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The Rediff Special/ Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
'US erred in not shutting down Lashkar, Jaish after 9/11'
December 11, 2008
Curtis, now a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation -- a leading Washington, DC, conservative think-tank, told rediff.com in an interview that "the United States made a mistake in not forcing Pakistan to shut down these groups (Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammad, also believed to be responsible for the attack on India's Parliament in December 2001) immediately following 9/11."
"The United States was short-sighted. It focused on just getting Pakistan to focus on the Al Qaeda [Images] leadership, and praised Pakistan -- rewarded Pakistan for that, and sort of turned a blind eye even to Pakistani support for the Taliban [Images] and to these militants," she said.
"We are almost at the same point where we were seven years ago -- right after 9/11, having the 2001-2002 crisis, precipitated by the Lashkar attack on the Indian Parliament -- and one would have hoped that this group wouldn't have even existed seven years later," Curtis added.
"So, things could have been different. There should have been more pressure on Pakistan. Now the situation in Pakistan is even more volatile and unstable than it was seven years ago, but at the same time Pakistan has to do something about shutting down these groups once and for all."
"And this crisis (following the Mumbai terror attacks [Images])," Curtis said, "has only demonstrated that even more; if people needed any reason why Pakistan needed to act against this group, now you certainly have it."
US officials, she revealed, have known about the Lashkar facility in Muridke for years, but "there's never been any pressure on Pakistan to close it down. (But now) It's way past due, once and for all, to close that place down."
Curtis said most Western analysts and interviewers always start talking about the Kashmir problem whenever there is a terrorist attack in India as the root cause for it and now could not understand why in the Mumbai terror attacks, Westerners had been targeted.
But she pointed out that "these groups have targeted Westerners in the past," and while "they do have Kashmir-focused goals," they also "have pan-Islamic anti-Western motivations as well and they do cooperate with Al Qaeda -- they have trained with them, they have the same agendas, they have received logistical support" from Al Qaeda.
"The US has known for a long time the links between the Lashkar and Al Qaeda," Curtis reiterated, and argued that trying "to slice and dice and try to say, 'Well, this group focused on Kashmir, this group focused on international terrorism'," was untenable, because "the Lashkar are international."
Asked if this lack of pressure on Pakistan to rein in Lashkar and Jaish after 9/11 vindicated India's contention that when it came to fighting international terrorism, Washington exercised double standards vis-a-vis its war on terror in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda while ignoring the terrorism that India faced from Pakistan-based groups like Lashkar and Jaish, Curtis said "what happens is that US officials feel they have so many agenda items they are requesting of Pakistan that they perhaps focus on one agenda item at a time to the exclusion of the others."
"But Pakistan also does a pretty good job of diverting attention -- of turning the arguments around -- and so, I think, the US has just not been sort of shrewd enough in its diplomacy to call Pakistan out on some of these issues."
There has, Curtis said, also "been a tendency within the US to sort of view Pakistan's support to the Kashmir militants as a sort of the Indo-Pakistani element -- the US has felt that it's somewhat removed from that."
"The fact of the matter is that it is not," she emphasised, "and, like I said, these groups are international terrorists. They may be focused on Kashmir specifically but that doesn't mean they aren't also targeting Westerners and in fact we saw that" in Mumbai.
Although Pakistan President Asif Zardari said India and Pakistan face the same threat from extremists and invokes the killing of his wife Benazir Bhutto [Images] by extremists as a case in point, Curtis said, "there is a difference, given Pakistan's recent track record," where Pakistani elements have been complicit in terrorist attacks against India, "particularly given the intelligence links to the bombing of the (Indian) embassy in Kabul on July 7."
Consequently, she said, "Pakistan just does not have a good leg to stand on right now at this moment," in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks.
Curtis argued that the US has to place the pressure "specifically on the military establishment in Pakistan."
"We have to be able to have access to that leadership -- and whether that is done from a military-to-military standpoint or even the presidential level to the chief of army staff."
But she acknowledged that "unfortunately, yes, you are dealing with a complicated situation -- you want to support democracy, you want to support Zardari in what he is trying to do, but the reality is he is not in full control and probably has diverging goals of the army at this point. And, it is extremely complicated."
However, Curtis said, the US should be unequivocal and unambiguous in making it clear to Pakistan "that you got to shutter up this complex (the Lashkar facility in Muridke and elsewhere), shut down this group. It is not enough that they've been banned. There needs to be more concrete action."
She said only if these actions are taken by Pakistan would it be able to convince India that "they were serious about living up to their pledge that they would not allow terrorists to operate from their soil against India."
Curtis reiterated that the US "has a responsibility to make sure this is done because up until now, I do not think the US has put enough pressure on Pakistan" to rein in these groups.
She acknowledged that "we have seen Pakistan cut down on support to infiltration across the Line of Control [Images] (that separates India and Pakistan in Kashmir), and that is encouraging, but we have not seen Pakistan shut down the infrastructure supporting the Kashmir militancy and shutting down the ideology of using militancy to support their foreign policy goals."
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