It is time to designate Pakistan as a terror sponsor

It is time to designate Pakistan as a terror sponsor
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The foreign minister of Pakistan, speaking to CNN's Bianna Golodryga on the Israel-Palestine conflict, invoked an age old anti-Semitic trope that the media was controlled by a certain group of people owing to their “deep pockets.” Golodryga was quick to hold the minister to account by pushing back and pressing him to clarify his claim. 

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. The government in Pakistan, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, has made several anti-Semitic remarks in the past. Ranging from a member of Parliament in his government calling for “jihad” against Israel to the prime minister himself stooping to the level of drawing parallels between “Islamaphobia” and the Holocaust, Pakistani politicians have a history of engaging in anti-Semitic bigotry. Successive Pakistani administrations that have engaged in gross violations of human rights, suppressed dissent and curtailed religious freedom have been America’s partners in the war against terror in Afghanistan. 

Pakistan is viewed by many in Washington as a “frenemy” rather than a true friend, with many defense experts blaming America’s failures in Afghanistan to Pakistan’s double game of supporting the Taliban and the Haqqani Network while providing America logistical support. Over the past 20 years, the United States has had to look the other way and tolerate Pakistan’s behavior. 

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However, with the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in sight, that may not be the case any longer. The Biden administration can finally take strict measures to curtail Pakistan’s financing of terror activities in Afghanistan.  

The Biden administration has set Sept. 11 as the deadline to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan after a two decade long war. There are many reasons cited for America’s failure in Afghanistan, from its inability to nation-build while simultaneously fighting an indigenous militia such as the Taliban, to the regional geopolitics playing spoilsport to its advancements. Pakistan’s support of the Taliban and the Haqqani Network would fall into that latter category. In order to prevent a government in Afghanistan from cozying up to arch nemesis India, Pakistan adopted the military doctrine of “strategic depth,” wherein it used Afghanistan as an instrument of security in its tensions with India by supporting forces fighting the Afghan government.  

This form of proxy war by Pakistan prevented any progress in the U.S. led effort in Afghanistan. The first Bush administration used cutting aid as a tool to discipline Pakistan and successive U.S. administrations that followed have cut military aid to the country in an attempt to change the behavior of its security and political establishment. Apart from Pakistan labeling the U.S. as a fair weather friend, cutting aid has not been a successful tool to correct its activities in Afghanistan. Neither has the Financial Action Task Force’s greylisting Pakistan persuaded the political and security apparatus from using Afghanistan as a pawn in its clash with India.  

With the United States out of the picture, Pakistan would have free reign in Afghanistan to use its terror networks in the country to destabilize the democratically led Afghan government and use the region as a launching pad for its adventures into the disputed region of Kashmir. This will in turn force India to focus its efforts and divert resources to its Western borders instead of the Indo-Pacific region, costing the United States a key partner in its efforts to contain China in the Indo-Pacific.  

Furthermore, the “all weather friendship” between Pakistan and China has made Pakistan one of the largest recipients of Chinese aid through its flagship Belt and Road Initiative. And Pakistan has been a vocal proponent for connecting Iran and Afghanistan to the China-Pakistan economic corridor, also known as CPEC. If that connection solidifies, the entire region will fall into the Taliban and China’s orbit and all the blood, sweat and tears shed by Americans over the past two decades would be in vain. 

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Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who led forces into Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11, said Pakistan, “... was a country born with no affection for itself, and there was an active self-destructive streak in its political culture. Of all the countries I've dealt with, I consider Pakistan to be the most dangerous, because of the radicalization of its society and the availability of nuclear weapons.”  

Come September, the Biden administration will have to decide on the fate of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. The administration can take the advice of the State Department or pro-Pakistan think tanks in Washington D.C. and provide a free trade deal to Pakistan, or heed to defense and national security experts and designate it as a sponsor of terror.  

The Pakistani administration’s blatant anti-Semitism, proxy wars that have cost American and Afghan lives and its “all weather” friendship with China should inform that decision. The Biden administration’s actions toward Pakistan will not be an act of retribution, but one of justice for lives lost in Afghanistan.  

Akhil Ramesh is a non-resident Vasey fellow at the Pacific Forum. He has worked with risk consulting firms, think tanks and in the blockchain industry in the United States, India and in the Philippines. His analysis has been published in The South China Morning Post, The Diplomat, Asia Times and the Jerusalem Post. Follow him on Twitter: @akhil_oldsoul