Between a rock and a hard place
By Ramananda Sengupta | Published: 22nd February 2017 01:00 AM |
The listing of terror mastermind and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed in the Fourth Schedule of Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act last week should have had New Delhi jumping with joy.
After all, this is what it has been vociferously demanding for years, particularly after the 26/11 siege of Mumbai, which was planned and executed by the portly Pakistani terrorist and his Jihadi lapdogs.
Applicable for a maximum of three years, the Fourth Schedule imposes a range of restrictions on the movement and activities of a listed person, and prohibits him or her from visiting public places such as parks, airports, railway stations, or attending public rallies and meetings. Days earlier, Saeed was placed under house arrest, and his name put on the Exit Control List, which bars him from leaving the country. So far, Pakistan has 1,450 ‘fourth schedulers’.
The Indian reaction, however, was a diplomatic yawn. Describing it as the “first logical step in getting the region rid of the twin menaces of terrorism and violent extremism,” outgoing External Affairs Ministry Spokesman Vikas Swarup sought further “effective action mandated internationally against him and his terrorist organisations and colleagues”.
Even the unprecedented admission by Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Asif at the Munich Security Conference last week that Hafiz Saeed could pose “a serious threat to the society” failed to cut much ice in New Delhi. Or in Kabul, which has seen its troubled relationship with Pakistan hit a dangerous level of late, with Pakistani forces moving heavy artillery to the border and targeting what it describes as terror camps in Afghanistan.
Merely putting Hafiz Saeed on the terror list was not enough, and the international terrorist “should be eliminated,” declared Afghanistan National Assembly Speaker Abdul Raouf Ibrahimi.
But what actually led to Islamabad’s perceived change of heart regarding Saeed? Was it pressure from the new dispensation in the US, led by Donald Trump? Was it on China’s advice, perhaps to divert attention at the UN Security Council, where India’s bid to slap a UN ban on another Pakistani terrorist, Jaish-e-Muhammad leader Masood Azhar, has been repeatedly vetoed by Beijing?
Apart from the fact that Pakistan had earlier ‘detained’ Saeed on many occasions, while allowing him to indulge in a virulent anti-India campaign to free Kashmir, many in New Delhi believe this is an attempt by Pakistan to temporarily appease India as it focuses on growing trouble with Afghanistan.
The latest trouble with Afghanistan started last week. More than 100 hundred people were killed in a series of terrorist attacks across Pakistan last week, including the blast at the Sufi Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine. While the Daesh, or the self-proclaimed Islamic State, claimed responsibility, Pakistan pointed fingers at Afghanistan, and sent a list of 76 suspected terrorists it wanted extradited from Afghanistan. In reply, Kabul sent a list of 32 terrorist camps and 85 Taliban terrorists operating on Pakistani soil, demanding that firm action be taken against them.
Enraged by this rebuff, Islamabad shut down crossings and started shelling suspected terror camps across the border in Afghanistan from Monday.
On the face of it, Pakistan is squeezed between two hostile nations on its eastern and western borders, which is not an enviable position to be in. To find strategic wriggle room, however, it managed to convene two rounds of a trilateral conference on Afghanistan with Russia and China last year. Kabul was outraged over being excluded, and so was New Delhi, even as talks about a new Pakistan-China-Russia strategic axis gained ground. It was only after India sent National Security Adviser Ajit Doval to Russia in January that Kabul and New Delhi were invited to the third round of talks, which concluded last week in Moscow. But by then, Islamabad had managed to convince the other two nations that it was the Islamic State and not the Taliban, which threatened the region, and that in fact the Taliban could actually be used as bulwark against the Daesh, which brands even the austere Talibs as apostates. In other words, Islamabad was actually helping China and Pakistan fight the Islamic State by nurturing the Taliban.
Of late, both Beijing and Moscow have been aggressively lobbying the UN Security Council to remove key Taliban figures from the terrorist list, reinforcing the good Taliban/bad Taliban narrative which was earlier the American position. Some reports even claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin met Taliban leaders in a Central Asian in December 2015.
Subsequently, both China and Russia have also been urging Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to hold talks with the Taliban. This puts a spoke in Kabul and India’s position that the only good Taliban was a dead one. Which perhaps explains India’s muted response to Saeed being put on the terror list. According to New Delhi, Pakistan needs to do much much more. To start with, it should strictly, not selectively, enforce the four-year-old ban on identified terror groups which have been operating with impunity from its soil for years. It also needs to choke the recruitment and funding of terrorist outfits, particularly in Kashmir. It must bar its Inter Services Intelligence and other assorted agencies from using retired armymen to train these talibs and terrorists, and then use them as proxy warriors in India and Afghanistan.
In other words, it must cease and desist from using terror as an instrument of state policy. Until then, it will continue to be squeezed between hostile neighbours.
(The author is Senior Associate Editor, The New Indian Express. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)