From Mumbai to Paris — the deadly double game in South Asia

On the night of November 13, I was preparing to discuss with Asia Times editor-in-chief Doug Tsuruoka an article noting the 7th anniversary of the November 26 terrorist attacks in Mumbai – and how India’s political leaders and diplomats failed since 2008 to get convicted the perpetrators from Pakistan. The general theme was the saying: to forget history, or failing to learn from it, means being condemned to repeat it.

People receive medical attention after being evacuated from the Bataclan theatre Friday

The terror attacks in Paris were similar to the 26/11 carnage in Mumbai

Next morning, I read about Paris. The serial attacks with hostages shot in cold blood from close range straight away seemed similar to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. John Miller, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counter-terrorism of the New York Police Department told CNN the same, of how Paris resembles the 2008 Mumbai terrorist strikes in many ways.

Since India failed for eight years to book the 26/11 conspirators and their supporters in Pakistan, I feared Mumbai or some other Indian city may be attacked soon – as inevitable price for India’s bizarre policy of maintaining ‘business as normal’ with the country it accuses of being a state sponsor of terrorism. Paris was unexpected.

The Islamic State (IS)  claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, but security experts worldwide have long known how dividing lines have blurred between terrorist groups. In any case, pathological hatred for fellow humans and psychotic killers do not have or recognize ideological boundaries.

For instance, a 2011 report from Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), based at the US Military Academy at West Point, called the Haqqani Network a ‘nexus player’ with links to Pakistan’s ISI, al-Qaeda, and Uzbek militants, among others.

“For the past three decades, the Haqqani Network has functioned as an enabler for other groups and as the fountain-head (manba) of local, regional, and global militancy,” the report said.

Despite Pakistan and its notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) being far too often called the ‘epicentre of terrorism’, a peculiar paralysis among governments, most notably India’s, has failed to end this terrorist HQ.

Pakistan failed to realize that some of the terrorists groups sponsored by Islamabad could turn against them

Some of the terrorist groups sponsored by Islamabad are turning against Pakistan

The US State Department had designated Iran (since Jan 19, 1994), Sudan (Aug 12, 1993) and Syria (since Dec 29, 1979) as state sponsors of terrorism. Cuba has left  the list, but it appears ‘amnesia’ grips governments in dealing with Pakistan.

While countries like Myanmar have been crippled with merciless economic sanctions, the one country most consistently holding the smoking gun on terrorism has been allowed to continue its deadly subterfuges, while being hailed by the US government for two decades as an ‘ally in the war against terror’.

21st century’s most frequently mentioned host of terrorist groups gets rewarded with multi-billion dollar aid packages, advanced weapon systems like F-16 fighter jets – astoundingly despite the world’s most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden found living with his family outside the Pakistan army head quarters in Abottabad.

The ‘amnesia’ continues with how Pakistan’s military action against selective terrorist groups within Pakistan is in effect dealing with the monsters it created, the ‘snakes in the backyard’ it has been breeding, or cleaning up the malignant mess of its own making.

Forgotten too is how this celebrated ‘ally in the war on terror’ was dragged on aboard only after former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called Pakistan’s military dictator Pervez Musharraf on September 12, 2001 and threatened to bomb the country “back into the stone age”.

Maybe that might yet happen. The motive for me writing this article is the clear and present danger of the next predictable and unthinkable phase of organized urban terrorism – a desperately cornered terrorist group using a nuclear device. Reports have already appeared about which country would be the most likely market.

The law of cause and effect guarantees unavoidable consequences for the illogical, contradictory, and deadly double game in dealing with a country that even after 9/11 is known to host 23 known terrorists groups – a fractured state with multiple centers of civilian and military power, and with a fast growing nuclear arsenal.

Recent irresponsible talks of legitimizing Pakistan’s nuclear program are born from similar dangerous ‘amnesia’. Apparently forgotten is Pakistan scientist A.Q. Khan’s role in selling nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. The Pakistan government ‘not knowing’ about Khan’s extra-curricular activities falls in same category as the Pakistan government ‘not knowing’ about Osama bin Laden hiding outside the Pakistani military HQ, even as it pocketed billions of dollars of hard-earned US taxpayers’ money.

Given that country’s habitual denial of realities, or using the Kashmir dispute as the demented excuse, ideally this article should have carried a Pakistani byline. I had been hesitating to write about India’s western neighbor for reason of conventional thought patterns – an Indian journalist pointing out such aspects might be dismissed as a biased, jingoistic rant. But the facts, as universally acknowledged and reported in the international media, carry no passport and sing no national anthem. And it is these facts that build the pattern of the lethal terrorism double game in South Asia – of two standards to deal with state sponsors of terrorism.

Ahead of Pakistan army chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s visit to the US from November 15-20, a leading US think-tank on November 13 advised the Obama Administration to end arms sales to Pakistan if it is not willing to “rein in terror”.

“The US should demand that Pakistan meet its obligations as a state to tackle terrorism emanating from its territory, in both India and Afghanistan,” the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) said. “If Pakistan is not willing to rein in terror, Washington should be prepared, at minimum, to end US taxpayer funding for defense equipment sales and reimbursement of coalition support funds,” CFR said in the report.

The double game in not creating sufficient pressure on Pakistan to end its covert and overt support to terrorist groups only appears to match duplicity of Pakistan’s shadowy power centre. Another CFR report dated Nov 1, 2013 said Pakistan’s army and intelligence services were playing a “double game, tolerating if not outright aiding militant groups killing NATO troops in Afghanistan”.

No shortage of such findings. In 2011, US Brigadier-General Stephen Clark filed a report that Taliban insurgents may be receiving weapons, ammunition and combat equipment from elements in the Pakistan army. On November 26, US and Afghan troops patrolling KhasKonar district, east of Kabul, seized about 3,000 rounds of Pakistan military-issue rifle rounds, two Pakistan military-issue binoculars, and multiple sets of salwar-kameez clothing made from Pakistan military uniforms.

In 2014, then Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander urged the international community to address the Pakistan situation urgently because it’s “all connected” with other trouble spots — linked to Syria and Iraq and many terrorist groups.

“We need to have a united front in dealing with Pakistan,” he told CBC News. “The civilian government there does not control military policy, strategic policy – the army and the intelligence service do. And they have denied the obvious, postponed this reckoning for years with so many terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, that are doing so much harm around the world, still based in that country, this should be a priority for everyone.”

Yet it has never been a priority. Curing a deadly disease requires striking at the root cause, not wallowing around symptoms. Ending Pakistan’s role as the epicenter of terrorism – and likely source for the world’s first terrorist attack with a nuclear devise– requires stopping Pakistan’s primary source of support: the government of the United States.

Numbers tell the story, from the US Overseas Grants and Loans database and the Congressional Research Service – courtesy The Guardian, July 11, 2011: in 2001, US economic and military aid to Pakistan was US$ 228 million. The next year, after the 9/11 attacks, the US govt. gave Pakistan US$ 3.421 billion. In 2008, Pakistan received US$2.38 billion of US taxpayers’ money. The next year, after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai by terrorists trained in Pakistan, Pakistan received US$ 3.54 billion.

The irony is far too amazing: US governmental data shows how the US government, the global leader in anti-terrorism, is in reality the leading sponsor of the world’s leading state host/sponsor of terrorist groups. In other words, the government of the United States is guilty of the same terrorism supporting crimes for which it imposed severe sanctions on countries like Iran.

If this double game does not stop, the clock could be ticking for Los Angeles, Berlin, Sydney or Hong Kong to join Mumbai and Paris, in a global template for terrorist strikes.

Like putting in quarantine a very sick person, a country whose army harbors terrorists needs to be urgently isolated from the international community, for people of that country to take an honest look within – and take corrective measures. As far as I know, this experiential practice of compassion can effectively help to overcome hatred.

Effectually, the terrorist groups within Pakistan are Pakistan’s deadliest enemies, as the massacre of 130 school children in Peshawar last December showed. And no sane person wants people of Pakistan to suffer. That is why their country needs to stop being a continuous threat to themselves and the international community. Let common sense, not the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, prevail.

Until then, the world’s realistic anti-terrorism measures should aim as its first target a person living in Washington. US president Barack Obama looking at the White House bathroom mirror when shaving every morning can say: “Here I am looking at the leading sponsor of a state sponsor of terrorism.”

Raja Murthy is an independent journalist based in Mumbai who has been writing for the Statesman since 1990 and Asia Times since 2003 – besides having written for the Times of India, Economic Times etc. He shuttles between Mumbai and the Himalayas.

The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times.

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