Why should not the international community take action against Pakistan for allowing for sponsoring and training terrorists who operate across the borders in Afghanistan and India? Shouldn’t the US stop all military aid to Pakistan for its role in backing Islamic terrorists of different hues? These and other such questions were raised and discussed at a seminar, ‘Is Pakistan a Victim or Perpetrator of Terrorism?,’ hosted by The Democracy Forum and The Henry Jackson Society at University of London’s Senate House on last Thursday.
The panel comprised five speakers: Dr. Christine Fair of Georgetown University, Washington; Dr. Aquil Shah of Oklahoma University; Irfan Hussain, Pakistani writer and journalist; Bob Blackman, Conservative MP for Harrow East; and Kyle Orton, Research Fellow at The Henry Jackson Society. Dr Willaim Crawley of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies chaired the debate.
Fair, who participated through the Skype, said that Pakistan’s reliance on terrorism as a foreign policy instrument has backfired and it is now fighting those terrorist groups that it can no longer control. Whenever there appears to be a possible reconciliation between India and Pakistan’s democratically elected government, the military undermine it by mounting a terrorist attack on India. The recent Pathankot attack was an example of one such act of sabotage; earlier, there was Kargil.
Hussain also made the same point. Pakistan has now been plagued by the monster it created. The Pakistani military never expected jihadists to turn against their former sponsors. These militant groups have now acquired legitimacy and support independently of the ISI.
Bob Blackman looked at Pakistan-sponsored terrorism focused on Kashmir. He said that Pakistan’s illegal occupation of parts of Kashmir should be ended. The proposed China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was designed by China to encircle India in conjunction with its attempts to control the regions sea and air routes. Pakistani-sponsored militants are determined to ethnically cleanse Kashmir of all non-Muslims and frequent terrorist attacks in India can be traced back to Pakistan.
Aqil Shah said that the Pakistan Army is not fighting terrorism; it is simply fighting a few terrorist groups. He said military rulers are ‘externalizing’ its problems, claiming its enemies are using its instability to implode the country because it is a Muslim nuclear power. He said the Pakistani military distinguishes between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists. ‘Good’ groups, such as the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Toiba, are free to roam the country collecting funds. Other groups classified as ‘bad’ can still be brought under control.
Orton agreed that the terrorism now afflicting Pakistan was of its own making. The use of terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy to put pressure on India in Kashmir has backfired and now the state has been forced into an internal war. The policies of legitimizing terrorist groups, especially during Gen. Zia’s tenure in the 1980s, opened the way for militant groups to acquire independence of the military and its ISI intelligence service.
There was a lively question-and-answer session following each speaker’s address. Issues concerning the oppression of Baloch nationalism with examples of extra-judicial murders, unjustifiable incarcerations, and the ‘disappearances’ of nationalist supporters were discussed.
Other questions were related to the two-nation theory, terrorism in Pakistan before 1977, etc. The question-and-answer session at the end became quite heated at times as audience members argued with other observers and with panelists.
Included in the audience were observers from the embassies of Pakistan, Nepal, Russia, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Ukraine.