan.

In stark contrast to Pakistan’s failings, the American report has praised India’s counter-terrorism effort. It noted that Indian security agencies “actively detected and disrupted transnational and regional terror forces.”[9] It highlighted India’s efforts in implementing UNSCR 2396 to improve detection and deterrence of terrorist travel by using watchlists, implementing biographic and biometric screening at ports of entry, and expanding information sharing.[10] It appreciated India’s timely response to U.S. requests for information related to terrorism investigations.

The earlier Pakistan realises its follies and role in disturbing peace, the better it will be for regional security. Else it is destined to stay on the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list and even risk getting blacklisted and sanctioned.