Imran Khan’s comments while on his visit to Iran opened a can of worms. He stated, ‘I know Iran has suffered from terrorism (perpetrated) by groups operating from Pakistan. …we (need to) have trust in each other that both countries will not allow any terrorist activity from their soil. We hope this will build confidence between us.’ He was referring to the two groups, JaishulAdl and Lashkar-i-Khorasan, which operate from Pak soil.
These groups were responsible for the suicide attack on Iranian Revolutionary Guards early this year which claimed 27 lives. Iran vowed revenge. The fact that Pak provides them support was well known, but the admission of the same by a head of state has informed the world that Pak supports terrorist groups.
Earlier Nawaz Sharif had stated that the attackers of Mumbai were also launched from Pak. For this comment he was charged under sedition acts and the case is presently in progress.Musharraf has also made this statement on multiple occasions and has been accused of being anti-national. He has even claimed that despite an attempt on his life he could not act against them as they were protected by the deep state.
Recently Imran had mentioned that there should be an interim government in Afghanistan to facilitate talks with the Taliban. He was echoing the words of the Taliban, which has refused to engage with the present Ashraf Ghani government. It angered Afghanistan, which recalled its ambassador for consultations, forcing Pak to issue a clarification. Imran also announced his intention to officially interact with the Taliban to which Afghanistan objected, leading to a cancellation of the meeting. Finally, to maintain neutrality, Imran stated that Pak is neutral in Afghanistan.
Pak openly states that it has facilitated talks between the US and the Taliban, thereby proving that it has over the years supported them.With intense pressure being mounted from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pak has been forced to display that it is acting against terrorist leaders and groups within the country. It has also issued guidelines to implement the UN 1267 resolution on internationally nominated terrorists, located within the country.
This admission by a Prime Minister indicates that Pak has and continues to support terrorist groups operating in neighbouring countries. India, Iran and Afghanistan have regularly blamed Pak for supporting terrorist groups. Terrorists who regularly attack, kidnap and kill Iranian border guards operate from Pakistan. The Taliban is based within the country. Anti-India terrorist groups are openly seeking funds for a Jihad in Kashmir.
Interestingly, the opposition accused Imran of making an irresponsible statement. Comments in the Pak senate included, ‘No prime minister has ever made such a confession on foreign soil,’ and ‘Pakistan is exposed internationally by such statements.’ Clearly every Pak leader is aware but unwilling to admit.
On the other hand, Pak complains of the involvement of other nations of supporting terrorist groups operating on their soil. The Pak foreign minister accused Iran, just prior to the visit of Imran, of supporting Baluch Separatist groups which launched the attack in Pak which killed 14 people. Surprisingly, just a day before the foreign minister’s announcement, the Pak foreign office spokesperson had blamed India for this incident. Pak visualizes RAW behind every door.
India and Afghanistan are blamed for backing the TTP and the Baluch Freedom Fighters. They accuse Afghanistan of sheltering them, while claim that the Taliban is not based within Pak but in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan. They refuse to admit that those groups which operate against the Pak armydo so because of the maltreatment to non-Punjabi residents of their country, whom they consider as second-class citizens.
Imran hoped that by making this statement, he could convince Iran to act against Pak terrorist groups, while they operate against Iran groups on their soil. Imran also proposed a meeting of security officials on the same. The Pak government defended his statement in the National Assembly by stating that the ‘IMF has already linked the bailout package for Islamabad with the findings of the FATF.’
It is evident that the Pak economy is now in doldrums. It desperately needs loans to just stay afloat. China and its West Asian allies cannot continue pumping in good money after bad, hence the only solution is a bail out package from the IMF. There are strings attached to this loan. Curbing terrorist activities is a major step. If Pak lands up into the ‘black list’ of the FATF, even the IMF loan is at risk. Further, it cannot meet the IMF condition of declaring all loans from China, as much has been consumed by the army leadership and politicians.
The question arises that would this admission by Imran have any impact on the existing internal situation, despite him being a puppet of the army or in the term used by Pak media, ‘same page as the military leadership.’ In all probability the statement would not have been cleared by the army chief, as the foreign minister, SM Qureshi, accused Iran just a day before the visit of supporting anti-Pak terrorist groups. It is known that Qureshi is also backed by the army and could be a replacement for Imran in case the army drifts away from him.
Further, with the ISI controlling all terrorist groups operating from Pak, it is unlikely that they would accept Imran’s statement and reduce their support to terrorist groups. They would just attempt to curb them for a short period before releasing them again to act against Iran. The Pak military establishment views maintaining and employing terrorist groups as a low-cost option of a successful state policy to keep their neighbours in flux. This reduces their requirement of maintaining a large deployed force and ensures their neighbours are involved militarily battling internal dissent.
Hence, while Imran Khan’s comments have stirred a hornet’s nest within the country’s political leaders and he may gain international support, nothing will change on ground. Pak’s neighbours will need to consider acting in unison to enhance pressure of them to force a change in their approach.
(The author is Retired Major General Indian Army)