Thursday, February 2, 2017

Is Pakistan getting ‘Trumped’?


With one stroke of the pen Donald Trump last week slammed the doors on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries throwing the United States and the world into unprecedented chaos. This vile piece of legislation targeting people belonging to one particular religion smacks of the worst kind of racism the world has witnessed in recent history — and it is just the beginning.
Extreme vetting of travellers from Pakistan and Afghanistan has already been ordered and a complete ban on them is not being ruled out. The registration of the Muslim population in the US is also reportedly under consideration setting a cruel precedent somewhat reminiscent of Nazi rule.
Seemingly, the travel ban has been imposed to make the country more secure but there has not been any instance of a citizen of one of those seven countries being involved in terrorist activities in the US; in fact, all those countries have been the target of American military aggression and victims of terrorism themselves. Iraq particularly has been destroyed by the American invasion, the action Trump had strongly condemned during his election campaign.

The half-hearted action against the JuD and confinement of its leaders may not satisfy the global community.

No wonder such xenophobic actions taken by the Trump administration are being celebrated by jihadist groups like the militant Islamic State group. It has provided fuel to their radical narrative of Islam versus the West. A pro-IS website has described banning Muslims from entering America as a “blessed ban”. All the countries on the ban list have been fighting IS on their soil.
Notwithstanding the massive protests across the US and in western capitals, Trumpism seems unstoppable, making the world more dangerous and insecure. Understandably, more worried are Washington’s traditional allies with a reckless president at the helm of the world’s sole superpower which is the linchpin of the geopolitical order. Now this order is threatened by the policies of a rogue leader.
Understandably, Trump’s radical steps are cause for serious concern to Pakistan too. Notwithstanding the friendly phone conversation between the Pakistani prime minister and Trump soon after the latter’s election in November, the signals from Washington have not been encouraging. It was clear from the outset that the new administration would exert increasing pressure on Islamabad to crack down on Pakistani militant groups such as the Jamaatud Dawa.
True to character, the Sharif government waited passively for things to pass. But now there is sign of panic with Trump moving fast on his election promises and the impending threat of extending the travel ban to Pakistanis. The dramatic crackdown on the JuD and the decision to place Hafiz Saeed under house arrest highlights panic. Interestingly, the crackdown came hours after the publication of a report in a national daily claiming that Pakistan was threatened with sanctions if it did not act swiftly against the group.
For many years Islamabad had resisted pressure from Washington and other countries to clamp down on the groups that were still being protected under various pretexts despite Pakistan’s war against militancy. It was apparent that the JuD was the new banner for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the most lethal of Pakistani militant outfits that was banned in 2002 because of outside pressure.
Pakistan was forced to close down JuD offices after the outfit was put on the list of terrorist organisations by the United Nations. But the action was short-lived as a Lahore High Court bench found no grounds for banning the group, providing Islamabad with a convenient excuse to defy international pressure.
Hafiz Saeed roamed around freely addressing rallies and appearing on primetime TV, reinforcing international scepticism regarding Islamabad’s double standards in dealing with the scourge of militancy and extremism. The 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks involving members of the banned outfit intensified the call by the international community for action against the JuD and its leaders. The anger grew further after Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the carnage, was freed by the court. All this obscured the success in containing militant violence inside the country.
But now, the belated and somewhat half-hearted action against the JuD and confinement of its leaders may not satisfy the international community, particularly the Trump administration. The pressure will intensify to crack down on the banned militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad and its leader Maulana Masood Azhar who has resurfaced after keeping a low profile for several years.
The JeM disintegrated into various cells after being proscribed in 2002 and many of its senior members were involved in terrorist attacks inside Pakistan.
Maulana Azhar came into focus again late last year after JeM was accused of masterminding the attack on the Indian air force base in Pathankot. Cases have also been registered against some JeM leaders suspected of involvement in the attack. But Maulana Azhar has remained free. Pakistan has been able to block the move in the UN Security Council to declare him a terrorist with the help of China. But this can’t be sustained for long. It will be another test for Islamabad.
Yet another pressure point for Pakistan is the detention on treason charges of Dr Shakeel Afridi who helped CIA in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Trump had vowed to get him released and bring him to the US within days of his taking over. This presents a very tricky situation for the Pakistani government. It remains to be seen how Islamabad deals with this highly sensitive issue and avoids any punitive action by a rogue American administration.
Although the Trump administration still does not have a clear Afghan policy, the issue of how to deal with the crisis remains a source of conflict between Islamabad and Washington. There is some indication of continued US demand on Pakistan for taking action against the Haqqani network, the strongest faction of the Afghan Taliban believed to be operating from its sanctuary in Pakistan.
There is no doubt that Pakistan should have acted against the groups in its own national interests long ago. It will certainly bring more humiliation if we wait for the Trump whip. Have we not already been trumped?

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