February 21, 2020
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Calling A Spade A Shovel

Geostrategic concerns prevent the US from branding Pakistan a terrorist state

Calling A Spade A Shovel

That the Clinton administration has once again shied away from branding Pakistan a terrorist state has nothing to do with facts. Which is why State Department coordinator for counter-terrorism Michael Sheehan had a tough time briefing the press on the department’s annual report, "Patterns of Global Terrorism, 1999".

The report, released by secretary of state Madeleine Albright on May 1, points to "credible reports of official Pakistani support for the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and other extremist Kashmiri factions". The hijackers of IC 814 last December reportedly belonged to this militant group. The report clearly states that the hub of world terrorism has shifted from West Asia to South Asia, where Afghanistan serves as the primary safe haven for terrorists while Pakistan supports violence in Kashmir.

"I don’t believe Pakistan merits being designated a ‘state sponsor’ of terrorism abroad," rationalised Sheehan. "Pakistan is a friendly country. They cooperate with us on numerous terrorist issues," he said.

Explaining the report’s assertion that "Pakistan continues to send mixed messages on terrorism", he said: "On the one hand, they’ll cooperate with extradition. We have a good relationship on a broad range of security issues. On the other hand, they have relationships both with Kashmiri groups and with the Taliban in Afghanistan that are troubling. They need to improve the record on that score."

There’s also disagreement over Gen Pervez Musharraf’s terming Kashmiri militants "freedom fighters". Sheehan says militants are considered terrorists if they target non-combatants or soldiers in their barracks. "Our definition of terrorism is explicit. If an armed terrorist organisation attacks civilian targets, that’s terrorism."

Afghanistan too doesn’t feature on the list of terrorist states, unchanged for the last seven years. But that’s because the US does not recognise the Taliban. "That’s why they are not on the list. But there is a series of executive orders and UN sanctions that address that issue," says Sheehan.

The State Department document, which is released to Congress annually, says the US has repeatedly asked Islamabad to end support to elements training terrorists in Afghanistan, to interdict militants’ travel to and from camps in Afghanistan, to prevent militant groups from acquiring weapons and to block financial and logistic support to camps in Afghanistan. The US has also urged Islamabad to close certain madrassas that actually nurture terrorism and to end "official support for Kashmiri militant groups that engage in terrorism, such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen". But these entreaties have been constantly ignored by current and former regimes in Pakistan.

The report also corroborates that Kashmiri extremist groups operate in Pakistan, raising funds and recruiting new members. These groups, says the report, were responsible for numerous attacks in 1999 against civilian targets in Kashmir and elsewhere in India.

All these facts are contained in the official US document which, taken at face value, would have automatically earned Pakistan a place with Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Cuba and North Korea, the seven nations labelled as "states sponsoring terrorism abroad". But placing Pakistan on the list would have automatically ended all US relations with Islamabad. This is just what the Clinton administration wants to avoid for its own political and strategic reasons. For, the US needs Pakistan to deal with Afghanistan, where the Taliban is sheltering Osama bin Laden, wanted in the US for the 1998 bombing of its embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam. Besides, common friend China would have resented Washington’s harsh treatment of Islamabad.

And this is no secret. Almost all US experts see through the game of not including Pakistan in the list. "Because of political considerations," the US has hesitated in taking the extreme step, says senior Brookings fellow Stephen P. Cohen. "Since there are no iron-bound rules for making such a determination, its role as a long-term ally and its willing cooperation in certain spheres of counter-terrorism may have weighed with the administration," he says.

Dr Ivan Elang, director of defence policy studies at Washington’s Cato Institute, sees "a lot of politics" in making such a determination though the "administration claims otherwise". According to him, Cuba and North Korea should be out of the list and Pakistan in, because the report clearly says the two Communist regimes have contained terrorism to a large extent while the level of terrorism has risen in Pakistan. The most striking point Elang makes is that the US does not perceive any immediate threat to itself from what Pakistan is fomenting in distant South Asia. But then, "Cuba is in our own backyard".

Sumit Ganguly, a visiting professor at Stanford University, says despite mounting evidence, the administration refrained from actually including it in its list because Pakistan, "already reeling under economic, social and political problems, would have inevitably collapsed under the weight of sanctions that go with the label". And that is something nobody needs.

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