When 9/11 happened, the world was concerned with the impact and reach of terrorist groups. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) led by the US launched operations within Afghanistan, to remove the Taliban, which was created and supported by Pakistan, destroy al Qaeda and capture its leaders. Operations in Afghanistan continue as the Taliban along with the Haqqani network gain strength as also support from Pakistan, while the US is desperate to withdraw with honour.
Throughout the conduct of operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan was the darling of the west for multiple reasons. It was the route through which supplies to the forces operating in Afghanistan moved, which at its maximum numbered 140,000, of which about 100,000 were US soldiers. It was considered a frontline state as it bordered Afghanistan from where the Taliban were being pushed out. It was tasked to stop the influx of Taliban into the country, an action it claimed it did, but on the contrary provided them shelter and support. Even presently, the US is banking on Pak for pushing the Taliban into talks as they remain sheltered in Quetta.
Earlier, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Pak was also considered by the west as a frontline state and provided support to prevent the Soviets from succeeding. Officially, it was tasked to stem the spread of communism. It received tremendous aid and weapons for this mission. To counter the Soviet Union, it raised and nurtured the Taliban, which in turn supported the al Qaeda. A large quantity of the weapons Pakistan received to arm the Taliban were employed by its terrorists being sent to Kashmir.
Over the years, Pak has continued being a supporter and creator of terrorist groups. The Taliban and Haqqani network, which still operate freely in Afghanistan, targeting the local population and US forces, remain sheltered in Pakistan. Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks was found in Pakistan, safely ensconced in Abbottabad by the Pak ISI.
The ISIS has established a foothold along the volatile Afghan-Pak border. In a recent report, over 250 ISIS members surrendered to the Afghan army along with their family members, most being Pak nationals. ISIS has been launching attacks in both, Afghanistan and Pakistan with devastating results. It has become a threat to the entire region as it seeks to spread its tentacles into South Asia. Attacks in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as also India dismantling ISIS modules bear witness.
Pak continues to support terrorist groups operating in the neighbourhood, whether it be India, Afghanistan or even as far as Bangladesh. It has been accused by all neighbours for this. The world is aware of Pak’s involvement in employing terrorist groups as an instrument of state policy.
The number of Pakistani citizens in the UNSC’s proscribed list of terrorists is presently 146 and it also has 25 listed terror groups on its soil. It has most citizens and entities after Iraq and Afghanistan in the ISIS and al Qaeda sanctions committee list. Clearly a terrorist nation, which has remained protected by the west considering its geo-strategic location.
Pak is also a nuclear power and the west remains concerned on the security of its nuclear assets. This concern stems on the growing power of terrorist entities in the country. Western nations have raised this on multiple occasions in international forums. There are reports of the US having plans to take out Pak’s nuclear arsenal in case of a threat to their security and their likelihood of falling into terrorist hands.
Pak remains on the FATF Grey List for supporting terrorist funding. The FATF is aware that Pak has done little to reduce terrorist support and funding despite being warned multiple times in the last few years. It is likely to continue in the same list for some time.
Pak based terrorist groups, with open support of their deep state, have been launching terrorist strikes in Kashmir and on occasions in other parts of India. Their reach and power stems from the support provided to them by the state which considers UNSC proscribed leaders as heroes within the country. Pak is also attempting to convert innocent Indian citizens into jihadis. It cannot be permitted to succeed as once the spread reaches India, then expanding into South and SE Asia would only be a matter of time.
The world seeks to curb terrorists within Pak, where multiple terrorist groups already exist. Simultaneously, the nation grows more economically unstable by the day. It also faces immense internal strife with both Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on the boil. The international community should realize that Pak cannot roll back its policy of backing terrorists as it could force them to turn inwards adding to its internal instability issues.
If this remains the current situation within South Asia, then the nation which borders a growing terrorist country where multiple terrorist groups exist and are supported is India. Indian actions in Kashmir have stemmed from protecting lives due to the spread of terrorism from Pakistan. Its attack on Balakote and the earlier cross-border strike have targeted terrorists which Pak creates.
Indian actions, apart from protecting its own borders from the growing menace of terrorism in the region, is also to prevent spread of terrorism in South and SE Asia. India should therefore be considered as a frontline state battling and containing terrorism within the South Asian region. It needs international support in its actions of containing Pak, rather than criticism for its handling of Kashmir, where it has acted to prevent terrorist violence and its spread. It is time for the world to face realities, rather than fall for Pak propaganda.
The world needs to grow out of its mould and back India while enhancing pressure on Pak, failing which terrorism emanating from Pakistan would engulf a larger region, not just South Asia.
The author is Major General (Retd)