Why Are Terrorists Openly Recruiting in Pakistan?

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Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of the banned Islamic charity Jamat-ud-Dawa, looks over the crowd as they end a "Kashmir Caravan" from Lahore with a protest in Islamabad, Pakistan, on July 20. Alyssa Ayres writes that there is a long history of attacks in India that can be traced back to Pakistan. In 2012, the United States issued a $10 million Rewards for Justice request for information that could lead to Saeed’s arrest for his role in the Mumbai attacks, in which 166 people were killed, including six Americans. Yet he has been given free rein in Pakistan. Caren Firouz/reuters

This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations site.

More than a week after the attack on an Indian army base in Uri, close to the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border between Pakistani and Indian-administered parts of Kashmir, on the Indian side, a familiar pattern has returned.

Which is to say a group of terrorists crossed the LoC, attacked and killed Indian soldiers, Indian officials cite specific evidence they believe links the terrorists to a group domiciled in Pakistan and the Pakistani government then bristles that such an allegation would be made without a complete investigation.

In this latest instance, within hours of the Uri attack, the Indian director general of military operations offered that he suspected the Pakistan-based group Jaish-e-Muhammad to be responsible. JeM was held responsible for a remarkably similar attack on the Indian army base in Pathankot, Punjab, on January 2, 2016.

Later in the week, presumably based on further evidence, unnamed Indian security officials pinned the blame for Uri on Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT).

Pakistan has categorically rejected any blame for the attack. The Pakistani foreign office spokesman, Nafees Zakaria, offered that “Pakistan has nothing to gain” and that it was India’s “habit” to accuse Pakistan of involvement after attacks.

Such disavowals have no credibility at this point. While it is certainly true that Pakistani citizens have suffered enormously from terrorism, that does not excuse the fact that there is a long history of attacks in India that can be traced back to groups operating from Pakistan.

What’s more, internationally proscribed terrorist leaders and organizations not only have safe haven on Pakistani soil, but in some cases are allowed to hold political rallies advocating violence in Kashmir, and openly with thousands of attendees.

No reasonable observer could conclude this represents a fulsome effort to stem the terrorist tide within Pakistan, nor indeed meet Pakistan’s obligations under the U.N. Security Council Resolutions designating these Pakistani terrorist groups.

Take just one example. The LeT and its leader, Hafiz Saeed, have been proscribed for years under both U.N. and U.S. terrorism designations. In 2012, the United States issued a $10 million Rewards for Justice request for information that could lead to Saeed’s arrest for his role in the Mumbai attacks, in which 166 people were murdered, including six Americans. Yet he has been given free rein in Pakistan.

There’s almost nothing new to say about the outrage of his continued activities because it has been going on so brazenly for so long. In recent days, he led Eid prayers in Lahore in a huge public stadium, with a sermon focused on the sacrifices of Kashmiris. (Here’s the YouTube video this terrorist organization helpfully posted online.)

He has no problem drawing crowds to his public jamborees, such as the Kashmir Caravan he organized in late July of this year that proceeded from Lahore to the country’s capital, Islamabad. Saeed was joined in his caravan by Sami ul-Haq, head of the Darul Uloom Haqqania in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, which has been called the “University of Jihad.”

According to Pakistani press reports of the caravan, some 30,000 people joined. Saeed reportedly affirmed his group’s support for jihad in Kashmir, and threatened to “violate the LoC.”

One can only conclude that Pakistani authorities do not seem to mind a major terrorist organization holding rallies to urge jihad in Kashmir. It certainly does not portray the country as one interested in preventing terrorism.

It is also well known that the trial of the LeT terrorists accused of carrying out the Mumbai attack in 2008 has been slow-rolled to death. An arrest of an accused financier in August pointed to some progress (the first in years), but press reports suggest that the arrest has put the process “back to 2009” in terms of timeline.

Once again, this does not portray a country acting decisively to bring to justice the perpetrators of one of the worst mass terrorist attacks of the past decade.

And of course it is very well known that the Haqqani network remains in fighting form, attacking Afghan, U.S., and even Indian interests across the other border in Afghanistan.

Last week, General John W. Nicholson, commander of the U.S. force presence in Afghanistan, said in a press conference that there was “not adequate pressure” on the Haqqanis. This August the U.S. Department of Defense declined to certify that Pakistan was “taking adequate action” against the Haqqanis, which resulted in the withholding of $300 million in coalition support funds under U.S. law.

Let’s try to imagine a different outcome, one that would more credibly indicate an effort to end the terrorism that continually keeps this troubled region in the “tinderbox” category of concern. Here is an imagined scenario that illustrates how a very different response could be conceivable, and could catapult India-Pakistan ties into a better place:

Scenario: A terrorist attack in India bears all the signs of LeT or JeM. Pakistani authorities, weary of the poor reputation their country has acquired around the world, act with dispatch.

“We are alarmed by this attack” said the foreign office spokesperson, “It sets back our already-limited dialogue with India, and makes our country look like a supporter of terrorism.”

Within days, a new counterterrorism task force identifies the planners of the attack, and arrests them based on copious evidence. Trials begin within six months.

Pakistani officials continue to raise their concerns diplomatically about Kashmir, but adopt a zero-tolerance policy for terrorist organizations mobilizing on their soil. Pakistan’s zero-tolerance policy on terrorism allows a breakthrough in talks with India to take place; while neither side reaches agreement in the near-term, at least dialogue has reopened.

Similarly, Pakistan’s ties with Afghanistan improve, as does the Afghan security situation, with Pakistan’s increased attention to counterterror efforts against all groups.

I realize this scenario might appear far-fetched, but it is not completely impossible—and it indicates what a more credible response to the ongoing terrorism problem might resemble. The pattern of denial while designated terrorists openly exhort followers to jihad is simply not credible.

Alyssa Ayres is senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.