By Aitezaz Choudhry
The world’s two most powerful leaders, United States President Donald Trump, who was visiting Asia and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, resolved in Beijing on November 9 to counter terrorism in South Asia. Very noble resolve indeed! But these two should do some introspection and acknowledge their countries’ past and current contributions to terrorism in this region before starting to act on this resolve – if they do.
The two Presidents resolved to stop radical Islamic terrorism. The two seemed to be forgetting that 38 years ago the US engineered jihad against the erstwhile Soviet Union in Afghanistan promoting radical Islamic terrorism. China, in its enmity against the Soviet Union, jointed this jihad-or radical Islamic terrorism with others. Without the help of these Islamic terrorists they would have not defeated the Soviet Union.
To convince the South Asian public about the seriousness of their resolve they should have expressed regrets about their countries use of Islamic terrorism in the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s. This suggestion may be dismissed as cynically ridiculous. But it is very much relevant because what South Asia is suffering today is the spread of terrorism that was very scientifically planted by the US in Pakistan in the 1980s and backed by some Muslim and European countries. China was among its backers though its communist ideology rejects religion. It was one of the glaring instances of China’s opportunism at the cost of its stated ideology.
The two Presidents’ reported resolve to counter terrorism in South Asia may create a misleading impression outside this region. No South Asian country encourages terrorism as its official policy. Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency learnt the art of using cross-border terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy in the company of America’s CIA during the Afghan War in the 1980s. Since then South Asia has been suffering from cross-border terrorism against its neighbours. But both the powerful Presidents of the world today were afraid of hitting the nail on its head.
Both the Presidents avoided naming Pakistan although President Trump in his Afghanistan and South Asia policy which he announced on August 22, has strongly condemned Pakistan for providing safe havens to terrorists and the Chinese leader Xi practically endorsed it by signing the Summit Declaration of BRICS nations on September 4. The said declaration named Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), the Haqqani network, East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Tehreek-e-Taliban of Pakistan (TTP) and Islamic Sate of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
As a matter of fact, the BRICS Declaration echoes Trump’s charge against Pakistan as it is well-known that LeT, JeM and the Haqqani network are based in Pakistan and patronised by its political, military and intelligence establishments. The TTP is stated a Pakistani off-shoot of the Afghan Taliban who were actually fathered in Pakistan about 24 years ago. Al Qaeda had been given safe havens in Pakistan. The killing of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden by American Special Forces (SEAL) at a sprawling household in Abbottabad in Pakistan was the classic instance of such patronage. ETIM militants, who have been fighting to liberate the Muslim majority province Xinjiang from China, were allegedly receiving training in Pakistan’s Tribal areas till June 2014 when the then Pak Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif launched “Zarb-e-Azb” especially targeting them and the TTP. The Pakistan chapter of the ISIS is entirely manned by local militants.
Thus we see no terrorist outfit in this part of the world is without close familial relations with Pakistan. The list of the terrorist organisations given in the BRICS Declaration makes that clear. Understandably Pakistan was unhappy. But the terrorism with reference of Pakistan is not the issue at present: the subject is the Trump-Xi resolve to counter terrorism in South Asia. The question arises: Have they the moral courage to extricate themselves from their vested interests in Pakistan? Will China fight that terrorism which does not harm it directly? It does not have the history of fighting terrorism which does not directly affect it.
Terrorism for it means any movement for liberating Xinjiang from its control. To suppress such a movement it can go to any extent – even to the extent of banning Islamic practices in the country. China’s indifference to terrorism in South Asia is exemplified by the way it reacted to the 2008 Mumbai terror attack on November 26, 2006 perpetrated and reportedly by Pakistan-based terrorists. China tried to protect the mastermind of this terror and his fellow conspirators, from being designated by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as global terrorists misusing its position as a permanent member of this body. But ultimately it had to give in. This terror had claimed the lives of Indians and foreigners besides massive destruction of property.
China is reportedly trying to make up for this miss by vetoing its UNSC colleagues’ decision to designate Pakistani JeM’s Chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist for terror attack on Indian Air Base in Pathankot on January 2 just about a week after India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore on December 25 to greet his counterpart Nawaz Sharif on his birthday. Obviously, the Pathankot attack was meant to sabotage a possibility of improvement in India-Pak relations.
This attack was hailed by UN-designated terror mastermind Hafiz Saeed. In March India approached the UN 1267 Committee pleading with it to proscribe Masood. Fourteen out of 15 permanent members of the UNSC Committee agreed but China blocked it on March 31 for three months parroting Pakistan’s stock defence of its terrorists that there was not enough proof. Since then it has been extending technical hold on designating Masood as a terrorist.
There is a strong subterranean resentment against CPEC project but the suppression of the resenting locals is only delaying the eventual outburst. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) report of this year talks about inhuman crackdown on nationalists in Gilgit-Baltistan. China also contributes to terrorism in Afghanistan keeping quiet about the Haqqani network based in Pakistan. Also, China is a friend of Afghan Taliban terrorists because it needs them to protect its mining activities in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Americans think that with the power of their dollars and weapons they can create a problem in other countries and make it vanish with the same power whenever they want. With all their might they turned Pakistan into the epicentre of terrorism in the region in the 1980s. When this policy boomeranged on 9/11 they began using the same dollar-weapon power to reverse it. But alas, since then Islamic radicalism has spread and terrorist groups have proliferated in Pakistan threatening peace in South Asia. The US has been making itself laughable by its blow-hot-blow-cold policy towards Pakistan. Thus US cannot counter terrorism in South Asia without China’s honest cooperation. But that does not suit China’s national interests. As another anniversary of 26/11 – which was in no way less tragic, less destructive and less outrageous than 9/11 – is coming, both US and China should seriously think to address the terror threat emanating from Pakistani soil rather than always considering their narrow geopolitical interests in South Asia.
(The author is geo-political analyst. The contents of the article are his views and not necessarily be agreed by the newspaper. Editor)