The causes of the existing rift between the US and Pakistan can be traced in Pakistan’s alleged inaction against militant groups inside its territory. The US insists Pakistan has to quash not just the notorious Haqqani Network that attacks Western military forces in Afghanistan but also the Taliban, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jamaat-ud Dawa and others.
Pakistan, in return, argues it has successfully nabbed al-Qaeda operatives and curbed the Afghan Taliban in various military operations. It has also been saying that cross border infiltration occurs from Afghanistan, because the country provides sanctuaries to terrorist outfits, especially the TTP, offering them opportunities to attack Pakistan. It also proposed fencing the entire border along with Afghanistan.
These efforts have not been enough for the world powers though, since they claim that activities of other militant organisations go deliberately unnoticed by the Pakistani state.
In bilateral official statements issued after each summit meeting, these subjects get significant consideration. When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with President Obama in June 2016, a lengthy draft of 50 paragraphs was released. One of the paragraph specifically mentioned these terror groups, alleging that they were based across the border from India, and then called on Pakistan to dismantle them.
“The leaders committed to strengthen cooperation against terrorist threats from extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda, Daesh, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, D Company and their affiliates, including through deepened collaboration on UN terrorist designations,” the statement said.
Pakistan-US relations, then, were slipping further down.
Similar statements emerged in 2015 and 2014, mentioning the same groups. Pakistan-US relations, at that time, had started regressing.
Clearly, the naming and shaming isn’t new. Especially not in the regional context. Each time, however, the subject was brought up with the Pakistani leadership, the pattern was slightly different.
The entire list of these terror groups were not mentioned in the statement released after Obama-Nawaz meeting in 2013; but it did state that Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism working group would discuss “related issues”; and that the two leaders “emphasised that no country’s territory should be used to destabilise its neighbours”.
When the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif concluded his US trip, he told the media present there that “we need to keep our house in order first”. The PM was referring to the presence of militant groups in the country, while also hinting that the US administration’s demand to eliminate such organisations was correct.
This was the first time that the prime minister had publicly admitted such a thing at an international stage. He had earlier voiced the issue as the opposition leader in 2008. He claimed that he had “personally checked” that surviving terrorist Ajmal Kasab belonged to Faridkot village in Pakistani Punjab. He then said, “all this points to the fact that we too need to set our house in order”. The then ruling PPP government had called Sharif’s comments “unfortunate” but also did not deny any part of what he had said.
Kasab was one of the people involved in Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008. He was said to be the member of the LeT.
Two years later, former president Pervez Musharraf stated publicly that Pakistan supported and trained groups like LeT and Jaish-e-Muhammad in the 1990s to carry out militancy in Kashmir. He, however, also warned that these groups need to be controlled and stopped. As reported he defended LeT saying that one man’s terrorist was another man’s freedom fighter.
The US had designated JeM and LeT as terrorist groups long ago. “We preserve the US government’s ability to take action against them in accordance with the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act,” the state department spokesperson Richard Boucher said in a statement in 2003. “As we carry on the global campaign against terrorism, we hope this list will help to isolate these terrorist organisations, to choke off their sources of financial support and to prevent their members’ movement across international borders,” he added.
In a summit meeting in 2015, Nawaz Sharif reaffirmed that Pakistan’s territory will not be used against any other country and noted this was an obligation of all countries in the region. He also outlined the actions that Pakistan was taking under the National Action Plan to ensure that the Taliban — including the Haqqani Network — were unable to operate from the soil of Pakistan.
According to the statement issued after the summit meeting, “the prime minister apprised the president about Pakistan’s resolve to take effective action against United Nations-designated terrorist individuals and entities, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliates, as per its international commitments and obligations under UN Security Council resolutions and the Financial Action Task Force.” Before that, Pakistan had been claiming that it cannot open multiple war fronts, and finds no reason to engage with groups that do not challenge its authority.
On his return from the US, the Nawaz government imposed a ban on the media coverage of JuD, FIF and LeT, and declared seven other organisations as proscribed. The declaration was seen a paradigm shift. Yet, for someone who was designated as a terrorist with a bounty on him, Hafiz Saeed had before called on the US to contact him “whenever it wants to”. The man was unmoved by the Pakistani government’s declarations as well.
Even though he has been under house arrest for some time now, Saeed announced to launch a political party this year. The so called Milli Muslim League was immediately banned by the state functionaries.
“We need to tell our friends that we have improved our house. We need to bring our house in order to prevent facing embarrassment on the international level,” Khawaja Asif, Pakistan’s foreign minister told local media after President Trump threatened, and BRICS leaders warned Pakistan to eliminate militant and extremist groups.
The matter was discussed in the official meetings between the US and Pakistani leaders last month. During his trip to see Secretary Tillerson, Khawaja Asif repeatedly acknowledged that LeT and the Haqqani Network were “liabilities”, and reiterated that the country needs to set its house in order.
Pledging to do so, he asked the US to “give us time to get rid of these liabilities”. The US military officials have indicated that they would try “one more time” to work with Pakistan.
The foreign minister has not outlined any details of what actions ought to be taken by his government. The US, on the other hand, has attached strings to Pakistan’s performance and expects to tread accordingly.