Decoding Imran Khan’s Admission on Terrorists Operating from Pakistani Soil

Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

On July 24, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan stunned the world when he candidly admitted that there were “30,000 to 40,000 armed people” in his country “who have been trained to fight in some part of Afghanistan or Kashmir”. He further stated that 40 different terrorist groups were operating in Pakistan. Khan blamed previous Pakistani governments for not being in control of the situation and admitted that they did not tell the US about the truth on the ground.

Significantly, Khan did not make this comment in a media interview which he could wriggle out of later; he made this stunning revelation to an audience at the United States Institute of Peace, a Washington-based think tank, during his visit to the US.

This candour from a sitting Prime Minister of Pakistan is not only rare, but also unprecedented! It shows that the world is indeed looking at a “Naya Pakistan” or New Pakistan, which is the catchphrase of Imran Khan’s ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party.

Khan’s candid admission that Pakistan shelters terrorists, including those that have carried out militancy in Kashmir, vindicates India’s position on cross-border terrorism in Kashmir and Pakistan’s role in it. 

Moreover, this acceptance goes contrary to the usual spin often resorted to by Pakistani civil and military leadership that Pakistan itself is the biggest victim of terrorism – “more sinned against than sinning”, to use a Shakespearean expression.

Understandably, India promptly cashed in on this unexpected whale of an opportunity and described the statement as a “glaring admission”, demanding that Pakistan take “credible and irreversible action” against terrorist groups acting against India. 

Several questions arise in this context. 

Whenever India has accused Pakistan of launching terror strikes in Kashmir and using terrorism as an instrument of its foreign policy, Pakistan’s has responded that it only provides moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiri militants. Why, then, did Khan make such a frank admission that goes contrary to Pakistan’s traditional position? Does it not weaken Pakistan’s position on the issue of terrorism before the international community? 

My view is it won’t. That is because Pakistan’s subs of omission and commission on the terror issue are too well known to the entire world. Pakistani leaders’ repeated denials of their country being a hub of terror exports has never cut much ice. Therefore, charting a new course would help Pakistan mend its relations with the US and at the same time, reassure its all-weather ally China as the work on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is in full swing. The Chinese are quite concerned about the Pakistani deep state’s dalliances with terrorists of different hues.

Moreover, there have been many instances in the past when top Pakistani leaders and officials such as former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, former President General Pervez Musharraf and then National Security Advisor Mahmud Ali Durrani had voiced concern over Pakistan’s problem of harbouring terrorists. In 2004, Musharraf signed a joint statement with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee pledging not to permit terrorist groups to operate from Pakistan, thereby conceding on record and that too in an official bilateral document that terrorists were operating from the Pakistani soil.

Of course, none of them came up with an admission as candid as Khan’s. In each of the three cases, the high-ranking person’s downfall started after their bold words or actions on the issue of terrorism. Sharif’s downfall began after he started to take on the powerful Pakistani Army for nurturing jihadist groups that had embarrassed Pakistan internationally. Durrani had to resign from the post of NSA after he acknowledged that the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008 were carried out by Pakistan-based militants. 

The second crucial question is – unlike the three previous examples cited above, is the Pakistani military leadership on the same page with the Prime Minister this time? Or is Khan in the crosshairs of Rawalpindi? Again, I don’t see the chances of that, particularly because the Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed had both accompanied Imran Khan during his US visit.

The most compelling reason for Khan’s plain-speaking is the alarming state of the Pakistani economy which had recently compelled the Pakistani Army to voluntarily accept an unprecedented budget cut. Pakistan is in dire need of a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Closely related to this is the October deadline by the Financial  Action Task Force (FATF) which wants to see credible progress by Pakistan on terrorist financing. The FATF has already put Pakistan on its grey list. If it were to blacklist Pakistan in October, then the country won’t be eligible for any loans or financial assistance from any institution of the world, including the IMF and the World Bank.

Therefore, what prompted such candour on part of Imran Khan is nothing but harsh economic compulsions. To get the IMF bailout in his kitty and to get the FATF off his back, Khan must mend relations with the Trump administration, which has not only frozen all military aid, but has also suspended all military interactions till Pakistan delivers on the issue of terrorism. It wasn’t for nothing that days before Khan’s US visit, terror fountainhead Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed was taken into protective custody. 

There is a method to this madness. Imran Khan realizes that Pakistan’s traditional allies like China and Saudi Arabia are not good enough for Pakistan to stave off an imminent economic crash. Without American help, Pakistan won’t be able to navigate out of the financial cesspool to economic safety. The US should now be more amenable to Pakistan as Washington requires Pakistani help in Afghanistan.Needless to say, this augurs well for India. I expect a substantial downtick in Pakistan-orchestrated terror attacks in India or on Indian interests abroad, particularly Afghanistan.

Rajeev Sharma

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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