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December 13, 2017

US, Iran nuclear deal, infiltration of terrorists in Kashmir and Pakistan’s nuke threat


Lalit Shastri

US President Barack Obama and Foreign Secretary John Kerry and everyone in their team have reason to pat their back on the historic Iran nuclear deal that will ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful and will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security. The high water mark of this deal is Iran’s reaffirmation that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire nuclear weapons.

The euphoria over the Iran nuclear deal notwithstanding, questions are also being asked what will happen to Iran’s nuclear programme after the deal’s first decade; and how does the deal address concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear work

In Iran’s immediate neighbourhood is Pakistan. The situation there is slipping out of everyone’s hand and the hardliners in cahoots with terror outfits are calling the shots in that country. but the US appears to be least concerned.

Not long ago,when I had asked a friend across the border, a top Pakistani journalist, to contribute an article focusing on what some leading personalities in his country have to say about the Kashmir issue, he was prompt in brushing aside my request saying what to talk of Kashmir when they can’t keep their own house in order. The writ of the elected Pakistani Government, excluding some parts of the Punjab province, does not run in other parts of the country beleaguered and besieged by violence, terror and sectarian strife, he observed adding Militant Islamist groups and more particularly the Taliban have been spreading terror within Pakistan and were also locked in regional battles in Balochistan. Some of these groups, aided and supported by the Pak ISI, were involved in acts of terrorism in Kashmir and what they call the “global jihad”.

Pak Taliban militantsThe violent and hardline Islamist groups comprise of the al Qaeda, Pak Taliban and the Afghan Taliban that fled Afghanistan after the US controlled troops took control of their territory thirteen years ago. When the US started mounting pressure on Pakistan for coordinated action in the war against terror after 9/11, those supporting the Afghan Taliban in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa area of Pakistan—earlier called the North-West province– provided the base and a fertile ground to the Afghan Taliban to regroup. In this scenario, several militant groups became part of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) now known as the Pak-Taliban.

Shuja Khanzada

Inset: Shuja Khanzada

Earlier this month, Shuja Khanzada, the Chief Minister of the Punjab province was killed when his house was blasted in a suicide attack in Attock. Lashkar-e-Islam, which is affiliated to Taliban, was quick in claiming responsibility for the attack asserting that it was retaliation for military operations against them.

The militants network, with several hundred thousand members, is now deeply entrenched in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa area. The Pak Taliban has also made deep inroads in Balochistan. The Haqqani group, which is part of the militant network and is supposed to be a non-state arm of the ISI is considered the biggest threat by the US.

Any discussion on the hardline Islamists groups of Pakistan would be incomplete without focusing attention on the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the military wing of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JD), a fundamentalist organisation operating freely in Pakistan. Its founder leader is Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. Lashkar-e-Taiba is closely linked to the ISI and India has evidence that it was directly responsible for the Mumbai attack in 2008. It is also active in spreading terror in Kashmir.

The Taliban presence and activities in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region is only one side of the picture. Balochistan is another problem area where the ethnic people who have been oppressed for decades and are raising their voice against Pak occupation are being ruthlessly crushed. This region is also  going through the tremors of sectarian violence.

In Balochistan, the fight for control over natural resources has turned deadly with the militant Sunni Islamist groups targeting the Shias and this is leaving a violent impact even in other parts of the country. Sectarian violence has reduced Balochistan into a Sunni-Shia battleground-especially with the Sunni militants continuously targeting the local Hazara population, which is in minority. The Pakistani Government has lost even a semblance of control in this region.

Director of T2F Sabeen Mamud

Director of T2F Sabeen Mahmud

Anyone raising a voice against those spreading sectarian violene are immediately silenced. We have the example of Sabeen Mahmud, the director of The Second Floor (T2F), who was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Karachi on April 24 this year. T2F had organised a talk on Balochistan: ‘Unsilencing Balochistan Take 2: In Conversation with Mama Qadeer, Farzana Baloch & Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur on 24 April 2015. When Sabeen was leaving T2F after 9 pm that evening along with her mother, she was targeted by unidentified gunmen who pumped five bullets into her. The Second Floor, or T2F, was conceived as a bookstore and café on the same pattern as the old coffeehouse culture of Lahore and Karachi. It was born out of a desire to enact transformational change in urban Pakistani society.

Karachi, historically a very important port city and the commercial capital of Pakistan, has been in turmoil as target killings of the Muhajir people (those who migrated to Pakistan during the 1947 partition) have continued unabted in Pakistan and more particularly in Karachi. Political parties, like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), founded to serve the interests of the Muhajir people, and other political contraptions thriving on divisive lines, cannot see each other eye to eye and consequenly there has been a rise in targeted killings and aggravation of the Sunni-Shia conflict.

Infiltration of Pak trained terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir has posed a huge challenge and can be described as the biggest security threat for India. The proposed National Security Advisor (NSA) level talks between India and Pakistan scheduled for 23-24 August got aborted after India put its foot down and told Pakistan in categorical terms that the discussions be restricted to terrorism and no third party could be involved in these talks. Pakistan chose to remain rigid about bringing the Kashmiri separatist Hurriyat leaders into the loop and including kashmir in the agenda for the NSA-level talks. Simultaneously while the doors for dialogue were being closed by Pakistan, infiltration of Pakistani terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir has continued.

Sajjad Ahmad, the Pakistani terrorist caught alive by Indian forces in kashmir on 27 August 2015

Sajjad Ahmad, the Pakistani terrorist caught alive by Indian forces in kashmir on 27 August 2015

A Pakistani terrorist Sajjad Ahmed was caught alive on August 27 after four of his associates were killed by the Army in a two-day operation in Kashmir. Earlier in August another Pakistani terrorist Naved was caught alive from the Udhampur area in the Jammu region. Preliminary interrogation revealed that Sajjad (22), an LeT operative and belongs to Muzaffargarh in south west Pakistan. Naved, a Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorist from Pakistan, was caught while his associate was killed when they attacked a BSF convoy.

In this situation when India issues a warning to Pakistan the response from that side is not just the routine denial. The prevailing scenario was summed up by a journalist who observed at the daily press briefing of John Kirby, the US department of State Spokesperson on Thursday:

“Whenever the talks are planned between the two countries or leaders are ready to meet, either at the prime minister level or at the secretary level, there are always tensions between the two countries….. Now, after the talks failed last week, and some generals in Pakistan have been threatening that Pakistan is ready to use nuclear weapons against India and it would take only 15 minutes to destroy India because we are a nuclear-weapon state. One of the officials also said that it would not take much time to proliferate those weapons, that means to the Taliban and others might get it.”

Pakistan Nuclear ThreatAsking a pointed query he said that one (Pakistani) official – a general – said last week, after the talks failed – that they are now ready to use tactical nuclear weapons against India if there is a war. What the U.S. is going to do about this? Because if they are ready to use tactical weapons against India, then that means they can probably give them to the terrorists also. [There have been occasions in the past when top Al Qaeda leaders have said that they would use pakistan’s nuclear weapons if US tries to seize control over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. For example Abu al-Yazid of Al Qaeda went on record saying this many years ago]

The US spokesperson’s tongue in cheek reply to this question was:

“Obviously, what we want to see are the tensions decrease. And speculation about the potential use of nuclear weapons certainly isn’t doing anything to help decrease tensions, if in fact those comments were made. What Secretary Kerry has said repeatedly is that he wants the two nations to continue to work together with constructive dialogue to resolve their issues. And we understand that there are issues longstanding. But that’s what really needs to happen, is sitting down, dialogue, cooperation, talking through these things, and trying to work through some meaningful solutions.some meaningful solutions.”

The Pakistani strategy vis-a-vis India is to keep alive the low-intensity war in Jammu and Kashmir through endless waves of infiltration by armed terrorists, and by systematically building a network of sleeper cells to provide logistic support and shelter to terrorist groups and terror modules. To back this they have now started threatening that they would use nuclear weapons against India. The latest threat of using tactical nuclear weapons is a serious dimension of the escalating crisis but the US has chosen to make short shrift of the problem.

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