Given its painful birth, wars with India, support for terror groups in the Kashmir, role in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, and reluctance to declare war on its brand of the Taliban, it is easy to hang a tag of terrorism around the neck of Pakistan. So when the United States, one of its best known allies accused it of sponsoring international terrorism, virtually no country was willing to defend it or come to its aid.
The American attacks on Pakistan started with the first of the infamous Trump tweets in 2018 when the American President wrote: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools…They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”
He was followed by Nikki Haley, the American Representative to the United Nations who announced that her country would withhold $225 Million aid from Pakistan. Accusing the Pakistanis of being Janus-faced, she said: “They work with us at times, and they also harbour the terrorists that attack our troops in Afghanistan …That game is not acceptable to this administration. We expect far more cooperation from Pakistan in the fight against terrorism.”
The Pakistanis were livid, they took to the streets while their government talked about their faithfulness to the Americans. Their Foreign Ministry lamented: “No country in the world has suffered more than Pakistan from the scourge of terrorism, often perpetrated from outside our borders” Their Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa told the American ambassador: “We are not looking for any material or financial assistance from USA, but trust, understanding and acknowledgement of our contributions”
The Pakistani lamentations are mainly true; the country suffers from serious terrorism attacks. The most infamous being that on the then 14-year old school girl, Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head on October 9, 2012 for advocating girl-child education. Indeed for decades, the country has virtually lost control of its borders with Afghanistan which are its northern and western borders. The famous Swat Valley with its 2.3 million populace, beautiful mountains and fifty two beautiful lakes, has been under the control of the Pakistani Taliban since 2009. That is the same terrorist group which shot Malala. Other terrorist groups like the Haqqani and al-Qeada have homes in Pakistan. There are also claims that the Islamic State (ISIS) also has safe havens in that country. Ordinarily, I am sure the Pakistani authorities would want to have full control of their territories, but they are like a hunchback which needs no admonition to straighten up; this seems lost to their American allies.
Pakistan protests it is not sponsoring terrorism; I am inclined to believe it, except that a person suspected of being a thief should not be found cuddling a neigbour’s sheep. Its training, funding and support for the terrorists in India’s Kashmir and Jammu Provinces clearly marks out Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism. There were 69,820 militant or terrorist-related attacks in those areas between 1990 and 2017 with 41,000 deaths or four daily.
But in a sense, Pakistan is a victim of terrorism. Its problem started in 1979 when as part of the Cold War, the leadership of the pro- Socialist Peoples Democratic Party in neigbouring Afghanistan was challenged. The West thought Afghanistan was going communist and decided to support an insurgency. Some youths in Afghanistan which is 90 percent Islamic were mobilized on the basis of religion. The Western propaganda had it that the Afghan leadership was atheist and communist and that it was the duty of Muslims all over the world to come to the aid of their fellow Muslims by waging a jihad to remove the infidels in Kabul. Lots of youths heeded the call and Pakistan provided them the bases for training, raising armed groups and crossing the border to fight the ‘infidels’ Perhaps the most famous of the youths who poured to Pakistan to join the Mujahedeen was Osama Bin Laden. What followed was a nine-year war; December 1979 – February 1989 in which the Afghan Army backed by thousands of Soviet troops, was routed. In the process, Pakistan became a hotbed of terrorism. To date, the borders with Afghanistan have still not been recovered. Afghanistan became a lawless country until the Taliban led by Mullah Mohammed Omar restored order. Meanwhile, the youths that had been mobilized to join the Mujahedeen could not comfortably resettle in their countries as the mainly conservative governments were suspicious of the war-tested youths. Some fled and established their own networks, the most prominent being al-Qaeda led by Bin Laden who had fled his Saudi Arabia home for Sudan before being forced to relocate to Afghanistan. He had the Egyptian doctor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who had practiced medicine in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, as his deputy.
When following the 9/11 attacks in America, the West invaded Afghanistan, some of the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters crossed into Pakistan, worsening the security situation. While supporting America and its allies, Pakistan is aware that it cannot militarily defeat the terrorists who have turned its territory into their base. So it began to play a double game; supporting the Western ‘War Against Terror’ while also collaborating with groups like the al-Qaeda. Perhaps the clearest indication of this was where Bin Laden was killed. He was the most wanted terrorist on the American list and was supposed to be hiding out in the Afghan mountains only to be found living with his family in Abbottabad, Pakistan, near the military headquarters.
The American move might be to frighten Pakistan and force it into more co-operation. It is aware that cutting links with Pakistan can worsen the situation for it in that region. Nuclear-armed Pakistan is in a paranoid state; it suffers from political instability, serious insecurity including in its major cities, and it shares border with not too friendly countries; India, Afghanistan and Iran. If America and its allies were to add their own weight, Pakistan might just snap.