US urges calm as India-Pakistan tensions rise after terror attack

Further clashes followed on Wednesday when Pakistan claimed to shoot down two Indian jets, although India acknowledged losing only one plane.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement on Wednesday, announcing that he had called on his Indian and Pakistani counterparts to defuse tensions, which have escalated following an attack by a Pakistani-based terrorist group on Indian troops in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

“I spoke with Indian Minister of External Affairs Swaraj to emphasize our close security partnership,” Pompeo’s statement read. “I also spoke to Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi to underscore the priority of de-escalating tensions” and “the urgency of Pakistan taking meaningful action against terrorist groups operating on its soil.”

A suicide car bombing on February 14, claimed by the group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), killed over 40 Indian paramilitary forces. It was the most lethal single attack in 30 years in Kashmir, an area that has been contested between the two countries ever since their independence in 1947.

India charged that Pakistani intelligence was behind the assault and responded militarily twelve days later, on Tuesday, bombing what it said was a terrorist camp inside Pakistan, inflicting “a very large number” of fatalities.

Pakistan, however, claimed that the Indian jets dropped their bombs on an empty field.

Further clashes followed on Wednesday. Pakistan claimed to shoot down two Indian jets, although India acknowledged losing only one plane.

The plane’s wreckage fell in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, while the pilot was captured and a video was shown on Pakistani television that appeared to violate the Geneva Conventions on treating prisoners of war.

“In Pakistan,” The Washington Post reported, “a mood of belligerent triumph spread across news stations and online.”

“War songs were played, commentators praised the military, and shouts of ‘God is greatest’ could be heard,” the Post wrote.

Pakistani intelligence has long been suspected as a state sponsor of terrorism. Indeed, in the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, there was a major US debate about terrorism. The dominant view that emerged was that terrorism was, more often than not, state-sponsored - a form of proxy war.

That remained the consensual perspective through the presidency of George H. W. Bush. Shortly after Bill Clinton became president, however, with the February 1993 bombing of New York’s World Trade Center, the nature of terrorism was said to have changed radically. There was supposed to be a new kind of terrorism that did not involve states but consisted of “loose networks” of Islamic extremists.

Whether that was really true or whether Clinton sought to avoid the challenge of responding to a state-sponsored attack on America, there were always doubts about Pakistan.

“In the 1980s,” Pakistan “nurtured radical Sunni militant groups as terrorist proxies against India over the control of Kashmir,” Washington-based scholar, Ahmed Majidyar wrote, as he explained that JeM—the same group targeted by India on Tuesday—had been involved in the December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.

Under US pressure then, Pakistan arrested a large number of militants, including JeM’s leader, Masood Azhar. But “Pakistani jails have revolving doors,” Majidyar noted, and Azhar was soon free.

Indeed, France, which will assume the presidency of the UN Security Council on March 1, has said that it will press to add Azhar to the UN’s list of global terrorists, according to Indian media. Previous efforts have been blocked by China.

Like India, Afghanistan has long complained of Pakistani support for terrorists. After the 9/11 attacks, the US-led coalition quickly drove the Taliban from power but ended up fighting a prolonged insurgency. Afghan President Hamid Karzai repeatedly said that the real problem was Pakistan’s backing for the Taliban—and not so much the Taliban themselves, who would not be a serious threat, were it not for Pakistani support.

In 2017, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist, Carlotta Gall, published a book about the Afghan war, entitled, The Wrong Enemy, which made the same argument.

The Trump administration appears to have largely embraced that perspective. It has been much tougher than its post 9/11 predecessors—the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama—on Pakistani support for terrorism.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years,” President Donald Trump stated in his first tweet of 2018.

“They have given us nothing but lies & deceit,” Trump continued. “They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan,” concluding, “No more!”

Three days later, Washington announced it was freezing almost all the $1.3 billion in aid that the US provided annually to Pakistan.

Following the February 14 JeM attack, National Security Adviser John Bolton assured his Indian counterpart that the US supports “India’s right to self-defense,” while Pompeo tweeted, “We stand with #India as it confronts terrorism. Pakistan must not provide safe haven for terrorists to threaten international security.”

With the Trump administration, US officials seem to have come to a much clearer understanding of terrorism in India and Afghanistan, but such an understanding appears lacking in Iraq, where the Islamic State has been the major terrorist threat.

Najmaldin Karim, former governor of Kirkuk Province, recently explained to Kurdistan 24 that the Islamic State, at least in Iraq, is almost entirely local people. Yet US officials still seem to view it as a nebulous, global phenomenon, driven by an ideology rather than a struggle over power and resources in a highly sectarian environment, in which Sunni Arabs continue to feel disenfranchised by the Baghdad government.

“Know the enemy” is ancient wisdom. If you don’t understand that enemy, you will, almost invariably, be less effective in fighting it. The Islamic State is reemerging in Iraq, and the US misunderstanding of the terrorist organization may well be a contributing factor.

Editing by Nadia Riva