The International Community Questions Whether Pakistan can be Counted on to Combat Terrorism
On January 16, 2018, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Shahid Khaquan Abbasi, appeared on a program hosted by Pakistan’s GEOtv network and explained that Hafiz Saeed, the accused mastermind behind the infamous 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, was released because he has no case in Pakistan. The Prime Minister’s statement sparked controversy amongst Pakistan’s citizens, neighboring nations including Afghanistan and India, and members of the international community. Pakistan has been the subject of much criticism from the international community. Many of the community’s members question Pakistan’s commitment to combating terror.
Hafiz Saeed is the founder of Jamat ud-Dawa. Jamat ud-Dawa is thought to be an affiliate of the well-known terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Both Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamat ud-Dawa are credited with carrying out the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.
Hafiz Saeed and the Mumbai Attacks
On November 27, 2008, 166 people were killed in a series of terror attacks in Mumbai, India. On December 12, 2008 Pakistani authorities initiated a country-wide crackdown on Jamat ud-Dawa, one of the groups believed to have orchestrated the attacks. Saeed was captured during the crackdown and placed under house arrest. Pakistani authorities have held and released Saeed multiple times following the 2008 attack. Saeed was released from house arrest this November, following the Lahore High Court’s review of his charges. Saeed was being held on house arrest under the Maintenance of Public Order Law. The governments of both India and the United States requested that Saeed be held and charged with the 2008 attacks.
Saeed’s release was met with condemnation from Pakistan’s neighbors, international observers, and the United States. Saeed’s release is significant and threatens the tenuous security balance within Central and South Asia as well as Pakistan’s status as a partner in the global effort to combat terrorism.
The Indo-Pakistani relationship is one wracked with difficulty and enmity. Since the founding of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, it and the Republic of India have repeatedly engaged in direct combat and proxy warfare. The largest contributing factor to the ongoing tension between the two nations is the status of the Jammu-Kashmir territory. Both India and Pakistan assert claims over the region. Jammu-Kashmir is home to many extremist and separatist groups. India has long accused Pakistan of using these groups as proxies in Pakistan’s war on the Indian state. The 2008 Mumbai attacks attributed to such proxies further exacerbated the tense relationship between India and Pakistan.
The decision of the Lahore High Court, to release Saeed, incensed the Indian leadership. The Indian foreign ministry voiced its frustration with the decision of the court. The Pakistani Prime Minister’s January 16, 2018 statement, meant to assuage worries and calm tensions, will likely have little impact on the perceptions of India’s leadership.
India is not the only country outraged by the release of Saeed. Afghanistan, which shares a border with Pakistan, was also upset by the court’s decision. Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry told TOLOnews, “the move by Pakistan’s Interior Ministry shows that Islamabad supports terrorists-Pakistan supports terrorist groups” (1)
The United States responded to Saeed’s release with condemnation. During a press briefing on November 25, 2017, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee-Sanders asserted that, “Saeed’s release, after Pakistan’s failure to prosecute or charge him, sends a deeply troubling message about Pakistan’s commitment to combating international terrorism and belies Pakistani claims that it will not provide sanctuary for terrorists on its soil.” (2) The efforts of the Pakistani state to combat extremism have received criticism from US observers and policy makers for some time. The discovery of Osama bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad deeply damaged the relationship between the two nations. US President Donald Trump voiced his concerns regarding Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terror and threatened to end security aid on January 1, 2018. This month the administration acted upon its threats ending nearly 900 million dollars in security assistance funding to Pakistan.
The government of Pakistan has not shied from addressing the controversy, and has taken steps to assuage the concerns of Pakistan’s citizens and partners. Pakistan’s Interior Ministry shared the name of 72 terror groups with its citizens informing its citizens that they are not to cooperate with these groups or they will face prosecution.
The events of this month lend credence to those accusing Pakistan of neglecting its commitment and responsibility to tackle extremism and terror. It remains to be seen how or if the loss of US security funding will impact Pakistan’s will to combat terror. What is known, is that the seriousness of the Pakistani commitment to combating terror is in question and that Pakistan will have to produce results if it is to mend its reputation as an anti-terror state.
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