For the first time, the US has directly termed Pakistan a safe haven for terrorists in its annual ‘Country Reports on Terrorism’ released by the US State Department. The report analysing terror activities in 2016 says various terrorist groups including Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network, LeT and JeM continue to operate from Pakistan-based safe havens.
The line taken by the US in its annual authoritative report, a first, is a clear extension from the joint statement issued after the summit between US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the latter’s US visit in June this year.
In the joint statement, Modi and Trump had asserted that the terrorist safe havens should be rooted out from every part of the world. The joint statement mentioned Pakistan thrice and called on Pakistan to ensure that its territory isn’t used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries, and to “expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai, Pathankot, and other cross-border terrorist attacks perpetrated by Pakistan-based groups.”
When seen in comparison to Modi-Obama joint statements, it was a clear departure.
The three joint statements after Modi-Obama summits in September 2014, January 2015 and June 2016 mentioned routine themes like expediting trials in the Mumbai and Pathankot attacks and cracking down on terror outfits including Al-Qaeda, ISIS, JeM, LeT, they stopped short of calling these terror groups as even Pakistan-based, let along calling Pakistan directly a safe haven for terrorists, even if Pakistan indeed is a terror state.
The optics that was missing due to diplomatic hesitations got its first clear shot that hesitations were going away in Modi-Trump joint statement. The joint statement, coupled with the US declaring Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin as a global terrorist, went miles ahead when it specifically wrote “cross-border terrorist attacks perpetrated by Pakistan-based groups”. It was a clear indication of US’ toughening line on Pakistan on support of terror infrastructure in country.
And if we see more tough measures by the US on Pakistan in future, we should not be surprised. Ted Poe, an influential US Congressman and a Republican, has introduced a bill in the US House of Representatives to declare “Pakistan state sponsor of terrorism” citing its pro-terror activities like harbouring Osama bin Laden or many other terror groups. Ted Poe is the chairman of the important “House Subcommittee on Terrorism”.
This is not the first time that Ted Poe has brought a legislation for approval on declaring Pakistan a terror state. In September 2016, after the cowardly Uri attack by Pakistan based JeM terrorists on September 18 that killed 17 sleeping Indian soldiers, Ted Poe had introduced “the Pakistan State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act” calling Pakistan “an untrustworthy ally”. And it is not just Ted Poe. There are many other influential Congressmen and politicians who have been voicing to declare Pakistan a terror state or to curb down military aid to the country.
Add to it the well known hostility of Donald Trump, who is a Republican Party politician like Ted Poe, towards Pakistan and writing on the wall is becoming clear now. In Past, Trump has described Pakistan with terms like ‘Pakistan is not our friend’ and “when it will apologize for providing safe sanctuary to Osama Bin Laden”. In May, when, during his first Presidential foreign tour, Trump had named India as a terror victim along with China, Russia, Australia, European, African and South American countries, while ignoring any Pakistan mention altogether in his first overseas speech, it was a clear message that Pakistan was fast losing its credibility in Washington’s strategic circles.
In fact, in its ‘Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community’ report released in May, the US Government had blamed Pakistan for deteriorating India-Pakistan ties batting for India’s growing intolerance over Pakistan’s state-sponsored terrorism and in April, Gen HR McMaster, the US National Security Advisor, who was in Pakistan, had bluntly told Pakistan to stop using terror as state policy.