Have you ever heard any terrorist group, especially the ones operating in our region, having praised the United States? Certainly not. Terrorist groups actually thrive on anti-American sentiments. Hence, no group would risk saying a word or two in favour of the US. But recently one terrorist outfit changed that equation. The Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), a splinter group of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), lauded the US. And that was for its efforts to prevent the group’s chief, Omar Khalid Khurasani, being placed on the UN Security Council’s Sanctions Committee list. It was unprecedented that a terrorist group praised the US.
Although specific details are not available that on what grounds the US shot down Pakistan’s proposal, Foreign Office staff suggested that Washington objected to Pakistan’s stance that Khurasani was in Afghanistan. But that cannot and must not be a valid reason to veto the Pakistani request. Whether he is in Afghanistan or Pakistan, the key issue is that he is a known terrorist. His JuA has claimed a number of deadly terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. That was the reason that Pakistan expressed its disappointment over the UNSC sanction committee’s failure to place Khurasani on the list.
But why has the US shielded a known terrorist and risked being seen as playing a double game, a description Washington often uses for Pakistan? The answer lies in the current state of ties between Pakistan and the US. Despite recent diplomatic efforts, the two countries have yet to find a common ground on how to end the lingering conflict in Afghanistan. The Trump administration is frustrated over what it believes is lack of Pakistan’s will to take on groups such as the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban. It has suspended security assistance and threatened other punitive action to persuade Pakistan to change its approach. What Pakistan has been saying all along is that it cannot be made a scapegoat and that it will not fight the Afghan war on its soil. The US does not like this approach and desperately wants Pakistan to fight the war on its terms. The Trump administration’s coercive policy hasn’t yet delivered the desired results. In this backdrop, there is a possibility that the Trump administration has now decided to use certain militant groups operating in Afghanistan against Pakistan. It is like you scratch my back, I scratch yours. By shielding Khurasani from sanctions, the US may be sending a message to Pakistan that if you don’t mend your ways then better be prepared to face the consequences. The US may be contemplating using terrorist groups such as the JuA as a bargaining chip against Pakistan.
What this approach shows that after 17 years of war, still there is no consensus among the key international and regional players to fight terrorism. Pakistan, a state that has successfully driven terrorists out of the tribal areas, continues to be blamed for following a selective approach. But Pakistan has its own list of grievances. One of them is that the US and Afghan forces have not done enough against the anti-Pakistan elements currently operating from across the border. In fact, Islamabad has said it publicly that the TTP and its affiliates enjoy the backing of the Afghan secret service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), and Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). The latest US move at the UN sanctions committee meeting has added new dimension to the complicated game being played in Afghanistan. Relations between Pakistan and the US are already at its lowest ebb. Indications are that this downward slide will continue with the two sides imposing reciprocal restrictions on each other’s diplomats. These disturbing developments will only lead to more chaos.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2018.