Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan | Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan | Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images
Text Size:
  • 1.1K

Rather than immediately reassuring India and an increasingly upset international community that Pakistan means business in confronting its terrorist demons, Prime Minister Imran Khan took several days to respond to the Pulwama attack. When he spoke Tuesday, he only repeated the mantra of investigation and the promise of action if India shares “actionable intelligence with Pakistan”.

That the attack was claimed by the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) should have been enough for Pakistan to act against the outfit. After all, Pakistan condemned the attack and has said over the years that it is part of the international community effort to eliminate terrorism.

The enormous destructive capability of nuclear weapons has often been seen as a deterrent to war. But in the Indian subcontinent, politicians and television personalities routinely invoke the possession of nukes in reckless rhetoric of the type that is now on display in both India and Pakistan following last week’s terrorist suicide bombing in Pulwama.

Also read: India calls Imran Khan’s Pulwama address lame, taunts him on ‘Naya Pakistan’

Promises of investigation and demands for actionable intelligence have become a routine Pakistani response in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, especially against India. They were invoked after the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, and all the attacks in between and subsequently.

Considering that groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which was responsible for the Mumbai attacks, and JeM, which has claimed responsibility for the latest tragedy as well as other operations, operate openly and in full view in Pakistan, the calls for investigation and actionable intelligence are nothing more than excuses.

By now most countries of the world recognise the Pakistani pattern of behaviour, which explains the almost-universal demand for action against JeM and its founder, Maulana Masood Azhar.

The assumption on the Pakistani side, probably correct, is that its possession of nuclear weapons limits the likelihood of a kinetic response by India to attacks by Pakistan-based terrorists.

There is outrage and anger in India but the thinking in Rawalpindi-Islamabad is that a defiant Pakistan has dealt with it before and can get through it again. The frequency of such brinkmanship, however, only produces diminishing returns.

It is true that the demand for use of force on the Indian side is increasing but, in the end, New Delhi will act on calculations, not the pronouncements of evening talk-show warmongers.

It is easier to talk about breaking up or punishing Pakistan than to do it or even to think through consequences of every action and reaction.

Although it is based in Pakistan and operates from a massive headquarters in Bahawalpur, JeM managed to use a radicalised young Kashmiri this time to kill Indian troops.

Once the passions of the moment subside, Indians will have to figure out how and why that happened and what needs to be done to deal with such unfortunate circumstances. But India’s Kashmir problem neither justifies nor mitigates Pakistan’s Jihadi problem.

Also read: India has been squeezing Pakistan economically even before Pulwama

If Imran Khan and his militarist mentors cared to think beyond their hyper-nationalist fervour, they would realise that terrorist attacks by Pakistan-based Jihadi groups and the response of their target countries cannot be calibrated forever.

Around the same time that JeM orchestrated the Pulwama attack against Indian troops, Iran’s government held another Pakistan-based group Jaish al-Adl responsible for attacks in Iran.

One need not be a supporter of Iran’s clerical regime or ignorant of Iran’s own support to extremism and terror elsewhere to point out the danger to Pakistan of a consensus among its neighbours – and the rest of the world – against Pakistan-based Jihadism.

The United States was unequivocal in its condemnation of the Pulwama incident, describing it as a “heinous terrorist attack by a Pakistan-based terrorist group” and calling upon Pakistan “to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil”.

It is rare for the US and Iran to agree on most things, but they clearly agree that Pakistan serves as a safe haven and base for terrorist groups.

The United Arab Emirates, a close ally of Saudi Arabia and a friend of Pakistan, also designated Jaish-e-Mohammed as a terrorist organisation a couple of years ago, just as the US and India had done earlier.

France is said to be planning to lead the charge for listing of Jaish’s Masood Azhar as a ‘global terrorist’ at the United Nations Security Council and China has not been outspoken in its support for Pakistan after the Pulwama massacre either. Sanctions by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) over failure to limit terrorist financing continue to loom.

Also read: China’s culpability in Pulwama massacre is unmistakable

But Imran Khan’s government and Pakistan’s military leadership seem unfazed by the coming storm. The hubris in Rawalpindi-Islamabad is based on Pakistan’s nuclear status and the country being ‘the key to the resolution of the Afghan dispute’.

Its railways minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed – sponsor of Jihadi groups himself, who is known by the nickname ‘Sheedi Tulli’ (‘Sheeda the Bell’ in Punjabi), and who also served in General Musharraf’s military regime – invoked the nukes when he threatened that “bells will forever stop ringing in Hindu temples” if India acts against Pakistan.

And Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Zahid Nasrullah, played the Afghan card when he said that peace talks between the United States and Afghan Taliban militants would be affected if India retaliated to the Pulwama bombing.

Beyond the posturing and bombast, Pakistan’s decision-makers must still consider the long-term outcome of their unending Jihad.

The flaws in India’s handling of Jammu and Kashmir notwithstanding, the intermittent terrorist attacks since 1989 have done nothing to improve the lives of Kashmiri Muslims nor have they advanced the resolution of what Pakistan considers to be the Kashmir dispute.

Groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed might be playing nice within Pakistan while carrying out attacks in Indian territory right now, but they do have a track record of attacks on Pakistani soil as well.

Jaish members conducted suicide attacks on Pakistani officials in Islamabad, Karachi, Murree, Taxila and Bahawalpur to protest General Musharraf’s alliance with the US after 9/11. The group was also involved in attacks on Christian churches, Shia mosques, and diplomatic missions inside Pakistan soon after the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Those who have allowed Masood Azhar to recruit, organise, and train terrorists even after formally banning Jaish in 2002 might find his anti-India and anti-Hindu zeal useful. But as Hillary Clinton rightly pointed out, “you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.”

If Pakistan is to have a national purpose other than periodically whipping up frenzy against India, a pastime that is unfortunately being imitated in India with increasing frequency, it would act against Jaish and work with India and the international community to prevent future terrorist attacks.

Also read: Peshawar to Pulwama, how Pakistan differentiates snakes in its backyard & front yard

If it does not, its ‘success’ in avoiding serious consequences because of India’s relatively limited choices of retaliatory action will only be a pyrrhic victory. Being viewed as a threat by almost all your neighbours and sitting on the Jihadi time bomb is not a strategy for progress and prosperity. 

Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-11. His latest book is ‘Reimagining Pakistan’.

Get the PrintEssential to make sense of the day's key developments

  • 1.1K
6 Comments Share Your Views


  1. I believe this article very well structed of whole realities that are happening in the region. Pakistan is the mother of terrorism and terrorist groups. ISI has always used terrorists groups and provided safe havens for them, they supported, utilized, and capable them to fight outside Pak specially making attrocities in its neighbours countries. Pakistan is a cancer, which will destroy itself and other humanity. Pakistan has always used proxies in Afghanistan, it has always sold its armies to foreigners. I deliver deep sympathy to those who have read this article and wrongly know about Pakistan and cannot even evaluate Pak after all these attrocities.

  2. To suggest that the Pulwama attack was the handiwork of a single 19 year old home grown teenager is like suggesting Neil Armstrong’s trip to the moon was a solo effort. Getting 100 kgs of RDX, preparing an IED, getting hold of a vehicle and working out the logistics has the fingerprints of Pakistan all over. The question of who pays Hussain Haqqani can be answered by Google. He’s a very wise diplomat and one of the few who understands what Pakistan needs and possesses the skills of logic and eloquence to state his case.

  3. Reading this one sided article it is clear that this author is well known for his Anti-Pakistani sentiment in the past. After a simple google search it seems he has made a successful career out of bashing the country he formerly served and his opinions change with the wind. One can wonder who’s payroll he is currently on.

  4. Very biased article not giving the over all true picture of the situation of subcontinent. The writer has completely ignored Indian army’s atrocities in Indian held Kashmir and Indian spy Jadav’s anti Pakistan activities in Balochistan. Writer should have given some details of what has been the aspirations of Kashmir population.

  5. It clearly seems that writer is totally biased about Pakistan. Critical and unbiased analysis of the Pulwama attack will bring the thoughts that due to the Indian atrocities in Kashmir it is absolutely natural that population of Kashmir is full of revenge and becoming militant against India. There is a need of acknowledgement that India is conducting height of brutality in Kashmir. Such massacre in Kashmir by India is the only reason for reaction of Kashmiri people and also for such kind of terror activities in India. In fact this is reaction by the Kashmiri people. On the other hand, Pakistan is facing number of terror activities on its soil and traces of Indian involvement for financing and supporting such are much clear. Author should also consider the confessional statement of Kulbushan Jhadev rather than making biased and false statements about Pakistan.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here