How terror exporter Pakistan has ducked sanctions. Something North Korea, Iran couldn’t do

Pakistan has staved-off the threat of being tagged as a terrorist state by a careful calculation of the threshold that is tolerated by the US, India and others.

TARA KARTHA 18 May, 2020

Pakistan PM Imran Khan with Gen Qamar Bajwa | @peaceforchange | Twitter
Pakistan PM Imran Khan with Gen Qamar Bajwa | @peaceforchange | Twitter

Pakistan is on a roll. Over a span of 10 days, terrorists trained on its soil have managed to attack and kill India’s hardened counter-terrorism soldiers in Kashmir at Handwara. The country has also managed to cause the assassination of Sardar Muhammed Arif Wazir, leader of an entirely peaceful group demanding Pashtun rights. Even more recently, its murderous protèges were accused of a heinous attack at a maternity ward in Afghanistan, killing newborns. Few other countries can aspire to touch such heights of brazen sub-conventional war, without having a tonne of sanctions thrust on them.


Also read: Strengthen counter-infiltration grid by moving 10 RR battalions from terror operations


Iran, North Korea are lesser mortals

Now, consider this. Iran has been described as the “world’s worst sponsor of terrorism”, with US President Donald Trump designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity in April 2019. That’s the first time that a government body has been designated a terrorist entity. Yet, as analysts point out, Shia terrorism has never found a place in the Annual Reports on Terrorism issued by the State Department in the last 20 years. Iran is certainly prone to go out and kill its adversaries, but its operations are a pale shadow of what Islamabad can achieve on a reasonable day.

Then there is the perpetual bad boy, North Korea, which was re-designated as a terrorist sponsor in 2017. That was more to do with the politics of the Trump administration. Though the North Korean regime does prefer to wipe out dissidents, it is incapable of sustaining a virtual army in one country and 20 years of terrorist activities in another, the way Pakistan has.

The Taliban is an army that depends on Pakistan for shelter, banking, medical care and money, among other things. In the Afghan conflict, 20,260 civilians have been killed or injured between 2009 and March 2020, according to UNAMA‘s conservative estimates. That doesn’t take into account the preceding ten years of war, which may be assumed to have killed a similar number of civilians. Total casualties (both civilian and military) in Kashmir have been estimated to be around 41,000 till 2017. Add to that about another 855 killed since then. In total, Pakistan has been directly or indirectly responsible for more than one lakh deaths since 1990. Yet, Iran remains at the top of the charts for spreading terror.


Also read: Jaishankar raises terrorism at SCO Covid meet, says it’s still overwhelming threat


Pakistan’s covers

How Pakistan has gotten away with this for decades is a question that has puzzled even the best of security experts. Barring the single threat post 9/11 to ‘bomb Pakistan back into the stone age’ the US seems to have shied away from even limited air attacks on Taliban camps in Pakistan. When questioned on this diffidence, many in Washington scornfully dismissed the possibility of attacking a nuclear weapon state, forgetting that Pakistan was already a nuclear state when Richard Armitage, then US assistant secretary of state, made his historic threat.

However, the US has arm-twisted Pakistan on other occasions: when it used drones to attack deep into Pakistani territory, when US Aircraft crossed Pakistani air space to bomb Osama bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan, and when it went into Pakistan itself to get Bin Laden. So, whether Pakistani nuclear weapons deter the US or not seems to depend heavily on its own interests, political context and the extent of punishment that it calculates Pakistan can bear.

The second view is that the US is much too dependent on Pakistan for anything operational in Afghanistan. That this is true is apparent from US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s counsel following the most recent attacks in Afghanistan, when he recommended that Kabul “cooperate” with the Taliban to bring peace to the country.

It is also true that Islamabad is adept at turning bad cards into a winning hand. So, it milked US operations for all it was worth, moving from $177 million before 9/11 to reach $2.7 billion in 2010.

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