India’s terrorism mantra has been a topic of intense discussion, especially in light of the recent Biden-Modi Joint Statement, which is making waves and raising hopes for unprecedented India-United States bilateral cooperation in the coming days. The statement, undoubtedly, presents a comprehensive list of bilateral cooperation that ranges from science and technology, and trade, to defence and security. However, on terrorism, the Joint Statement reflects a deep oblivion on the part of the US and India, to the present-day challenges of terrorism. Also, the statement does not suggest any strategy or a mechanism to deal with the scourge of terrorism. This raises questions about whether this ‘deliberate’ oblivion, coupled with Pakistan’s obsession, is an excuse to work with regional countries to fight terrorism.
Historical Patterns: India-US Joint Statements
If we look at the previous Joint Statements since Modi’s rise to power, we find that the recent Biden-Modi Joint Statement is not different from Obama-Modi and Trump-Modi Statements.
The 2016 Obama-Modi Joint Statement says that ‘leaders (Obama, Modi) committed to strengthening cooperation against terrorist threats from extremist groups, such as Al-Qa’ida, Da’esh/ISIL, Jaish-e Mohammad (JeM), Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), D Company and their affiliates, including through deepened collaboration on UN terrorist designations. They called for Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai and 2016 Pathankot terrorist attacks to justice.’
Similarly, the Joint Statement of Modi and Trump in 2017 reads that ‘they (Trump, Modi) committed to strengthening cooperation against terrorist threats from groups including Al-Qa’ida, ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, D-Company, and their affiliates…the leaders called on Pakistan to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries.’
Again, the Trump-Modi Joint Statement of 2020 says that ‘both US and India called for concerted action against all terrorist groups, including Al-Qa’ida, ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Hizb-ul Mujahideen, the Haqqani Network, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), D-Company, and all their affiliates. They call on Pakistan to ensure that no territory under its control is used to launch terrorist attacks, and to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of such attacks, including 26/11Mumbai and Pathankot.’
In the same vein, the recent Biden-Modi Joint Statement reads that both the US and India reiterated the call for concerted action against all UN-listed terrorist groups including Al-Qa’ida, ISIS/Daesh, Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and Hizb-ul-Mujhahideen as well as asking Pakistan to take immediate action to ensure that no territory under its control is used for launching terrorist attacks.’
On Pakistan: India’s Terrorism Mantra and Deliberate Oblivion
A mere copy-paste of terrorism-related statements about Pakistan in the above Joint Statements reveals that the US, particularly, India is more concerned about Pakistan than terrorism.
By going through the literature that has been produced in India on Pakistan since 2008, one can easily find that there is a concerted effort to declare ‘Pakistan, a state sponsor of terrorism’.
Despite widespread condemnations of the Mumbai attacks and assurances by the then President, Prime Minister, and Foreign Minister of Pakistan, for all-out support to curb militancy, India chose the path of the blame game. Instead of providing concrete evidence, New Delhi remained non-cooperative on joint investigations to find the truth about the Mumbai attacks. Having realized the importance of the issue, Pakistan, initiated an internal investigation on its own. It banned Lashkar-e-Taiba and arrested several members of Jamaat-Ud-Dawa (JuD) including its senior leadership. Later, in the wake of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1267, Pakistan launched a countrywide crackdown on the JuD network and registered several cases against the members of the JuD. Furthermore, Islamabad responded to all Indian queries in an effective way.
Having said that, can we consider US and India oblivious to Pakistan’s cooperative efforts and compliance with the UNSC resolution? The answer is No. The Indian media is witness to it. Several articles that appeared in India, though biased, had documented Pakistan’s back-and-forth engagements throughout the course. So, it is merely a case of obsession on India’s part as it never acknowledged Pakistan’s support in crucial times. Contrarily, New Delhi was stuck on proving state sponsorship of Pakistan in the Mumbai attacks in which it failed badly. On the other hand, there are concrete pieces of evidence of Indian interference and terrorism in Pakistan that have been recorded in the dossier which Islamabad handed over to the UN Secretary-General back in 2017. However, the world especially the US, has turned a blind eye to Indian-Sponsored terrorism in Pakistan.
The Evolving Landscape – Post-US Withdrawal Terrorism Challenges
Looking at the current situation, the discourse on terrorism in Pakistan in particular, and in the region in general, has completely changed. Gone are the days when the so-called Jaish-e Mohammad (JeM), or Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), on which India is still banking, were the talk of the town. After the US withdrawal, the decades-old terrorism landscape is undergoing rapid transformation in which the change of loyalties among different sects is on the fast track. Right now, it has become extremely difficult to claim which militant faction is siding with whom? Several members of the Afghan Taliban have parted away from the core and have joined the Daesh group.
Similarly, several Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) members are joining the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISKP) and vice versa. Regrouping and de-grouping are also underway among the several militant groups on the Pak-Iran border. Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan are equally apprehensive about the existing terrorists’ game plans.
That said, where does the Biden-Modi terrorism mantra stand? Are both US and India oblivious to the fact that terrorism has undertaken a new course after the American withdrawal from Afghanistan?
Again, it would be naïve to say that both the US and India are oblivious to the present-day terrorism challenges since both had cooperated with each other in the last twenty years in Afghanistan and still keeping an eye on the developments.
If we look at India, the media reports suggest that New Delhi is closely monitoring the situation in Afghanistan since the US withdrawal. Even before the withdrawal, New Delhi was in touch with several stakeholders, mainly the Taliban. In November 2021, India hosted a Delhi Regional Security Dialogue for Afghanistan purposely to deal with the threat of terrorism. In June last year, India sent a high-level delegation of its officials to Afghanistan which met Taliban’s acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in Kabul to set out the future course of relations. Nevertheless, there is a lot more in India’s Afghan policy that could establish that New Delhi was fully aware of the terrorism situation in Afghanistan and beyond. The same is the case for the US. So, it seems that both countries seemingly maintained a ‘deliberate oblivion’ as well as the Pakistan-Obsession. While doing this, both countries are shying away from collective responsibility to uproot terrorism from this region. For Modi especially, Pakistan’s obsession, has important meanings. History shows that Modi has remained a political beneficiary of the anti-Pakistan approach. He maintained a hardline approach towards Pakistan and portrayed Islamabad as a terrorist state in his several public speeches.
The crux of the debate over the Indian narrative of terrorism is that New Delhi still finds a silver lining in this approach to isolate Pakistan further.
For a short-term gain, yes, Modi’s ‘state-sponsored terrorism’ narratives about Pakistan might serve the purpose in the coming general elections in 2024 but for the region at large, it is blocking a collective wisdom that is essentially required to deal with the new face of terrorism that has made every country in the region more vulnerable than before. The ‘segregated approaches’ towards terrorism are keeping the region away from a regional mechanism. The vicious cycle of the blame game, India to Pakistan, Pakistan to Afghanistan, and Afghanistan to Iran, and vice versa, has only helped re-unite the militant organizations in the post-US withdrawal era. Thus, the situation demands that Washington and New Delhi should come out of their decades-old Pakistan-obsessed approach and join hands in uprooting militancy from this region so that regional countries can better serve their nations.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the South Asia Times.