Islamabad’s best intentions cannot mask the fact that proponents of terror continue to roam free, spewing anti-India rhetoric. Speaking at a public rally on Wednesday, a key player behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, Jamaat-Ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed praised last month’s terror attack at an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot. Addressing a rally of around one thousand people in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Saeed said: “800,000 Indian troops are committing genocide on Kashmiris. Don’t they have a right to carry out Pathankot-style attacks for their defence?” Saeed also lauded Kashmiri militant leader Sayed Salahuddin, who heads the United Jihad Council (UJC) that has claimed responsibility for the attack. “You have only seen one attack on Pathankot. Matters could easily escalate.” In response, New Delhi asked Pakistan to “rein in” Saeed after voicing “grave concern” over his activities. “Hafiz Saeed is a globally designated international terrorist. His claim that his many front organisations are carrying out charitable work is not even a fig leaf. He indulges in terrorist activities and terrorist financing. It should be a matter of grave concern to everyone that terrorists like Saeed and his associates continue to enjoy the freedom to indulge in their activities (in Pakistan),” said External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup. Suffice to say, New Delhi is right in its assertions. The United Nations declared the JuD a terrorist organisation in December 2008 and Hafiz Saeed a terrorist. Since 2008, various Indian ruling dispensations have demanded that Pakistan hands over Saeed. Unfortunately, there is no extradition treaty between the two countries. Moreover, in April 2012, the United States announced a bounty of $10 million on Hafiz Saeed, for his alleged role in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. To the uninitiated, the Pathankot attack occurred just a week after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a surprise visit to Lahore, raising hopes for peace between the two countries. As this column has repeatedly stated, terrorists and their backers in the Pakistani state establishment use attacks like the one in Pathankot to maintain the hostility between and India and Pakistan. In the event of permanent peace arrangement with India, the general understanding among observers on both sides of the national divide is that the army would lose its predominant position in Pakistani society.
The timing of Saeed’s vitriol against India only adds to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s troubles. Only last week Sharif said that his government will go to any lengths to uncover the alleged use of its soil in the attack on the airbase in Pathankot by suspected Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists. Suffice to say, this was the clearest indication yet from Islamabad of its intention to investigate the attack. The first step in the Bilateral Comprehensive Dialogue process (foreign secretary-level talks) between India and Pakistan was put on hold by both sides after the Pathankot attack. In this context, Sharif’s said that the Pathankot attack had a “negative impact” on the talks with India. The talks, he argued, were “going in the right direction” before the fateful attack. It was an acknowledgement that although Sharif indeed intends to improve bilateral relations, his hands are seemingly tied due to domestic pressures. With Saeed free to spread venom against India, the theory that the Pathankot attack is a strategy hatched in Rawalpindi to addresses its own internal challenges, while also pursuing its age-old agenda against India, seems to be gaining ground. “Reviving JeM was a cornerstone of Pakistan’s strategy of managing its own internal security challenges,” according to a recent column by noted academics Christine Fair and Seth Oldmixon, who have extensively studied geopolitics of the subcontinent. “Officials with the United Nations office tasked with monitoring these groups told one of the authors that JeM activists have long been poised for infiltration into India. Thus, the only thing surprising about this JeM attack is that it didn’t happen sooner, given the imperatives of recuperating this group as a means of diverting Pakistani Taliban terrorists away from targeting Pakistanis towards targeting Indians. Thus denervating JeM is not only a cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy of nuclear blackmail to achieve ideological objectives in Kashmir, it is a critical part of Pakistan’s internal security strategy to rehabilitate Pakistani Taliban militants. The JeM is Pakistan’s own “Ghar Wapasi” programme for bringing errant terrorists back into the fold.” If this theory, popular among many Indian strategic experts, contains any element of the truth, then the current peace initiative between Sharif and Modi is doomed to fail.