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Snakes in the backyard: China and Pakistan betray grand delusions

Islamabad and Beijing think the infrastructure of terrorism can co-exist with economic infrastructure.


 |  4-minute read |   20-07-2017



The US State Department’s July 20 report on terrorism was stark in its assessment of Pakistan’s role in the fight against terrorism. Pakistan, the report said, provided “safe havens” for terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

The annual US "Country Report on Terrorism 2016" articulates mounting US dissatisfaction with a one-time ally. Just five days before the report was released, the US House of Representatives tightened the screws on Pakistan. The legislation passed by the house makes it mandatory for the Pentagon to certify that Pakistan is not providing "military, financial, or logistical support" to individuals designated as terrorists operating in Pakistan or Afghanistan.


The harshest indictment of Islamabad’s duplicity came from former secretary of state Hillary Clinton six years ago. "It's like that old story - you can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours," she told a press conference during an unannounced October 21, 2011 visit to Islamabad. “Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard," Clinton added.

Clinton’s rage was understandable. Her demarche came just five months after US special forces raided a compound in the garrison town of Abbotabad, Pakistan and killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. There was mounting evidence that the Haqqani Network was being sheltered by Pakistan.

Bin Laden was not the first terrorist to have been discovered in Pakistan. His lieutenant and 9/11 planner, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, of Pakistani origin, was arrested from Rawalpindi in 2003. Taliban chief Mullah Mansour was killed by a CIA drone strike in May 2016, when he was driving through Pakistan.

Is China confident that the corridor it is building through Pakistan will only be unidirectional?

Pakistan’s deep state today shelters more terrorists than many European countries have Syrian refugees, a modern-day version of the ancient Taxila University which flourished there over 1,600 years ago with multi-hued global terrorists - Arabs, Chechens, Afghans, Kashmiris and Sikhs. All of them are "strategic weapons" that the Pakistani deep state can use against its neighbours. Heavy Industries Taxila is now Pakistan’s largest arms manufacturer. How’s that for irony?

This terrorism university is what New Delhi describes as the "infrastructure of terrorism", an ecosystem which recruits, motivates, trains and finally infiltrates terrorists for deadly attacks into India and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s deep state neatly bifurcated their counter-terrorism drive after the 9/11 attacks and then US President George Bush’s “either you’re with us or against us” ultimatum.

The deep state in Rawalpindi pretended to act against the Al-Qaeda and Taliban, occasionally serving up their leaders to claim cash bounties from the US. At the same time, it continued to push terrorists, its "strategic assets", against its neighbours.

The US was aware of this, but perhaps turned a blind eye because the LeT and JeM were directed only in "Indian-administered Kashmir". Exactly how blurred these boundaries between good and bad terrorists are is revealed in a rigorously researched new book, The Exile. Investigative journalists Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy reveal how fleeing Al-Qaeda fighters were sheltered by the LeT and JeM.

Osama bin Laden, in fact, received a respite when a JeM attack on India’s Parliament on December 13, 2001 triggered off a massive troop deployment along Pakistan’s western borders. This gave the Pakistan Army an excuse to pull out from the eastern borders where they had cornered Al-Qaeda fighters fleeing Afghanistan.

The net result? The core of Al-Qaeda, including bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, spilled over into Pakistan and escaped annihilation.

But with decreased US flows, it has brought about a recent rethink within Rawalpindi. Pakistan Army's search for a new benefactor has ended up at the Karakoram Highway and in the wholehearted embrace of a questionable new project offered by China’s President Xi Jinping in 2013.

The $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a supersized version of a project first offered by China to then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in 2003 proposes to build a network of power projects and industrial projects across the length of the country, providing it with an economic spine that will propel growth.

Economic activity cannot go hand-in-hand with terrorism. But as the US State Department report shows, there has been no let up in Pakistan’s sponsorship of terror. Terrorist groups within Pakistan are something Beijing is entirely comfortable with, judging by its repeated blocking of Indian attempts in the United Nations to get the JeM’s Masood Azhar declared a global terrorist.

Is Pakistan confident that the snakes it rears in its backyard will not turn on the CPEC? Is China confident that the corridor it is building through Pakistan will only be unidirectional? That is, the poisonous Islamist ideology being propagated by the deep state, the LeT and the JeM, will not flow into China’s restive Xinjiang province.

These are the questions Beijing and Islamabad believe they have the answers for


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