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Does Pompeo calling Iran, not Pakistan, the biggest terror sponsor undermine India’s stand?

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an address with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, called Iran the world's largest state sponsor of terror.

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the media in New Delhi with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. Talking about terrorism, Pompeo said, “We all know that Iran is world’s largest state sponsor of terror and Indian people have suffered from terror around the world.” They also discussed trade, defence and energy concerns.

ThePrint asks: Does Pompeo calling Iran, not Pakistan, the biggest terror sponsor undermine India’s stand?

Framing of India’s national interest vis-à-vis Pakistan shouldn’t be dependent on changing US whims

Happymon Jacob
Professor of Disarmament and National Security, School of International Studies, JNU

It’s complicated. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement that Iran is “the world’s largest state sponsor of terror” is a reflection of the current strategic thinking in Washington; not a reflection of how the Trump administration views India-Pakistan relations or India’s legitimate complaints about terrorism emanating from the Pakistani soil.

Pompeo’s statement should be viewed in the context of the rising tensions between Tehran and Washington and the geopolitical dynamics in the West Asian region where a host of countries, including Iran, US, China and Russia, are vying for geopolitical influence. In that sense, then, Pompeo’s statement has nothing to do with the balance of power equation in South Asia nor does it undermine India’s stand.

In any case, the framing and articulation of India’s national interest vis-à-vis Pakistan should not be dependent on the changing whims and fancies of the various administrations in the United States. Our fight against terror should be a principled and consistent one.

There is no denying that recognition from the world’s leading powers about what India is faced with in the subcontinent is helpful, but we needn’t lose sleep over a statement here or there.

Also read: With Lok Sabha elections over, how can India and Pakistan now repair fractured ties?

In Modi’s tenure, counter-terrorism ties between the US and India have significantly improved

Kanwal Sibal
Executive council member, VIF, and former foreign secretary

The United States has never declared Pakistan a terrorist state even though they have recognised that Pakistan is involved in terrorist activities.

In recent years, especially during Narendra Modi’s tenure, counter-terrorism ties between the US and India have significantly improved. The US has also in recent years identified Pakistan-based organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad as terrorist organisations.

In the case of the designation of Masood Azhar as a global terrorist at the UNSC, the US employed a great deal of diplomatic effort to overcome China’s obstructive efforts.

India has been calling Pakistan a sponsor of terrorism because we have suffered as a result of it. When we say that Pakistan is the biggest sponsor of terrorism, it is a political position, not a legal position. If the US declares Pakistan to be a terrorist state, then it will have some legal repercussions with respect to the US relationship with that state, namely end of diplomatic ties and a whole array of economic sanctions. It would disrupt the US efforts to make Pakistan bring the Taliban to the negotiating table for a peaceful solution in Afghanistan.

The US has declared Iran a terrorist state for domestic reasons and for Israel. The US is still reeling from the political trauma of the 1979 hostage crisis and is pressured by domestic Jewish lobbies to back Israel. So, there is no parallel between the US declaring Iran as the biggest sponsor of terror and India’s stance on Pakistan.

If US was genuinely against extremism, it would have coerced Pakistan to check terrorism

Talmiz Ahmad
Former Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Calling Iran the “world’s largest sponsor of terror” has been a consistent American position across different administrations. However, this branding of Iran as a sponsor of terror is a false and inaccurate position, both historically and politically. Iran is like any other country, which has been a victim of attacks, pressures and aggressions by Israel and US.

It is, in fact, Pakistan that has sponsored terrorism and terrorist organisations as a state policy. Many major terrorist organisations existing and flourishing in South Asia have been directly sponsored by Pakistan and the ISI.

It can also be said that the United States has created modern-day jihadism along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

India has always retained its strategic autonomy while having serious disagreements with the US. One such area of fundamental disagreement is Pakistan and the effect that its state-sponsored terrorism has on India.

Despite criticism by successive civil US administrations, I can’t imagine US institutions giving up on it’s extremely close and strategic relationship with Pakistan in the foreseeable future.

If the United States was genuinely against extremism, it would have been very easy for it to coerce Pakistan into checking terrorism. However, historically, as mentioned in Ghost Wars by Steve Coll, the CIA knew about the development of support systems and institutions by the Pakistani ISI, which have been used against India.

It can also be said that it serves the US to continue being Pakistan’s ally because it pressurises India to divert huge resources to fight external terror, rather than development, which would make India a significant independent powerhouse and a direct competitor to the United States.

Good that Pakistan was not main issue during Pompeo’s visit. Shows US has moved beyond hyphenation

Pranay Kotasthane
Head of research, Takshashila Institution

It does not undermine India’s stand but does illustrate a divergence of interests on the Iran issue.

A hostile policy outlook vis-à-vis Iran has sustained itself for nearly four decades in the US. Iran was a part of the “axis of evil” for George W. Bush, while it is a “nation of terror” for Donald Trump. On the other hand, India does not see Iran with the same lens and has collaborated with the Iranian government on various fronts including Afghanistan and energy security.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, the assumptions of the policy community in Washington have changed significantly over the last five years. There is a convergence now between the US and India against Pakistan’s use of terror as an instrument of state policy. This change was on display in the US response to Pulwama and Balakot, the cancellation of Coalition Support Funds for Pakistan, and the continuing pressure on Pakistan through the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

In fact, it was good that Pakistan was not the main issue during Pompeo’s visit. It indicates that the US has well and truly moved beyond the days of hyphenation, when it sought to balance every step towards India with a concession to Pakistan.

Also read: India resists US pressure on S-400 in Pompeo-Jaishankar meet, gives in on Iran oil

Denying Iran any leverage in West Asian region is at the core of US interests

A.K. Ramakrishnan
Professor, Centre for West Asian Studies, JNU

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s endeavour to link Iran as the most significant global sponsor of terrorism with India’s history of being a victim of terrorism is an attempt to deter New Delhi from pursuing its interests.

The diplomatic trap that Pompeo tries to lay on India is too blunt, as was the case with most American attempts recently with both friends and foes alike. With his take on Iran, Pompeo is reiterating the dominant US-Israeli line of thinking. Denying Iran any leverage as a significant actor in the West Asian region is at the core of pursuing such an interest.

America’s unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal has been an attempt at reducing Iran’s potential and limiting the gains the country has made in spreading its influence within the wider West Asian region. The US has played a part in enhancement of Iranian strategic reach by the Iraq invasion and its subsequent policies.

The precarious reality of US pushing the Persian Gulf region into a brink with its actions is what really affects India’s major interests. India’s quest for uninterrupted oil flows to its economy already reached the rock bottom as far as Iranian supplies are concerned, especially after strict US sanctions.

The people of India really are going to bear the brunt of higher oil prices if the Persian Gulf region falls into further tensions. Avoiding the prism of US perceptions and policies for viewing India’s policy towards West Asia would be the prudent thing to do at this juncture.

By Fatima Khan and Shauryavardhan Sharma.

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  1. Most of the European countries including Germany have banned GM foods despite consistent American Pressure. Monsanto, One of the biggest GM companies in the US, now part of Bayer, is facing lawsuits worth billions of dollars and recently juries have found them guilty of in pesticide case which supposedly caused cancer.

  2. Notice the phraseology by JNU Proferssor Happymon Jacob. He is the leading proponent of China’s interests in Indian academia. In the past, he has even engaged with Pakistani army leadership and penned a series of articles designed to counter Indian arguments. However, you might be tempted to think that he is changing his position by his statement “India’s legitimate complaints about terrorism emanating from the Pakistani soil.”. This statement neatly sidesteps Pakistani state sponsorship of terror against India, which was the key question that was posed to him. This fits Pakistani line that these are independent non-state actors.

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